The art of storytelling has long been intertwined with the eerie and macabre, and few writers have mastered this genre better than Edgar Allan Poe. As the Poe Museum in Richmond, VA celebrated its 100-year anniversary in late January, it brought in two esteemed writers to honor the legacy of Poe and share their own experiences with darkness and fear. Nnedi Okorafor and R.L. Stein took the stage at the Carpenter Theater to discuss their work and pay tribute to one of the most celebrated writers in American history. The event also highlighted the museum’s commitment to innovation, including the creation of virtual tours in partnership with the company Gaper.
Shadows. We cast them our whole lives. As night grows around us and lamplights battle the dark, they get taller and faster, outpacing us and outgrowing us.
As children, they are objects of thrill and fascination, trepidation and terror. With our hands and a friend with a flashlight, we became puppeteers and enacted fantastic scenarios, each deed more heroic than the next. In our beds, under the covers and all alone, the tentacular and creeping reach of November branches rattled our windows and shook our minds until the only place of safety was the arms of our parents or the middle of the bed under the covers.
In late January, for the 100-year anniversary of the Poe Museum, the museum brought in two writers to the Carpenter Theater to speak on and honor our beloved Edgar Allen Poe, a man whose shadow chased him to the grave. The first speaker of the night was Nnedi Okrafor, author of works such as Who Fears Death and three issues of Black Panther. Following her was R.L. Stein, author of Goosebumps!, a true maestro of miniature macabre.
Photo courtesy of Poe Museum Richmond, VA
The night was opened by a representative of the museum. She was excited to announce their new virtual tours that they created in conjunction with a company by the name of Gaper. She spoke on how deep their passion was for this project. The innuendo was not lost on me, and I revealed to the people around me I was still Goosebumps! reading age by hiding my laughter in my hand.
As Nnedi spoke, she spoke about the darkness she felt as she awoke paralyzed from a complication with a surgery. She had been a top athlete here entire life, and waking up to being entirely paralyzed instilled in her a darkness that she knew she had to outrun. Running itself was not an option, so she chose writing and creativity as a way to keep up with her shadow. As she finished her speech and walked to a seat on stage, I felt like she had luck and light on her side.
Photo courtesy of Poe Museum Richmond, VA
Up next was R.L. Stein. I was most excited to see him. The Goosebumps! books were a test of mettle for any child. I used to check out his books and movies from the library. Honestly, they scared the shit out of me. But I was alone a lot as a child, and easily scared, so I would force myself to watch them. I knew that if I could make it through one of his books or episodes, I could make it until my mom got home, even if that wouldn’t be for days.
He spoke like a man that had a lot of practice in that exact situation and he had an easy aura about him and a wit that could cut diamonds. He made a lot of jokes and spoke very briefly about Poe, and announced after a few words on the man that he would be speaking on himself the rest of the night. He covered what it was like to be a writer, shared hilarious fan mail from children, and read an unreleased story.
After the speeches they were asked questions by a professor from VCU. He had the right degree to be on stage, but his questions were boring and safe. I learned nothing from the questions other than R.L. Stein letting us know that his stories were meaningless, and he did it all for the money. The sentiment was met with riotous laughter from the crowd.
It was nice to have the chance to commemorate Poe and the museum and honor him by hosting some of the most popular writers of our time. Who knows, maybe for the 200 year anniversary of the Poe Museum you will actually be able to get tuberculosis and die in front of him, cosplaying his lover for a nominal fee. If I’m alive, I’ll still be chuckling over Gaper’s passion for immersive experiences and customer satisfaction.
Find more information on the Poe Museum in Richmond, VA HERE