When I attend Necronomicon Providence in a couple of weeks, I’ll be driving up with Bob Waugh. Bob is at this point one of my oldest and dearest friends. He and his wonderful wife, Kappa, are godparents to my younger son. My wife and I have spent time with them on Cape Cod, in Provence, and here in the Hudson Valley, where we’ve shared birthday dinners and holiday celebrations.
During the second semester of my freshman year in college, Bob was my Honors English 2 professor; subsequently I took a host of classes with him, from surveys of English literature to intensive studies of the work of James Joyce. Also during my first year of college, Bob founded the H.P. Lovecraft Forum, which he’s kept going for the last twenty-eight years pretty much on his own. Every October, around Halloween (of course), he’s invited leading scholars of H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction to the SUNY New Paltz campus to share their current work. S.T. Joshi, Steve Mariconda, Peter Cannon, Judy Johnson, Norm Gayford, and a host of others (including more than a few students at the college, presenting their work in an academic forum for the first time) have shared their essays with a mix of students, faculty, and interested members of the public. It’s usually a modest affair, which allows the audience the opportunity to speak with the participants afterwards.
For me, a consistent highlight of the Lovecraft Forums (Fora?) has been the chance to hear Bob read from his latest critical project. Over the years, many of the essays he’s read have gone on to publication, first in Lovecraft Studies, more recently in the Lovecraft Annual, and occasionally in critical anthologies such as An Epicure in the Terrible. In the last decade, he’s collected those essays and synthesized them into two books: The Monster in the Mirror: Looking for H.P. Lovecraft and A Monster of Voices: Speaking for H.P. Lovecraft. If the books have a common theme, it’s an effort to situate Lovecraft within a larger cultural frame. In some essays, this means Bob considers Lovecraft in relation to Pope, or Keats, or Lawrence. In others, it means he considers the role race and racism play in Lovecraft’s stories. Indeed, throughout the ongoing discussions and debates about Lovecraft’s racial prejudices, I’ve frequently wished that the participants on both sides had read Bob’s “The Subway and the Shuggoth” (found in The Monster in the Mirror), which uses the climatic confrontation with the shuggoth in At the Mountains of Madness as a prompt to a wide-ranging discussion of how racial prejudice and anxiety inform not just the short novel, but the body of Lovecraft’s work. It’s a moving, masterful piece of critical writing, one that exemplifies the best in literary study. Sympathetic to its subject, it nonetheless refuses to let him off the hook. The result is actual insight into how Lovecraft’s fiction functions. The essay–and Bob’s critical work in general–has served as a model for my own critical efforts.
In the last few years, Bob, already an accomplished poet, has turned his hand to writing short fiction. The stories he’s produced have ranged from bizarre anecdotes to longer, even weirder pieces. At Necronomicon, he’ll be debuting a collection of them, The Bloody Tugboat and Other Witcheries. They make a strangely-appropriate companion to his criticism.
So if you have the chance to hear Bob participate in a panel, or read from his fiction, I highly recommend you do so. If you don’t have copies of his work, I highly recommend you purchase them. He’s a fine scholar, a great guy, and I love him to pieces.