Revisiting NecronomiCon Providence

In August, The Lovecraft conference returned to Providence, RI in honor of H.P. Lovecraft’s 125th birthday.  Sponsored by the Lovecraft Arts & Sciences Council, the Rhode Island Historical Society, and the city of Providence, this year’s event was an exciting exploration of this author’s life and works.  In addition to the symposium on new academic research, there were panels discussing literary analysis of weird fiction as well as its influence on popular culture, vendors with all manner of books and artwork, and exhibitions of Lovecraft-inspired art, theater, and film.  I was first introduced to this wonderful conference two years ago.

In 2013 I presented an academic paper at the Howard Phillips Lovecraft academic conference and convention in Providence, Rhode Island.  Having recently graduated with my Master’s degree, I was simultaneously filled with unbridled ambition and crippling anxiety; riding on the high of producing a Master’s thesis while unnerved at the prospect of being thrust out into the real world to mingle with accomplished scholars.  The experience was invaluable in providing that first foray into the wide world of conferencing while helping me surmount my fear of venturing into the daunting unknown that is Academia.

For the uninitiated, Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890-1937) was born in Providence, Rhode Island.  He spent most of his life in the College Hill district of the city where he wrote for pulp magazines including Weird Tales.  His body of work is widely regarded as the pinnacle of weird fiction: a convergence of science fiction, horror, and fantasy.

In 2013, one of the largest Lovecraft conventions was held at the Providence Biltmore, which Lovecraft called “the sumptuous Biltmore Hotel, which is 18th century in every essential outline and decoration.”  Affectionately termed NecronomiCon after a plot device used in Lovecraft’s tales of cosmic horror, the gathering was equal parts academic conference and outlet for weird fiction fandom.  There were numerous panels featuring preeminent Lovecraft scholars including S.T. Joshi and Robert M. Price, as well as talks regarding Lovecraft’s lasting impact on film and television that featured renowned director Stuart Gordon.

Despite the celebrities of Lovecraft studies, my personal highlight was the Emerging Scholarship Symposium.  This series of academic presentations was dedicated to various topics of Lovecraft scholarship.  I presented a paper culled from my Master’s thesis research titled “Poe, Lovecraft, and ‘The Uncanny’:  The Horror of the Self.”  This essay posited a psychoanalytic interpretation of Lovecraft’s speculative fiction as a progression from that of Edgar Allan Poe where the narrative “self” becomes the locus of fractured and displaced identity.  As the subconscious mind exists as alien or “other” to the conscious mind, characters (and particularly the narrators) of Poe and Lovecraft are external representations of internal dissonance.  The self is its own primal source of terror, which inevitably evolves into self-loathing.

The Emerging Scholarship Symposium was an audacious forum for professional and amateur academics to present their research regarding the works of H.P. Lovecraft.  There was some backlash regarding the designation of the event as one for “Emerging Scholarship” as several presenters were experienced academics with a wide array of published works on various topics not limited to weird fiction.  This moment brought some humor and much needed humanity to the esoteric affair as the stuffy aura that sometimes plagues Academia was interrupted by the vaunted pride of the experienced scholars and the reckless abandon of the uninitiated, eager to have something (or anything) published.  The panel has since been rechristened the Dr. Henry Armitage Memorial Scholarship Symposium, which is another whimsical reference to Lovecraft’s elaborate mythos of interconnecting characters and settings.

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