This week, Penguin Classics releases a reprint of Thomas Ligotti’s first two collections, Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe in a single volume. I was fortunate enough to write the foreword to the book. I’ve been a reader of Ligotti since that first collection–we have a first edition in the house. I urge everyone to pick up this new edition and seek out Ligotti’s other fiction as well.
The Wall Street Journal recently published an article on Ligotti that’s in general great, with a few caveats. They interviewed me for the piece and used a couple of quotes. But I thought it would be of use to post the entirety of my replies below.
Where the article falls down a tad is in unintentionally reinforcing certain ideas about Ligotti–for example, by using the part of my quote about how he influenced me that excludes the line “Ligotti has been very generous behind the scenes to new writers.” In context, saying he wrote to me in all caps is humorous. Out of context, a bit ominous. But the real hoot here is in S.T. Joshi’s ridiculous admonition that you can’t read Ligotti without reading Poe and Lovecraft. My wife Ann and I both chuckled rather uproariously at that one. No Poe or Lovecraft is required to read Ligotti, any more than you need to read any of King’s influences to enjoy his fiction. Nor, as another individual quoted seems to think, is Ligotti difficult and for a cult audience. You might as well say this about Kafka.
One problem for writers like Ligotti lies in the reinforcing of “yes, buts” perpetrated by people who say they love his work…but in what they say wind up discouraging others from picking it up. It’s important to remember this when thinking about how we talk about what we enjoy. I never presume that I somehow am a more rarefied reader than the people I recommend books to.
What we need to remember is that writers like Cormac McCarthy were read by small audiences for years before reaching a wider audience. That Roberto Bolano was not a sure bet to become such an amazing success. That writers do not remain encased in the amber of a selective audience’s regard, given a chance with fresh eyes and the seriousness of an edition like this new one for Ligotti from Penguin Classics. So when you see this new Ligotti edition in the bookstore, check it out. I think you’ll like it.
Here’re my complete answers for the WSJ article.
How would you gauge Ligotti’s influence on horror writers and the genre in general?
He belongs right up there with Poe and Kafka. The best writer of weird fiction in the past half century. And the reason he belongs there isLigotti’s both visceral and intellectual, formally experimental and able to tell a traditional horror story with equal ease. He’s also modernized the weird tale, from his early work on. The later workplace stories complete that process. The other thing he brings is a very dark sense of humor and a sense of the absurdity of the world—and a critique of that world that serves as subtext. All of these elements in harmony—symbiosis and contamination—equal genius
What kind of influence has Ligotti’s work had on you?
I read his work in a continuum that includes Kafka, Poe, Angela Carter, Bruno Schulz, Rikki Durcornet, and the great Caitlin R. Kiernan, but also absurdists and realists and flat-out surrealists. I appreciate that Ligotti stories can be revisited and reveal new dimensions. I try to achieve that in my own work. The mingling of horror and humor is also something in Ligotti’s fiction that I’ve studied quite a lot.
Ligotti has been very generous behind the scenes to new writers. I sent my first major work, a novella entitled “Dradin, in Love,” to Ligotti back in the late 1990s and he offered notes on that story and others from my first book from a major publisher, City of Saints & Madmen. At the time he used a word processing system that put his missives in all-caps, so it was a little bit like getting a letter from some kind of remote deity, but that certainly wasn’t his intent.
Can Ligotti’s work find a broader audience, such as with people who tend to read more pop horror such as Stephen King?
Ligotti tells a damn fine tale and a creepy one at that. You can find traditional chills to enjoy in his work or you can find more esoteric delights. I think his mastery of a sense of unease in the modern world, a sense of things not being quite what they’re portrayed to be, isn’t just relevant to our times but also very relatable. But he’s one of those writers who finds a broader audience because he changes your brain when you read him—like Roberto Bolano. I’d put him in that camp too—the Bolano of 2666. That’s a rare feat these days.
What is/will be Ligotti’s legacy?
He will go down in literary history as the greatest weird fiction writer of his generation and with any luck he’ll, like Kafka or more recently Angela Carter, be revered in a more general way by anyone who loves first-class literature.