Joseph Payne Brennan (December 20, 1918 – January 28, 1990), was an American writer of westerns, horror, and poetry. He graduated from Hillhouse High School in New Haven and lived most of his life in Connecticut. He attended the Junior College of Commerce, but his father became ill and passed away during his sophomore year, so he left school to support his mother and sister. He served three years in the Army during World War II. A guide to his papers at the John Hay Library at Brown University include military documents from 1943 to 1946 showing he was transferred to Europe and received commendations from General George Patton. He received four battle stars, one of them for his participation in the Battle of the Bulge, the last major German offensive on the Western Front during December 1944 and January 1945.
He worked at the Yale University Library before and after the war, where he remained employed until his retirement in 1985. His first professional sale was a poem to the Christian Science Monitor Home Forum in 1940. He had focused primarily on poetry up to that point, but soon branched out into the world of fiction. Brennan wrote 26 western stories for the pulps before he changed gears and came into his own as an author of supernatural horror in the early 1950s. He sold his first horror story “The Green Parrot” to Dorothy McIlwraith at Weird Tales in 1952. He followed up with one of his most celebrated stories, a novelette entitled “Slime,” which appeared in the March 1953 issue, featuring his story on the cover with art by Virgil Finlay. He appeared in Weird Tales regularly until that incarnation of the magazine ceased publication in 1954.
Brennan published his own magazines beginning in 1955, Essence and Macabre, the latter geared toward keeping the spirit of Weird Tales alive. He published 23 issues of Macabre over a span of almost 20 years. At the time, Brennan regularly corresponded with August Derleth of Arkham House fame, an author in his own right. Derleth published the first collection of Brennan’s horror stories, Nine Horrors and a Dream in 1958. That collection was later published in paperback by Ballantine Books in 1962. The Arkham House edition of the book is expensive; the paperback edition is scarce. It is a jewel of my collection. I keep holding out hope that someone will reissue the title so I can read the stories in the middle of the book without cracking the spine.
Brennan was a prolific author of short stories and poetry. According to the Grant edition of The Borders Just Beyond, he wrote several thousand poems and approximately 500 short stories. His stories appeared in over 100 anthologies, including the iconic Pan Book of Horror Stories, the Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories, Whispers, Night Visions, Charles L. Grant’s Shadows series, Dennis Etchison’s Masters of Darkness series, and Ramsey Campbell’s Fine Frights, to name just a few. His work also appeared in such esteemed publications as The New York Times, Esquire, The Chicago Review, and The Yale Literary Magazine. Brennan’s 1980 collection, The Shapes of Midnight collected many of his classic tales with an introduction by Stephen King.
Brennan’s stories were adapted for both radio and television, and he was recognized by fans and contemporaries as an important author at a time when horror fiction evolved from the pulp years into the modern era. The television series Thriller, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and Tales from the Darkside ran episodes based on his work. Brennan appeared at the 1982 World Fantasy Convention as guest of honor, where he was given a special convention award for lifetime achievement. He also achieved great success as a poet, receiving the Hartshorne award, the Leonora Speyer Memorial Award, and the International Clark Ashton Smith Poetry award. In all, as far as I can tell, nearly twenty collections of Brennan’s work were published in his lifetime.
More information about Brennan can be found in the Brown University’s “Guide to the Joseph Payne Brennan papers,” stored online here.
To browse the list of Joseph Payne Brennan titles currently available on Amazon, click here.
These cover scans are from the library of author Christopher Fulbright. The featured image for this post is from The Shapes of Midnight cover art by Kirk Reinert.