The Daily Pulse:

Plans for a Karl Wagner Festival

If you've ever been a fan of horror or fantasy writing, then you may have run across the works of one Karl Edward Wagner. A devotee of the original pulp writers of the '20s and '30s -- particularly Robert E. Howard -- the late Knoxvillian specialized in a very dark, gothic fantasy writing. He's probably best known for his series of stories about Kane, a more intellectual (and cursed) version of Conan's pre-historical anti-hero. 

Keeping his memory and his works alive has been a cultish following of fans--in particular, his longtime friend John Mayer here in Knoxville. (I hope you've been following our weekly reprint of John's hard-boiled detective caper, Knoxville Confidential.) And next month, John is holding a meeting of the Wagner faithful to plan out a Karl Wagner Festival in Knoxville. 

It will be Sat. Oct. 17, 7 p.m., at Patrick Sullivan's Saloon in the Old City.

"This actually began with the offer of an Australian editor, Ben Szumskyj, to start a subscription to fund a monument to Karl in his home town, an offer that city officials met with a cavernous yawn," says John. "Originally I had no idea where such a thing might go, but, after a gent from Abingdon who, apparently, had been here suggested Sullivan's I began to see the logic of concentrating the focus there. After all, that used to be a row of second-hand shops where Karl acquired many of the old pulps and paperbacks that helped inspire the direction his writing took."

It would be a great thing for Knoxville to finally recognize one its most revered writers. Maybe the fact that he was a genre writer has contributed to his lack of local recognition? Well, the fact that it took a huge amount of effort to finally establish James Agee Park is one clue that Knoxville still doesn't have much reverence for its authors, no matter how auspicious. 

Head over to the official Karl Edward Wagner site for more info. And here's John Mayer's full memoir of Karl, which he originally wrote for Metro Pulse in 1995. 

Comments » 3

  • September 25, 2009
  • 6:34 PM
Curt Phillips writes:

A Karl Edward Wagner Festival? FANTASTIC! Wagner was a writer of staggering talent very much in the mold of Robert E. Howard, and like Howard he left this world far too soon - long before the extent of his genius was critically recognized. I traveled to Knoxville back in 1983 to see the legendary writer Steven King when he made a convention appearance in town. While he was singing books for a long line of fans, Karl Wagner arrived in the room. As soon as King saw him, he loudly announced to his audience, "I don't know why all you folks are waiting to get *my* autograph when a far better writer is sitting right over there". King was pointing at Karl Edward Wagner. I am delighted to see that a long overdue celebration of his life and work is finally being planned for this master fantasist. Thank you John Mayer for getting this Festival started, and thank you in advance, Knoxville, for supporting this tribute to your native son. I'm ready to buy my tickets and make my hotel reservations as soon as the date and place are announced. It'll be great to have such a good reason to visit Knoxville again.

Curt Phillips
Virginia

  • September 26, 2009
  • 9:16 AM
Charles R. Rutledge writes:

Nice to see Wagner getting some recognition. He definitely deserves it. Probably best known for his heroic fantasy hero-villain Kane, Wagner was also one of the hands down best horror writers I know of. Fitting that a festival in his honor should be held in the month of Halloween. Any of you folks looking for some really creepy horror to read during October should hunt down a copy of the Wagner collection, In a Lonely Place. Shivers are guaranteed with stories like In the Pines,.220 Swift, and especially one called Sticks. It's a shame that almost all of Karl Edward Wagner's work is out of print. He deserves to be rediscovered and a festival like this one will hopefully help get Wagner's name out there again.

Charles R. Rutledge
Atlanta, Ga

  • October 11, 2009
  • 3:51 PM
Ken Baker writes:

As a Tucson, Arizona native, my favorite author ever has been Tennessee's own Karl Edward Wagner. I would love to come SPEND my hard earned tourist dollars at such an event. Fans of this brilliant author from all over the world write to websites in his honor, singing Karl's praises. This will be a great way of bringing in much needed TOURIST DOLLARS to Tennessee from people who otherwise might never come to your beautiful state. Just name the date for the festival & I will be there...with my wallet open!

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