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Synopsis

Clark Ashton Smith (13 January 1893 - 14 August 1961) was a self-educated American poet, sculptor, painter and author of fantasy, horror and science fiction short stories. He achieved early local recognition, largely through the enthusiasm of George Sterling, for traditional verse in the vein of Swinburne. As a poet, Smith is grouped with the West Coast Romantics (alongside Ambrose Bierce, Joaquin Miller, Sterling, Nora May French, and others) and remembered as The Last of the Great Romantics and The Bard of Auburn. As a member of the Lovecraft circle, (Smiths literary friendship with H. P. Lovecraft lasted from 1922 until Lovecrafts death in 1937), Smith remains second only to Lovecraft in general esteem and importance amongst contributors to the pulp magazine Weird Tales, where some readers objected to his morbidness and violation of pulp traditions. (It has been said of him that Nobody since Poe has so loved a well-rotted corpse.) His work is marked chiefly by an extraordinarily wide and ornate vocabulary, a cosmic perspective and a vein of sardonic and sometimes ribald humor.

His first literary efforts, at the age of 11, took the form of fairy tales and imitations of the Arabian Nights. Later, he wrote long adventure novels dealing with Oriental life. By 14 he had already written a short adventure novel called The Black Diamonds which was lost for years until published in 2002. Another juvenile novel was written in his teenaged years-The Sword of Zagan (unpublished until 2004). Like The Black Diamonds, it uses a medieval, Arabian Nights-like setting, and the Arabian Nights, like the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm and the works of Edgar Allan Poe, are known to have strongly influenced Smiths early writing, as did William Beckfords Vathek.

At age 17, he sold several tales to The Black Cat, a magazine which specialized in unusual tales. He also published some tales in The Overland Monthly in this brief foray into fiction which preceded his poetic career.

However, it was primarily poetry that motivated the young Smith and he confined his efforts for poetry for more than a decade. In his later youth, Smith made the acquaintance of the San Francisco poet George Sterling through a member of the local Auburn Monday Night Club, where he read several of his poems with considerable success. On a month-long visit to Sterling in Carmel, California, Smith was introduced by Sterling to the poetry of Baudelaire.

He became Sterlings protégé and Sterling helped him to publish his first volume of poems, The Star-Treader and Other Poems, at the age of 19. Smith received international acclaim for the collection The Star-Treader was received very favorably by American critics, one of whom named Smith the Keats of the Pacific. Smith briefly moved among the circle that included Ambrose Bierce and Jack London, but his early fame soon faded away.

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