Credited with inventing detective fiction and contributing to the popularity of the then-new genre of science fiction, Edgar Allan Poe was one of America’s earliest authors to devote energies to the short story—as he defined it, a composition that could be read in a single sitting. Yet, his heart’s desire was to be a poet. Had he not died so young—at age 40—he might have been a great one.
This year, around the 169th anniversary of Poe’s mysterious death in Baltimore, Camden Park Press published Quoth the Raven, an anthology of poems and stories inspired by Poe’s work and sensibility, reimagined for the twenty-first century. Lyn Worthen was the collection’s hard-working editor. One of the short story authors, Tiffany Michelle Brown, interviewed seven of the collection’s 32 authors about their inspiration.
Brown: Imagine you’re in an old-timey elevator, a rickety one that boasts a well-worn, rusty cage. There’s a man in all black in the elevator with you, and he asks what your poem or story is about. What do you tell him?
Poet Tony Kalouria said she was inspired by the notion that unsolicited, unwanted advice is “for the birds.” Menacing, nay-saying birds, the spawn of Poe’s Raven.
Story-writer Susan McCauley used “The Cask of Amontillado” to inspire her story of murder and revenge, whereas my story sprung from Poe’s “Berenice.” In it, a woman sees her twin brother as the other half of herself and will stop at nothing to keep him close. In “My Annabel,” Emerian Rice told the story of two surgeons caught in a pandemic and their fight to stay alive for one another, and Sonora Taylor propelled Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” into the maelstrom of social media with “Hearts are Just ‘Likes.’”
“Considering the rust on this rickety cage,” said Stephen R. Southard, “I’m not sure we’ll even make it to our floors.” His story sprang from Poe’s tale about a balloon trip to the moon, which, naturally, left many unanswered questions. Poe intended future installments, but never completed them. “Someone had to write the sequel, so I did.”
Brown: What’s a story or poem – by any author – that has truly creeped you out (in the best way possible, of course)?
- The Exorcist — book and movie! “I was considering therapy for almost a week, I was so traumatized. And pea soup was definitely off-menu for a very long time” (Tony Kalouria). Frankenstein. “It’s terrifying and heart-breaking at the same time. And the way it plays with ideas of gods and monsters is really quite genius.” (Donea Lee Weaver)
- Emerian Rich chose The Woman in Black by Susan Hill. “I read it after watching the movie because I just adored the film. The book has this underlying chill that scared me more.” He said the house (or the bog) seemed to mesmerize characters into doing strange things or paralyze their thought process in some insurmountable way.
- The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, said Susan McCauley. “I first read it in my early twenties and had to sleep with the lights on for several nights.”
- Sonora Taylor picked the short story “Shadder” by Neil Gaiman. “ I read it in bed (having learned nothing since reading Poe’s “Hop Frog” in bed years before). Even though it’s short, even though I knew it was fiction, even though I had all the lights on, and even though my bed is up against the wall, I still felt the urge to look behind me at the end.”
- Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow, said Steven Southard. “It’s a re-telling, and update, of George Orwell’s 1984 and a chilling tale of how easy it may be to slip into totalitarianism.
- My pick was The Silence of the Lambs, the first modern “thriller” I ever read. The scariest film would have to be Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. It was decades before I didn’t think of it when in the shower. Or the deeply disturbing ending of George Sluizer’s The Vanishing. Nightmares.
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When I taught high school English, my students loved the Poe stories and I enjoyed reading them with my classes. The perfect author for Halloween in horror. But he invented the modern mystery story as well. His literary criticism and poetry were brilliant as well.
Yes. I liked the literary criticism excerpt in my old Poe collection! I liked his emphasis on how, in a short story, every word from the very first should be selected with an eye/ear? to achieving whatever effect the story is intended to reach. You can really sense that reading the opening of “The Fall of the House of Usher,” for example. Thanks!
Yeah, poor old Edgar had a short and troubled life. I was privileged to be one of the contributors to On a Raven’s Wing, the tribute anthology commemorating the 200th anniversary of Poe’s birth. The editor of the anthology was Stuart Kaminsky, who was one of my mentors. Sadly, he passed away shortly after the book’s publication.
He still inspires. I wonder what stories today will do the same?
Interesting summary. After Psycho it was years before I could take a shower alone.
Are you sure that wasn’t just an excuse?! 🙂