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James Kirchstein ’58

For your question, I contacted James P. Roberts, a friend of mine at the August Derleth Society and author of Famous Wisconsin Authors (Badger Books, 2002). The August Derleth Society is a nonprofit organization formed in the 1970s to celebrate the life and work of Derleth, a Wisconsin writer, publisher, editor, columnist, naturist, environmentalist, teacher and 1930 University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate. Derleth wrote in many genres, so without knowing your taste in literature, we present to you several Derleth works worth a close look. Happy reading!

Roberts writes: “With August Derleth, this is a tricky question. Derleth wrote in so many genres and each has its own adherents as to what they think Derleth’s most acclaimed books are. To most people who have actually heard of August Derleth, the book that most automatically comes to mind is Walden West, his tribute to Henry David Thoreau. In Walden West, Derleth intersperses lovely descriptions of nature and the area around Sac Prairie (Sauk City and Prairie du Sac, Wis.) with elegiac biographical sketches of some of the townspeople. Derleth’s own favorite of his books was Evening in Spring, his autobiographical account of young love between a boy and a girl of two different backgrounds and the valiant effort of young Derleth (as Stephen Grendon) to make the romance work. Historical buffs will counter with The House on the Mound, Derleth’s biography of Hercules Dousman, the fur trader who became Wisconsin’s first millionaire and who built the famous Villa Louis mansion in Prairie du Chien. Many will also mention Wind Over Wisconsin as their favorite Derleth book (as it is mine: one of the reasons why I moved to Wisconsin after college was to see the ‘Pierneau House,’ not realizing that it was an entirely fictional place and not based on any existing structure of that or any other time!). This story pits the idealistic fur trader Chalfonte Pierneau against the pragmatic Dousman amid the backdrop of the Black Hawk Indian War of 1832. Science fiction and fantasy fans will mention Derleth’s creation of Arkham House as the first fantasy specialty publisher and Derleth’s own collections of macabre short stories, Something Near and Lonesome Places. Oddly, Derleth himself never wrote a full-length science fiction or fantasy novel, if one excepts the H.P. Lovecraft tribute, The Lurker at the Threshold. Readers of Derleth’s children’s books will top their list with The Moon Tenders, a boy’s adventure story of two young fellows who build a raft to voyage down the Wisconsin River and wind up being kidnapped by counterfeiters while exploring a cave called Bogus Bluff. The best of Derleth’s poetry was in Collected Poems, 1937–1967. Derleth wrote approximately 3,000 poems, only about 1,500 of which have been published. So, as you can see, there is plenty to choose from in starting your own August Derleth library.”

Derleth is said to have commented "I write very swiftly, from 750,000 to a million words yearly, very little of it pulp material."


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