HP Lovecraft was a racist, an antisemite, and a white supremacist. And it’s time for Rhode Island to deal with those exclusive facts about the influential author that the state tirelessly lionizes.

Celebrated with walking tours, film festivals, a convention, and a bust in the Providence Athenaeum – which also devotes a sanitized page to the author on its website – HP Lovecraft is Providence and Rhode Island’s darling literary son (in a short field). In his work, he elevated the anxieties of a changing age into a vast and terrifying mythos. His themes and techniques were startling in their novelty and influenced many of the best-regarded and most successful horror, fantasy, and science-fiction writers of our time. His achievements, if they could stand away from their author, are significant culturally and literarily. But those achievements can’t stand away from their author. Their author was a racist, nationalist, and antisemite with a long paper trail and those achievements are everywhere found to be informed by the author’s bigotry, fear, and hate.

This poem is among the better-known examples of Lovecraft’s racism, but it is only superficially known: readers of this essay are encouraged to navigate to and make their own judgment about its virulence and intent. It was written by Lovecraft in 1912. And it was not peculiar for him. In countless letters he railed against African-Americans, immigrants, Jews, and other minority groups. “…The Negro is fundamentally the biological inferior of all White and even Mongolian races,” one such letter says. In another letter, Lovecraft described the discomfort of having to live among varying races in New York City:

“The organic things—Italo-Semitico-Mongoloid—inhabiting that awful cesspool could not by any stretch of the imagination be call’d human. They were monstrous and nebulous adumbrations of the pithecanthropoid and amoebal; vaguley moulded from some stinking viscous slime of earth’s corruption, and slithering and oozing in and on the filthy streets or in and out of windows and doorways in a fashion suggestive of nothing but infesting worms or deep-sea unnameabilities.”

That should evoke his fiction – and draw the clear line between it and his racism – without the aid of the writer of this essay. But that very horror he transposed directly into his fiction, no veils, no metaphors, no parables. “The Horror at Red Hook” eschews the fantastic beasts and monsters that seem to stand in for non-whites and immigrants in favor of those people themselves. The “horror” at Red Hook, it is discovered, are the “Syrians, Spanish, Italians, and Negros” of Red Hook, Brooklyn, where Lovecraft regretted to reside for a time. These teeming hordes of monsters with their “half-ape savagery” besiege the world but for the might of the standing Aryan culture.

Living in Red Hook was, for Lovecraft, like being “imprisoned in a nightmare.”

According to his wife, Sonia Greene:

“…Whenever he would meet crowds of people – in the subway, or at the noon hours, at the sidewalks of Broadway or crowds… These were usually the workers of minority races – he would become livid with anger and rage.”

Integration was a primary horror for Lovecraft. “…Anything is better than the mongrelisation which would mean the hopeless deterioration of a great nation,” he said. And nothing but “pain and disaster will come from the mingling of black and white.”

A later work, the poem “Providence in 2000 AD,” Lovecraft imagined the displacement of the white race by immigrants. The parallels should be clear: The protagonists of Lovecraft’s stories discover and confront repellent and conquering beasts that are stand-ins for the different races encountered by Lovecraft in the real world. The beasts, marvelous as they are, are constructions; the displacement, to his racist mind, is not. Lovecraft had the same nightmares during his waking hours among immigrants, African-Americans, and Jews.

In his antisemitic conspiracy theories, Jews wielded the New York aristocracy as a weapon against the Aryan race. He insisted “the Jew must be muzzled” before he could “degrade and Orientalize the robust Aryan civilization.” He sympathized with the “romantic and immature” worldview of fascists and nationalists. “I know he’s a clown, but God I like the boy,” he said of Adolf Hitler. Lovecraft’s antisemitism was so transparent and virulent that his Jewish wife felt compelled to confront him. He capitulated: She “no longer belonged to those mongrels,” he said.

His lack of sympathy for minorities extended beyond those under siege in Eastern Europe. He considered lynch mobs in the American south to be “…Resorting to extra-legal measures such as lynching and intimidation because the legal machinery does not sufficiently protect them.”

These are not the views of a man poisoned by the drink of the times. Lovecraft’s bigotry confounded many close to him, drew him into violent debates, and alienated him from literary circles. Nor are these examples like others: the curious antisemitism of Henry Miller, the fascism of Ezra Pound; Arlo Guthrie saying “fags” in “Alice’s Restaurant;” Lenny Bruce saying “are there any niggers here tonight?” Nor are those figures – excepting occasionally the Newport-connected Guthrie – honored so publicly in Rhode Island.

The World Fantasy Award has replaced the likeness of Lovecraft it used to honor its recipients, for the reasons above. It’s time for Rhode Island to follow suit and cease the endless honors bestowed upon this hateful and bigoted man whose character cannot be separated from his work. At the very least, the occasions and places with which we honor him should be utilized to also educate the observer with the truth of his character, that they might decide where the man ends and the work begins, and whether the latter reconciles the hideousness of the former. It should be decided that it does not.

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Nikki
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Nikki

There’s nothing so predictable as the outrage of white racism when it’s called out. “Who cares, it was the 1930’s everyone was a virulent racist, Hitler lover who approved of lynching!! Shut up I love his books!” I can only imagine the same exact excuses made 50 years from now. Never changes.

Jules
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Jules

I agree on Lovecraft but you’re wrong about both Columbus day and confederate monuments. People DO protest Columbus Day because he’s painted as a hero in grade schools and that’s just wrong. Kids should know the truth about Columbus and it should instead be a day in memorial of the indigenous people who were mercilessly slaughtered. As for the confederate monuments: The “it’s our history” argument is bullshit. Those monuments were built in celebration of the Robert E. Lee’s atrocities and the South not wanting to let go of slavery. It’s history, yes, but it belongs in a museum. I mean imagine a town in Germany having a massive swastika or Hitler monument in celebration of him committing genocide, I’d imagine you’d understand if the public wanted that torn down.

Jules
Guest
Jules

Lovecraft was a horribly misguided man who learned some acceptance through love and support from his friends and eventually his Jewish wife Sonia, and unfortunately, just as he was learning to accept others he died. He grew up completely sheltered from the world and didn’t know any better, and that’s what separates him from a neo-nazi. Neo-nazis are shown better yet they reject acceptance, Lovecraft was shown better once he began to come out of his shell and he learned better despite not being fully converted to the side of love and acceptance before he died. I’m a non-binary pansexual socialist, so trust me when I say social justice is important to me, but when it comes to the likes of Lovecraft, instead of cancelling a man who has been dead for over a century, let’s just appreciate what he left behind and what we can do with it as… Read more »

Harry Teasley
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Harry Teasley

I don’t think he would have imagined such horrors if he were not a paranoid, agitated, fragile person, who felt utterly alien himself. I think it’s his fundamental misanthropy that filled the creation of the mythos.

Don’t apologize for him that he’s a product of his time: his friends were like, “Damn, man, you’re racist AF. Chill out.”

I think he’s an interesting case of art requiring the artist to be a terrible person.

Beshlo
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Beshlo

Oh no, someone from a hundred years ago was racist back when that kind of thing was common. As a native American, all I can say is who cares? Andrew Jackson was racist and caused the Trail of Years, yet no one is rallying to have him removed from the $20 bill. No one is protesting Columbus day, even though he was both directly and indirectly responsible for Mass murder. On a side note, I think the Confederate status should have stayed up, because it’s part of our history. Same thing with the Custer memorial, to remind us of the bad parts of history that we may be reminded of our shame. They’re not celebrating his racism, they’re celebrating an entire horror genre that continues to inspire people to this day. I don’t condone his racism, but I love his works because I view them in the light they were… Read more »

John Fulmer
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John Fulmer

Yeah, so……

It’s foolish to expect ideological purity from anyone. He was a creepy dude writing. Creepy stories. His racism is well known. The stories and their effect on the arts is profound. Have some tolerance for eccentricity.

Sandra Lawson
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Sandra Lawson

“it’s time for Rhode Island to deal with those exclusive facts about the influential author that the state tirelessly lionizes.”

Show me where the state lionizes his character. I’ll wait.

There’s a difference between recognizing a guy can spin a good scary yarn and admiring a guy for his virtue.

If you really insist on having both, your artistic world will be greatly short changed. Some of the greatest artists are reprobate, racists, pedophiles, misogynists, ne’er do wells, addicts and drunks. It’s possible to admire their art without admiring their character. In fact, it’s advisable.

David Hallett
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David Hallett

The other interesting point not mentioned in this article is that while he was decidedly racist in his written work, all contemporary accounts suggest that he was unfailingly kind to all he actually met in life, or indeed corresponded with. A curious case, as he might himself have said. And decidedly flogging a dead shoggoth.

Leo
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Leo

I won’t piggyback on the excellent comments already left by people who observed his history, but this article, like many articles before and I’m sure will continue to be written, achieves very little and dampers true progression by anchoring his life’s work (and others) on “the current standard” of society. I’m very glad you wrote this article, it reaffirms my skeptism of modern journalism. May your efforts drown in the boundless oceans of upright morality. You have achieved nothing prole.

Damon
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Damon

Leo, you’re absolutely right. Do you know how many old movies and TV shows (old as in the 1990s) I’ve seen recently and thought “Ooooooh, that joke didn’t age well.” Happens all the time. Hell, in Spider-Man 2002, Spider-Man makes gay jokes at a professional wrestler to insult and aggravate him. Not up to today’s standards, but nobody is calling Sam Raimi a homophobe

Damon
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Damon

I’m getting so sick of articles popping up and saying this. It’s pretty well-known that he was racist. Nobody is breaking any ground by writing an article to point this out. The thing that always bothers me, is nobody seems to really acknowledge very often that his works seem to kind of change later is his life and show that he was maybe getting past some of it. not in a way that you would want him to fully, but better than he was in his earlier life, and especially considering a time that he grew up in, I think the improvement in his later works show that he was growing as a person. Besides, the universe he built is amazing and we still have amazing writers working on it now. Board games and books and video games and movies, his influence is everywhere. And you can’t tell me that… Read more »

Crawford Tillinghast
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Crawford Tillinghast

I came to this article not to be “educated” about what is a well known fact, but to comment to the “author” about his sad, pointless grandstanding in a sad effort to generate traffic to his writing. I was pretty happy to see how many people beat me to the punch. Yeah, a dude who was raised by civil-war era parents and relatives was racist. Super surprising. Enjoy his amazing works for what they are… timeless horror tales worthy of celebration.

edward smith
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edward smith

Yeah I’ve known about his racism for years… I didn’t know how extreme or was though.
He also clearly wasn’t playing with a full deck.
He was not an attractive man and he knew it–and was plagued with health problems most of his life.

I won’t sing his praises but I’m going to have trouble reading his stuff now thinking every hobgoblin was a non-Aryan race that he hated.
Yuck!

Skip Kingsley
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Skip Kingsley

“methinks thou dost protest too much “

CarlCthulhu
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CarlCthulhu

What is this supposed to accomplish? Lovecraft is a known racist.

Matheus
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Matheus

Nice. I only like him more now. Great guy, great writer.

Shane E. Davis
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Shane E. Davis

My question is does it matter that he was racist and a bigot? sure some of that might come through in his work but is it influential? does it cause others to take up the same view and become racist and bigoted? For years we’ve heard that Lovecraft was responsible for the idea of cosmic horror, that humans and all their plights are insignificant in the face of the vast Unknowing of deep space and the universe. I’ve only read a few of his works and I haven’t detected an overt sense of racism in them at least not yet but the heart of the message in his stories is about fear usually about horror it does not inspire me to become bigoted or racist towards others but instead it stokes the flames of my imagination about monsters and gods and ancient civilizations. Perhaps these were born out of a… Read more »

Ed
Guest
Ed

Calling Lovecraft out for being racist…so imaginative.

He was an isolated and bizarre person who echoes the thoughts of his mentally I’ll mother. So rather than trying to erase it as you suggest, I’d take the path of Leslie Klinger and understand that his bigotry “powers the stories…this sense that he’s alone, that he’s surrounded by enemies and everything is hostile to him”.

Don’t pretend he wasn’t racist. But as Alan Moore said “Perceive Howard Lovecrafy as an almost unbearably sensitive barometer of American dread”.

This topic has been covered so many times that it’s a nonissue. Love the stories but despise the man.

This article isn’t brave or edgy. It’s an attempt to capitalize on the divisive landscape of Western culture. This won’t spark a meaningful conversation because it isn’t modern. A real conversation needs to be had but your target is long dead.

Andrew
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Andrew

I think more people would be surprised if you didn’t know he was a racist/bigot. It’s not new news. The guy was screwed up! little to no social interaction growing up, extremely sheltered etc the list goes on. But it was also this fear of the unknown that made his writing what it is. Mind you he died relatively unknown (at the time) it’s not like he became rich with his writing. It became popular after his death and as mentioned inspired a long lasting genre that is synonymous with the culture. Does that mean we are all inherently racist ? Of course not!

Tired of the political correctness
Guest
Tired of the political correctness

It was 1912. Not 2012. Stop trying to hold those from 100 years ago to the standards of today.

Marshall
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Marshall

Who cares. This has been known for decades, and tirelessly talked about since. This article isn’t breaking any new ground, or even remotely revealing anything new. It’s articulate trite. Furthetmore, Lovecraft wrote some awful stuff about people he didn’t know or relate to. But, did he actually do anything to anyone that was racist? I doubt it. In fact, i highly doubt his thoughts and words held anyone back in life whatsoever. Read his horror, enjoy it, and get over it.

J
Guest
J

Oh my God, shut up. Not everything is something for you to politicize and a new cause for you to be outraged by.

L. Whitney
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L. Whitney

Lovecrafts views have always been readily available for those who bothered to look. No one looks because they just like his fiction and don’t care about his politics, having their own already. This article is a cheap shot by a writer who wants a bigger byline. Lovecraft is dead now. So is this “article”.

Mike M.
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Mike M.

Thank you! You said it perfectly.

Jasey DePriest
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Jasey DePriest

Lovecraft was so racist and xenophobic, the guy who wrote Conan the Barbarian asked him to tone it down a bit.
He’s still one of my favorite authors, but more for his enduring mythos than the man.

John Moriarty
Guest
John Moriarty

I get the anger over the ugliness that was Lovecraft’s hatred of non-white people but it should really be through a lens of reflection. The man clearly had mental issues, of which both his parents died from different forms of, one syphilis. The man had no formal education, essentially learned about the outsideworld through his grandfather’s library which were primarily about 18th century European gentleman. The man was surrounded by death at an early age and its noted the monsters he wrote about were inspired by nightmares he had when he was 5. Is it really shocking that the man both detested and was horribly afraid of everything outside of his immediate surroundings?

Rane
Guest
Rane

Maybe we should ban his books or dig up his corpse & scream at it. I don’t see the actual purpose of lecturing everyone about a dead man that we know was a racist & have all known it for years. Please stop monetizing manufactured outrage. It only serves to make everyone hate each other more. Remember when reading books was fun? Remember when people minded their own business & didn’t tell others what to be upset about?

Kris
Guest
Kris

Great author, great mythos, who cares about his politics. Stop trying to poison the culture by trying to judge the past by today’s standards.

Jody Brenton
Guest
Jody Brenton

What I’m reading isn’t an attempt to contextualize Lovecraft, but to quietly sweep the ugliness, the venom, and hatred of the era under the rug. I’m reminded of the 2011 controversy regarding an edition of Huckleberry Finn which was printed with its fangs removed: its 219 racial slurs replaced with the much less impactful word “slave”. To cover up or to whitewash the unsavory portions of history is both dishonest and irresponsible. Without confronting the demons of our predecessors, we give those same evils the license to creep back in and prey on future generations who were not given the tools to resist that evil by being exposed to it. Lovecraft was a time-capsule. He was a personification of his era — an era in which eugenics was taught in universities and various “enlightened” societies all hopped on the ethnic cleansing bandwagon. This is a horrible misunderstanding of the importance… Read more »

R L
Guest
R L

The funny thing is that if it wasn’t for articles like this, almost nobody would know of Lovecraft’s racial preferences! We celebrate Lovecraft the author, not Lovecraft the racist. We celebrate him because he gave us a wonderful universe that puts into perspective how small we are, and not because of whatever ideas, wrong or right, he had about different races in his time.
“Cases” like this one are just vengeful rants hoping to hurt someone who cannot defend himself. You are just switching one intolerance for another one, and that is just sad.

Seth
Guest
Seth

I don’t think that’s the case at all. If you pay any attention while reading his work, it’s pretty obvious. I could tell he was a racist when I first started reading his stories in high school. That being said, I fundamentally disagree with judging historical figures through the lense of our modern sensibilities. Yeah, his racial attitudes were bad, but millions of his contemporaries held equally bad views.

K
Guest
K

Oh man, was a white guy who lived in the 1930s super racist? Color me surprised.

LS
Guest
LS

K, your comment is a perfect summary of the times Lovecraft lived in and was influenced by. Sadly, the 3os were extremely racist times and his opinion on the subject was disturbingly common. If a child grows up in a racist environment with no guidance to overcome that influence, the result will most often be a racist adult. The only reason we know he was racist, at least most of his life, is because he was a writer. His books and stories are no less masterful because of his attitude.

Joe Shmoe
Guest
Joe Shmoe

Y’all are so bored. People constantly talk about Lovecraft’s ardent racism here in Rhode Island. Even at the Lovecraft Arts and Sciences store. Its mentioned in the same sentences that praise him. This article does nothing to advance any sort of narrative about racism in the country. All it does is point out that which has been pointed out. It also fails to mention his change-of-heart on these views towards the end of his life.

People are people. Nobody is perfect, as evidenced by this poorly written article.

Rane
Guest
Rane

Agreed!! What happened to journalism? Everything seems to blatantly tell us what to hate or be upset about. Even if it is an author that is nothing but bones & dust today. Not really anything new offered in this article except, “Rhode Island should be pissed H.P. happened to live there.”

retro
Member

I certainly don’t dispute Lovecraft’s overt racism and its centrality to his work. I would question to what extent he is widely known or appreciated in Rhode Island in the first place. My impression as a Rhode Islander for 20 years is that the state has slowly and somewhat belatedly figured out that there is this guy Lovecraft from whom a small amount of money is to be made as a niche tourist element. If anything, Providence lagged the rest of the world in the Lovecraft boom. For most residents of Providence, the discussion at this point would go roughly like this: “You know how someone painted tentacles on telephone boxes and stuff around the city. As it turns out, that’s a reference to an author who lived on the East Side 100 years ago who has become kind of famous, but really he was a racist jerk, so never… Read more »

David Lee Ingersoll
Guest

I’m a fan of the “Mythos” that Lovecraft created and crafted. To me, one of the sad ironies of Lovecraft is that his fictional universe places all of humanity’s accomplishments as insignificant and ephemeral, present a vast and ancient history of the Earth and the galaxy, and yet he thought one of the human “races” superior to the rest. For me his fictional universe is an argument against racism not for it. And yet, he clearly would have disagreed with me.

I was fine when the World Fantasy Award was redesigned. I applaud the idea of presenting the unedited truth of Lovecraft’s life and beliefs.

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