August William Derleth was born in Sauk City, Wisconsin, on February 24, 1909. As a child he went to St. Aloysius School and Sauk City High School, after which he attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where he received his bachelor’s degree in 1930. Derleth sold his first story, “Bat’s Belfry,” when he was fifteen, and his interest in horror stories continued throughout his life. Some of his tales, such as those collected in The Mask of Cthulhu (1958), are written on themes reminiscent of Lovecraft, whose work Derleth greatly admired.
As a boy, Derleth read and enjoyed the Sherlock Holmes stories. When he was nineteen, he wrote to Doyle, asking if he would write any more adventures. When the reply contained no promise to do so, Derleth decided to continue the tradition himself. Thus, in 1928 while still at the university, he wrote “The Adventure of the Black Narcissus,” using Solar Pons and Dr. Lyndon Parker as his main characters, clearly modeled on Holmes and Dr. Watson. The story appeared in The Dragnet magazine in February, 1929. With this success, Derleth quickly wrote new adventures, including “The Adventure of the Missing Tenants,” “The Adventure of the Late Mr. Faversham,” and “The Adventure of the Limping Man.” He wrote quickly, once composing three Solar Pons stories in one day, one of which was the much-praised story “The Adventure of the Norcross Riddle.”
Derleth worked as an editor for Fawcett Publications in Minneapolis in 1930-1931 and was a lecturer in American regional literature at the University of Wisconsin from 1939 to 1943. As owner and cofounder of Arkham House Publishers in Sauk City from 1939 to 1971, he made some of his greatest contributions, including the preservation of Lovecraft’s fiction in book form after the original collections went out of print in the late 1940’s and 1950’s. In 1953 Derleth married Sandra Winters; they had one daughter and one son. They were divorced in 1959.
Derleth wrote more than one hundred books during his life and edited dozens of others. Among the honors he received are a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1938, the Scholastic Award in 1958, the Midland Authors Award (for poetry) in 1965, and the Ann Radcliffe Award in 1967. He died on July 4, 1971.