Originally published in Shadows of Centralis Monthly Magazine: Issue #11 (February 2023).
Later coming to be referred to as part of Weird Tales’ ‘illustrious triumvirate’, with his name placed alongside H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith was a prolific writer of poetry and weird fiction. Switching creative direction, in later life Smith then dedicated his efforts to visual arts, immersing himself in the mediums of painting, drawing and sculpture.
Son of parents Timeus and Fanny Smith, Clark Ashton Smith was born in Placer County, California on January 13, 1893, and grew up in the small area of Auburn, California. Following an initial standard path of schooling, partly due to his struggles with agoraphobia, Smith was home educated. An insatiable consumer of books, with his preferred writers including the likes of Daniel Defoe, Jonathan Swift, Hans Christian Andersen, Madame d’Aulnoy, and Edgar Allan Poe, Smith was also keenly interested in the etymology of words. Inherently studious, gifted with a superb memory, Smith was an enthusiast of foreign languages; teaching himself both French and Spanish.
Inspired by the fantastical tales of the Arabian Nights, coupled with his interest in the Orient, by the time he was in his mid-teens, Smith had penned a number of adventure stories. While his works piqued the interest of publications such as The Black Cat and Overland Monthly, Smith was also a prolific writer of poetry. His poetic pieces gained the attention of George Sterling, a prominent writer, poet, and playwright who championed Smith, and introduced him to the works of Baudelaire. Aged nineteen, with the support George Sterling, Smith’s first book of poems, The Star-Treader and other Poems, was published. A few years later, in 1918, another of Smith’s book of poems, Odes and Sonnets, was published.
Written in 1920, Smith’s The Hashish Eater; Or, The Apocalypse of Evil was first published in Smith’s anthology of poems Ebony and Crystal, published in 1922. One of the consequences of this publication was the friendship Smith forged with H.P. Lovecraft, the latter of whom was greatly impressed by Smith’s works. The two remained friends until Lovecraft’s premature death in 1937. Holding a mutual appreciation for each other’s works and worlds, Smith and Lovecraft sometimes loaned from each other, and Smith is widely considered a contributor to the Cthulhu Mythos.
A few years later, with the financial support of some of his literary friends, in 1925, another book of Smith’s poetry, Sandalwood, was published. As prolific a poet and writer Smith was, though, his creative ventures often left him in financial straits. In addition to his literary efforts, as he looked to support both himself and his aging parents, Smith worked in a range of manual jobs, including digging, fruit picking, and woodcutting.
With a combination of creative zeal and financial necessity, over the first half of the 1930’s, Smith penned more than one hundred short stories. The general nature of these works blended aspects of horror, fantasy, and science fiction. Published by the Auburn Journal in 1933, one thousand copies of The Shadow and Other Fantasies, a volume of six of Smith’s stories, was released.
The mid to late-1930’s was a time of much tragedy for Smith; both of his parents died, as did his friends H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, the latter of whom took him own life. Deeply distressed, Smith withdrew significantly from the literary scene. Focussing his time on creating pieces of art, as well as poetry, ahead of stories, Smith looked to take a different creative direction. Via Arkham House, a publishing firm initially established to produce copies of H.P. Lovecraft’s work, Smith saw the publication of a number of his books.
Suffering with ill-health, a coronary attack lay Smith low in 1953. Smith continued, though, in his creative endeavours, and also married his fiancé Carolyn Jones Dorman in 1954. Establishing a settled family life with his wife and her existing children, Smith continued to concentrate his efforts on his artwork, as well as enjoying local walks. With his ailing health plaguing him, following a number of strokes, Smith died on August 14, 1961, he was sixty-eight years old.