About Clark Ashton Smith there is much written—though he remains, even today, less famous than his peers, H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard—and one approaches discussing him with trepidation: for their is also fanatical devotion to him, and mis-steps will be severely reprimanded. Still, it is worth a brief biographical overview, to highlight some of the lineaments that ultimately supported the Fortean community as well as Smith.
Clark Ashton was born 13 January 1893 in Long Valley, California, to Fanny and Timeus Smith. Early on, the family moved to Auburn, California, and built a cabin that served as Clark’s home for most of his life. The younger Smith never attended high school, reputedly because of a fear of crowds, and instead was taught at home. Famously, he read through a dictionary and the Encyclopedia Britannica (which was also the reading material of another Fortean, whose circle was tangential to Smith’s, Kenneth Rexroth). He taught himself French and Spanish.
Smith was something of a writing prodigy, selling stories to “Black Cat” magazine when he was 17. Among other genres, “Black Cat” published fantastic fiction and was warmly remembered by the later Fortean Miriam Allen Deford. Indeed, the magazine even published Fort’s fiction, “How Uncle Sam Lost Sixty-Four Dollars,” in 1904, not long before Smith broke into its pages.