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Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born on August 20, 1890, in Providence, Rhode Island, USA. He was a precocious lad, cutting his literary teeth on Greek mythology and The Arabian Nights at the ripe old age of four.
Aged seven, he discovered the writings of Edgar Allen Poe. He later described his first stories1 as juvenile attempts to mimic Poe, and he credited Poe's fiction with instilling in him his affinity with the darker side of life.
Lovecraft was largely self-educated, as poor health and an eventual nervous breakdown prevented him from completing high school or attending Brown University. This he greatly regretted in his later years and probably accounts for the prominence of the fictional Miskatonic University in many of his stories.
He was a voracious reader, eagerly devouring nearly every book in his grandfather's library. After his early attempts at fiction2, he turned mainly to poetry, and articles and textbooks concerning astronomical and chemical matters.
His father died of syphilitic paralysis in an insane asylum in 1898, and following the death of his grandfather several years later, the Lovecraft family was forced to move out of their large Victorian house into cramped quarters, an adjustment that proved difficult for the young Howard. In 1917, he returned to writing fiction. He enrolled briefly in the National Guard at the start of World War I, but his mother had his enrollment withdrawn 'for medical reasons.' In 1921, his mother died during a botched gall bladder operation, after having spent several years in a sanitarium. Lovecraft married Sonia Greene, seven years younger than he, in 1924, and moved with her to an apartment in Brooklyn, New York.
He hated New York and was unable to find steady work, having to make do with income from his wife's hat shop, and what ghostwriting and revision work he could scrape together. He and Sonia separated amicably after two years, and he returned to Providence. In the spring of 1937, Lovecraft was diagnosed with intestinal cancer, and shortly after died of inflammation of the kidneys after having refused to see a doctor3.
His funeral was attended only by an aunt, one of her friends, a cousin, and a long-time friend and correspondent of Lovecraft's from Chicago. Some years later, fans of his work provided a tombstone with the inscription 'I am Providence'.
Lovecraft's legacy includes not only his fiction, but his tremendous body of correspondence over this period4, as well as his essay Supernatural Horror in Literature, written in 1927 and still considered by many to be one of the finest works on the subject. Lovecraft's fiction has gained enormously in popularity since his death. Though he never saw his stories published in a collection during his lifetime - only singly in such pulp magazines as Weird Tales - today his work is cited by such horror writers as Stephen King and Clive Barker, who acknowledge it as being a cornerstone of modern horror fiction.
His Cthulhu Mythos has inspired a multitude of novels, short stories, motion pictures, role-playing games, computer games and internet sites, and has a sizeable cult following, called Cthulhu Fhtagn. Lovecraft, however, would probably be most content with his widespread recognition as the greatest writer of American horror fiction since Poe.