Donald Albert Wandrei (April 20, 1908–October 15, 1987) was an American science fiction, fantasy and weird fiction writer, poet and editor. He wrote as Donald Wandrei. He was the older brother of science fiction writer and artist Howard Wandrei. He had fourteen stories in Weird Tales, another sixteen in Astounding Stories, plus a few in other magazines including Esquire.
Biography and Writing Career
Wandrei was born in Saint Paul, Ramsey County, Minnesota. All of his grandparents were early Minnesota settlers. Donald's father, Albert Christian Wandrei, became chief editor of West Publishing Company, America's leading publisher of law books. Donald grew up in his parents' house at 1152 Portland Ave, St Paul and lived there most of his life save for a stint in the Army and occasional sojourns in New York and Hollywood. He loved frequent rambles in the woods along the Minnesota River; it was Wandrei who later taught August Derleth the fine art of morel hunting.
He attended Central High in St Paul, Minnesota (1921–24), during which period he published short compositions in the school newspaper and avidly read the magazine Science and Invention. In 1923 he began work part-time as a 'page-boy' in the Circulation Room of the Saint Paul Public Library, filling reader's requests for books from the storage stacks; this expanded his access to, and reading of, a wide variety of literature. In 1923 and 1924 he also worked evenings at the Hill Reference Library. He graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1928, with a BA in English. While there he was a student editor on the student newspaper The Miinesota Daily. At that time he was enormously influenced by a reading of Arthur Machen's novel The Hill of Dreams.
Wandrei started writing in 1926 and his writing career took off around 1932. In late 1927 he hitchhiked from Minnesota to Rhode Island to visit H.P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft conducted him on a grand antiquarian tour of Providence, R.I. and then on to similar tours in Boston, Salem and Marblehead. There was also an excursion to Warren, R.I., later made famous by Wandrei's reminiscences in the Arkham House volume Marginalia (1944) during which Wandrei, Lovecraft and James Ferdinand Morton each sampled twenty-eight different flavors of ice cream at Maxfield's ice-cream parlour.
Wandrei was active in pulp magazines until the late 1930s. He was a member of the “Lovecraft Circle,” as a friend and protege of H. P. Lovecraft, corresponding with other members of the circle (Frank Belknap Long, Clark Ashton Smith, etc.). Wandrei personally made the case for Weird Tales to publish Lovecraft's “The Call of Cthulhu” telling Farnsworth Wright that unless he published the tale, Lovecraft may look for other magazines to submit stories to.
As an accomplished poet, Wandrei was the first to write a series of sonnets for Weird Tales, “Sonnets of the Midnight Hours.” Lovecraft liked the idea so much, he embarked on his own series, Fungi From Yuggoth.” Robert E. Howard also wrote his own series with “Sonnets out of Bedlam.”
Wandrei's only full-length fantastic novel, Dead Titans, Waken!, written in 1932, was rejected successively by three publishers - Harpers, Kendall and John Day, and finally shelved indefinitely by its author. However it was eventually destined to published in a heavily revised version in 1948 by Arkham House as The Web of Easter Island.
During 1933 Wandrei lived in a studio apartment in New York that was within easy walking distance of the offices of Street and Smith, who published Astounding Stories, so that Wandrei could easily bring in a new story by hand. His story “Colossus” was the first “thought variant” story (stories based on some new or not-yet-overworked idea such as other dimensions or the timetravel paradox), and helped revive the fortunes of Astounding under the editorship of his editorial mentor, F. Orlin Tremaine.
During the 1930s Wandrei wrote two more (non-fantastic) novels and several plays, one a collaboration with his brother Howard but none were published although they were submitted to various publishers and agents.
He contributed two stories to the Cthulhu Mythos: “The Fire Vampires” (1933) and “The Tree-Men of M'Bwa” (1933). Wandrei and August Derleth later co-founded the publishing house Arkham House to keep Lovecraft's legacy alive, an action for which Wandrei is perhaps better remembered than for his own fiction. Much of the editorial work on Lovecraft's Selected Letters series as published by Arkham House in five volumes, was performed by Wandrei.
Wandrei wrote some outlines for Gangbusters and other comicbooks in the 1940s, and also attempted writing song lyrics in Hollywood. After World War II he continued writing speculative fiction stories, although at a greatly reduced rate.
In the 1970s Wandrei commenced a long and tedious process of litigation against Arkham House, the publishing company he had helped to found.
He died in St. Paul in 1987.
In 1976 Philip Rahman met Wandrei at a convention and the two became friends. Three years after Wandrei's death in 1987, Rahman and his mostly silent partner Dennis Weiler founded the publishing firm of Fedogan and Bremer to issue work by Donald and Howard Wandrei as well as other classic pulp writers.