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Providence Kindles Love Of Horror Writer H.P. Lovecraft

Oct 31, 2013
Originally published on November 6, 2013 11:42 am

Pulp-fiction writer Howard Phillips "H.P." Lovecraft has for decades terrified an underground following of readers with horror stories about monsters and aliens. He's known to some as a bad writer, and to many as a racist. Even during the author's lifetime, his readership was limited.

But now, thanks mostly to social media, this old name in sci-fi horror is getting new attention from a growing fan base. Lovecraft's hometown of Providence, R.I., is trying to capitalize on this rising star.

Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth

The short stories of H.P. Lovecraft are filled with monsters and mysterious creatures from outer space. They have names like Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth.

"You almost feel like you're reading someone's diary entries from their horrible experiences exploring some forgotten backwater of New England," says Niels Hobbs.

In August, Hobbs revived the dormant H.P. Lovecraft literary conference. He called it "NecronomiCon," a name he hoped would signal to fans that this was no Lovecraft-pah-loozah — this was a serious literary conference. It worked. Hobbs estimates 1,200 people from around the globe converged on Providence, identifiable by their black T-shirts with obscure science-fiction references.

They came from Europe, Central America and even as far as New Zealand, and they got down on the dance floor at the Lovecraft Ball wearing masks, horns and hoods as an organist cranked out creepy tunes.

"I've read a lot of the books, but I've never been to Providence, so it's kind of amazing to see all the sites ... he wrote about and the different places he visited," says Vic Cabal, who came from Pennsylvania.

Providence, A Lovecraft Haven

Local businesses latched on to the theme and held their own events. Officials say the Lovecraft convention pumped some $600,000 into the local economy.

Now that Providence is catering to Lovecraft fans, there's an official H.P. Lovecraft Memorial Square, the historical society is working on markers for walking tours, and there's even an app that provides a virtual tour of H.P. Lovecraft sights.

A new exhibit at the Providence Athenaeum features a silent movie based on a Lovecraft story, and a new bronze bust of the author. Athenaeum librarian Kate Wodehouse says ever since the bust appeared, so too have Lovecraft fans who are making the pilgrimage almost every day.

"We knew that the event would attract a lot of people and a lot of attention but didn't realize how much we would become associated with Lovecraft by taking the bust," Wodehouse says. "It's great."

Conference organizer Hobbs says this is just the beginning. He's already planning for another conference in 2015, tied into Lovecraft's 125th birthday. For that one, he's preparing for an even bigger crowd.

In the meantime, the craze continues elsewhere — Portland, Ore., will host a CthulhuCon and film festival in April 2014.

Copyright 2013 Rhode Island Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.ripr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

For decades now, the writer HP Lovecraft has terrified a following of readers with stories about monsters and aliens roaming Antarctica. Now, thanks mostly to social media, Lovecraft is getting attention from a new generation of horror fans.

And as Catherine Welch of Rhode Island Public Radio reports, his hometown of Providence, though far from the South Pole, is aiming to capitalize.

CATHERINE WELCH, BYLINE: The pulp-fiction short stories of H.P. Lovecraft are filled with monsters and mysterious creatures from outer space. They have names like Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth.

NIELS HOBBS: You almost kind of feel like you're reading someone's diary entries from their horrible experiences exploring some forgotten backwater of New England.

WELCH: Sounds like something you want to build a conference around, right? Well, that's just what Niels Hobbs did this past August when he revived the dormant H.P. Lovecraft literary conference, NecronomiCon.

How marketing-savvy is it to have a very long name that nobody can pronounce as your event?

(LAUGHTER)

HOBBS: Yeah. Maybe it's not as easy as, I don't know, Lovecraft Con or something like that.

WELCH: But it signaled to fans that this was no Lovecraft-palooza; this was a serious literary conference, and it worked. Hobbs estimates 1200 people from around the globe converged on Providence. You could pick them out in their black T-shirts with science fiction references you didn't get. They came from New Zealand, Europe, Central America.

(SOUNDBITE OF ORGAN MUSIC)

WELCH: And they got down on the dance floor at the Lovecraft Ball wearing masks, horns and hoods as an organist cranked out creepy tunes. Taking it all in was Vic Cabal. He came from Pennsylvania.

VIC CABAL: I've read a lot of the books; I've never been to Providence. So it's kind of amazing to see all the sights and actually where he wrote about and the different places he visited.

WELCH: Local businesses latched on and held their own events. Officials say the Lovecraft convention pumped some $600,000 into the local economy. Now Providence is catering to Lovecraft fans. There's an official H.P. Lovecraft Memorial Square, the historical society is working on markers for walking tours, and conference organizer Niels Hobbs says, if you want a virtual tour of H.P. Lovecraft's Providence, there's an app for that.

HOBBS: Where you can go to a certain Lovecraft site and get a story with it, and it also overlays images from Lovecraft's life.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WELCH: A new exhibit at the Providence Athenaeum features a silent movie based on a Lovecraft story, and a new bronze bust of the author. Athenaeum librarian Kate Woodhouse says ever since the bust appeared, so have Lovecraft fans who are making the pilgrimage almost every day.

KATE WOODHOUSE: We knew that the event would attract a lot of people and a lot of attention, but didn't realize how much we would become associated with Lovecraft by taking the bust and that would continue for us. So it's great.

WELCH: Conference organizer Niels Hobbs says this is just the beginning. He's already planning for another conference in 2015, tied to Lovecraft's 125th birthday. For that one, he's preparing for an even bigger crowd.

For NPR news, I'm Catherine Welch in Providence. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.