June 21, 2017

Reflection on Howard Days 2017

I have been a fan of Robert E. Howard for several years but only got involved in Howard fandom and scholarship in 2008 after I attended, as a Ph.D. student still in coursework, Pulp Fest in Columbus, Ohio, a convention for collector's and enthusiasts of pulpwood magazines. It was during this event that I got introduced to some of the the important people in Howard Studies: Rusty Burke, Bill Cavalier, and Don Herron. It was also during this event that I met the writer Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson, the granddaughter of Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, the founder of D.C. comics. I didn't realize it at the time, but these people would become a major influence on me.

By the time I actually made my pilgrimage to Cross Plains, Texas, nine years after that initial Pulp Fest, a lot had changed in my life. I had gotten married. I had finished my Ph.D. in Literature at Case Western Reserve University. I defended a dissertation on Weird Tales, interwar print culture, and literature. I had published a few articles on Lovecraft, Howard, and Weird Tales. And I had started publishing fiction, both of a general literary variety and a more genre-focused sort. Finally, I had been lucky enough to get a job as a Lecturer at Christopher Newport University.

Howard Days was a chance to take stock of things. For example, I didn't realize how many friends and acquaintances I'd made throughout this journey that began, perhaps, in 2008. I'm so inspired by the energy, intelligence, creativity, and knowledge of people like Jeff Shanks, Mark Finn, and Chris Gruber, these three who seem to have the superhuman ability to manage several projects at any given time. It's so inspiring to me that scholars like Patrice Louinet and Dierk Guenther come from far-flung Paris and Tokushima to confer. There were so many people at Howard Days whose knowledge and insight outstrips my own: Todd Vick, Frank Coffman, and Bobby Derie.

When I was at Howard Days, when I finally caught a glimpse of Howard's restored bedroom, I had an insight: I wasn't just there to hang with friends and enjoy myself or even to develop my scholarship. Instead, I was there as part of a group paying homage and respect to an actual person who provided us with some amazing works of literary art. Over time writers sometimes become larger-than-life, quasi-Olympian figures. Howard had become that for me. Going to Texas, seeing Howard's room and town, allowed me to unearth hidden connections between the normalcy of Cross Plains and the strangeness of the Hyborian Age. In doing so, this trip helped me humanize Howard and reminded me that although fantasists might seem to write about extraordinary worlds, despite the costuming, it is this ordinary one that they treat.