Happy birthday, Edgar Allan Poe. Seems strange using that name and that word “happy” in the same sentence. A tragic and morose figure in his short life, Poe is celebrated today, two hundred years after his birth, as the mad genius who started it all rolling in the genre of mystery fiction. His influence in other genres and fields of entertainment-from poetry to music to film-is incalculable. To put it simply, Edgar Allan Poe’s work has echoed loudly across two centuries and will undoubtedly echo for at least two more. He walked across a field of pristine grass, not a single blade broken. Today that path has been worn down to a deep trench that crosses the imagination of the whole world. If you look at best-seller lists, movie charts, and television ratings, they are simply dominated by the mystery genre and its many offshoots. The tendrils of imagination behind these contemporary works can be traced all the way back to Poe.
This collection is presented to you by the Mystery Writers of America. Since day one this organization has held Edgar Allan Poe as its symbol of excellence. The annual award bestowed by the MWA on the authors of books, television shows, and films of merit is a bust of Edgar Allan Poe. It is a caricature, and what is most notable about it is that the figure’s head is oversized to the point of being as wide as his shoulders. Having the honor of guest-editing this collection of stories and essays, I now realize why Edgar’s head is so big.
I’m not going to get analytical about Poe’s life or work here. I leave that to his disciples. Gathered here with his most notable works are the long and short thoughts of those who follow Poe-the writers who directly or not so directly have taken inspiration from him. These are Edgar winners, best-selling authors, and practitioners of the short story. From Stephen King, who writes so eloquently of his connection to Poe, to Sue Grafton, who lovingly, grudgingly, gives Poe his due, to the late Edward Hoch, who penned over nine hundred seventy-five short stories, these writers are the modern masters of the world Poe created. The idea here is simple. This is a birthday party. The twenty guests invited here by the Mystery Writers of America have come to honor Edgar Allan Poe on his two hundredth birthday. We celebrate his work, and we celebrate all that his work has wrought.
I wonder what Poe would think of this. My guess is that it would give him a big head.