By Eileen Gunn
Howard Waldrop (September 15, 1946–January 14, 2024) was a subgenre of fiction all by himself. In the 1990s, he was a stalwart Clarion West instructor—so stalwart, in fact, that the workshop selection process included a Waldrop Advisory: he shouldn’t be scheduled for the beginning weeks of the workshop, because he dazzled the participants too much. The year he taught first week, he drove the class into a profound, almost-religious ecstasy that was really more appropriate (and useful) at the end of the six weeks. One bedazzled workshopper stood up in class, third week, and told John Crowley that John had nothing to teach him, because Howard Waldrop had taught him everything he needed to know about writing. John Crowley! The staff was aghast.
Howard taught Clarion West in 1992, 1995, and 1999. He came to his mastery of detailed, helpful, individual critique the hard way: he was one of the founders, in 1973, of the legendary Turkey City Writer’s Workshop. You may be familiar with the Turkey City Lexicon, which is both a treasury of advice on how to write well after reading too much pulp prose and an example of the knock-down-drag-’em-out style of Turkey City and early Clarion workshops:. it wasn’t a good workshop session until the fistfight started. From that maelstrom of dueling egos, Howard emerged as a writer confident of his mastery of prose and of his uniqueness as a writer, someone who could offer useful, trenchant criticism while encouraging others to find their own authentic voices and tell their own stories, day after day for a week. No wonder people were dazzled.
Howard appreciated and remembered the minutiae of everything he read and watched, and he read and watched everything. His stories are intricately woven textiles of history and fishing, old movies and TV shows, doo-wop motifs, and rueful portraits of past and future, always peopled with characters (human or not-quite) who capture your heart.
Widely known in SF circles as a Living National Treasure, for his stories, his readings, his wide-ranging conversation, and his almost-impenetrable (at first) Texas/Mississippi accent, Howard was a continuing source of stunned amusement to his friends and acquaintances. His readings, which sometimes included special effects (3-D meteors coming right off the page and speeding towards the audience!), were legendary. Everyone who ever knew Howard Waldrop has a favorite story of Howard’s (or a panoply of them) and a selection of Waldrop tales available for telling at parties and wakes. This here is a wake, I guess, because Howard died in January, in Austin, Texas, after a long series of health issues.
When Howard died, he was 77 years old, with the print run of H’ard Starts—a new collection of essays, interviews, and early stories, recently published by Subterranean Press––sold out, and a cluster of short films based on his stories ready-to-release from George R. R. Martin’s film production company. He was in dreadful health, but he was in the midst of a renaissance of interest in his work. At that age, we should all be so lucky.
With Howard’s death, and that of the amazing and delightful Terry Bisson just a week before, the older generation of brilliant, weird, anti-racist Southern writers of the fantastic has taken a serious hit. I feel as though two huge old trees have fallen, as trees do. I hope that, also as trees do, the old and fallen trees will provide nutrition for younger writers who will write completely different stories to fill the holes that they left. Write on!
PS: If you’re wondering where to start reading Howard’s work, I suggest The Ugly Chickens, Night of the Cooters, Mr. Goober’s Show and/or purchasing a copy of his collection Things Will Never Be the Same, which is readily available online.
For further remembrances of Howard, see Dave Myers post in Locus: https://locusmag.com/2024/02/howard-waldrop-fishing-by-dave-myers