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About Time: The World Fantasy Awards End Use of H.P. Lovecraft’s Image After 40 Years

Octavia Butler or bust.

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The World Fantasy Awards, which was first established in 1975, celebrates artists in speculative fiction, science fiction, and fantasy every year. Traditionally, each winner receives a bust of H.P. Lovecraft, but the board has just announced that they would retire the image.

Lovecraft, whose name is synonymous with the genres of weird fiction, sci-fi, and horror is undoubtedly influential and iconic. However, many had issues with a modern day award using and honoring the image of a notoriously racist, xenophobic, and problematic writer. Among them was fantasy and YA author Daniel José Olde, who stated a petition to change the statuette to the image of African-American writer Octavia Butler (which I am all about).

Older references various writers, including Nnedi Okorafor, the Nigerian-American writer who won an award for Who Fears Death. Okorafor wrote a blog post about the statuette and expressed the discomfort and challenges of this discourse.

Anyway, a statuette of this racist man’s head is in my home. A statuette of this racist man’s head  is one of my greatest honors as a writer. A statuette of this racist man’s head sits beside my Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa and myCarl Brandon Society Parallax Award (an award given to the best speculative fiction by a person of color). I’m conflicted.

I recommend reading the whole thing, as she also cites China Miéville‘s reaction to winning a “Howard,” choosing to take delight in “writing behind Lovecraft’s back.” Another writer of color, Sofia Samatar, called it the “elephant in the room.”

Many have argued against Okorafor’s statements, claiming that Lovecraft deserves the honor because of his influence, or that Lovecraft needs to be read as a product of his time. Here, I believe an important distinction needs to be made between honoring his image in the modern day and acknowledging his literary significance.

Using his likeliness as an honor for current day writers, especially writers of color makes the genre less inclusive by endorsing a highly offensive body of work. The Howard award is only one of many modern day honors that celebrate racist, problematic, and dead men (streets and structures memorializing members of the Confederacy, scholarships names after colonialists, etc.). However, treating these artifacts as historical objects is very different from reproducing them for modern writers. Marginalized groups don’t have the privilege of observing these items and works as “separate” from their racist roots.

Okorafor emphasizes the need to ” top co-signing his bigotry and move sci-fi/fantasy out of the past.” While there’s no news yet of what the new award will look like, I do hope that they’ll go with Octavia Butler, or something a bit more revolutionary. A planet, book, or spaceship would just be too safe. What do you think?

(via Book Riot, Image via batwrangle on Flickr)

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