At the age of seven, horror novelist and poet Peter Straub was involved in a serious car accident that caused traumatic physical and psychological damage. In his memoir, "Inside Story," Straub detailed the life-altering event. Straub writes in his book that "the child I had been died, and a twitchy, fearful, furious, embittered, larval-stage sociopath in a perpetual state of denial now bore his name."
John Tibbetts, an associate professor of film studies at the University, recently set out to uncover more from Straub's past and writings — including that pivotal moment — in his book, "The Gothic Worlds of Peter Straub."
To accomplish this, Tibbetts conducted a variety of interviews that included several conversations with Straub himself. He also spent days searching the author's archives, most of which are found at New York University's Fales Library.
After the research process, Tibbetts pieced together for the first time in Straub's career a puzzle that depicts the Milwaukee native as an equal to fellow horror novelists such as Stephen King.
"He’s almost like an experimental writer who’s playing with prose, sampling effects, making up new words," Tibbetts said. "It's almost like he's like a Virginia Woolf or James Joyce who experiments with language itself as a vehicle of expression. He’s a very complex writer, because it's not just the stories, the themes, the subjects [and] characters. But it's the language itself that he's working on."
Straub is best known for his collaborations with King, who Tibbetts also spoke to briefly for his project. After the success of "Ghost Story" and "Shadowland," Straub went on to complete both the award-winning "The Talisman" and the Stoker Award-nominated sequel "Black House" with King.
"The Gothic Worlds of Peter Staub" offers an in-depth exploration that goes beyond Tibbetts' connection with the literary mogul.
Matthew Jacobson, a professor and director of undergraduate studies in the department of film and media studies, points to Tibbetts' ongoing friendships with creative talents such as Straub as a primary reason the book works on a variety of levels.
"[Tibbetts has] managed to build this relationship he's had with [Straub] into a compelling examination into the complexity of being an author," Jacobson said.
In his book, Tibbetts details how Straub used his traumatic accident as a profound literary tool.
"That deeper experience made him realize that writing stories is a way of confronting trauma," Tibbetts said. "It's a way of confronting pain and psychological confusion. We may want to escape those things, but for him it wasn't an escape so much."
Tibbetts is now traveling the United States for the promotion of his new book. On Oct. 27, Tibbetts spoke at the World Fantasy Convention in Columbus, Ohio, alongside Straub. Tibbetts said he received warm feedback from the author about his finished product.
"He’s been very kind about my book," Tibbetts said, "because nobody had ever written about those things in his life. It is a more personal look behind the scenes at the writers desk, so for him to say that made me feel really good about it."
— Edited by Cody Schmitz