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Created: February 2017
| Updated: February 2017
August William Derleth (February 24 1909 – July 4 1971) was an American writer and anthologist. Though best remembered as Howard Phillips Lovecraft's literary executor and for his own contributions to the Cthulhu Mythos genre of horror, Derleth was a prolific writer in several genres, including historical fiction and detective fiction.
The son of William Julius Derleth and his wife Rose Louise Volk, he grew up in Sauk City, Wisconsin. At the age of 16, he sold his first story to Weird Tales magazine. Derleth wrote all throughout his four years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and received a B.A. in 1930. During this time he served briefly as editor of Mystic Magazine.
In the mid-1930s he organised a Ranger's Club for young people, served as clerk and president of the local Board of Education, served as a parole officer, organised a local Men's Club and a Parent-Teacher Association. He also lectured in American Regional Literature at the University of Wisconsin.
In 1941 he became literary editor of The Capital Times newspaper in Madison, a post he held until his resignation in 1960.
Derleth was married April 6 1953 to Sandra Evelyn Winters; they were divorced six years later in 1959. He retained custody of their two children, April Rose and Walden William. In 1960, Derleth began editing and publishing a magazine called Hawk and Whippoorwill, dedicated to poems of man and nature.
He died on July 4, 1971 and is buried in St. Aloysius Cemetery in Sauk City.
Derleth was a contemporary and friend of H. P. Lovecraft — when Lovecraft wrote about "le Comte d'Erlette" in his fiction, it was in homage to Derleth. Derleth invented the term Cthulhu Mythos to describe the fictional universe described in the series of stories shared by Lovecraft and other writers in his circle. Derleth's own writing emphasized the struggle between good and evil, in line with his own Christian worldview and in contrast with Lovecraft's depiction of an amoral universe. Derleth also treated Lovecraft's Old Ones as representatives of elemental forces, creating new entities to flesh out this framework.
When Lovecraft died in 1937, Derleth and Donald Wandrei put together a collection of that author's stories and tried to get them published. With existing publishers showing little interest, they founded Arkham House in 1939 to do it themselves. The name of the company comes from Lovecraft's fictional town of Arkham, Massachusetts, which featured in many of his stories.
Following Lovecraft's death, Derleth wrote a number of stories based on fragments and notes left by Lovecraft. These were published in Weird Tales and later in book form, under the byline "H.P. Lovecraft and August Derleth", with Derleth calling himself a "posthumous collaborator".
In 1939 Arkham House published The Outsider and Others, a huge collection that contained most of Lovecraft's short stories then known to exist. Derleth and Wandrei soon decided to expand Arkham House and began a regular publishing schedule after its second book, Someone in the Dark in 1941, a collection of some of Derleth's own horror stories.
A significant number of H.P. Lovecraft fans find themselves dissatisfied with Derleth's invention of the term Cthulhu Mythos and his belief that Lovecraft's fiction has an overall pattern, influenced by Derleth's Christianity. Other complaints deal with the "posthumous collaborations". Still there is little but praise for Derleth for his founding of Arkham House and for successful effort to rescue Lovecraft from literary obscurity.
Derleth wrote more than 150 short stories and more than 100 books during his lifetime. Included among that number were several novels about a Sherlock Holmes-like British detective named Solar Pons. His other series included the Sac Prairie Saga and the Wisconsin Saga and the Judge Peck series.
He also wrote introductions to several collections of classic early 20th century comics such as Buster Brown, Little Nemo in Slumberland, and Katzenjammer Kids, as well as a book of children's poetry entitled A Boy's Way. He also wrote under the pseudonyms Stephen Grendon, Kenyon Holmes and Tally Mason.
Derleth's papers and comic book collection were donated to the Wisconsin Historical Society in Madison. They have been organized by the State Archives that is located there.