Thomas Ligotti (born July 9, 1953) is a contemporary American horror author and reclusive literary cult figure. His writings have been noted as rooted in several literary genres – most prominently weird fiction – and have overall been described by critics such as S.T. Joshi as works of "philosophical horror", often written as short stories and novellas and with similarities to gothic fiction. The worldview espoused by Ligotti in both his fiction and non-fiction has been described as profoundly pessimistic and nihilistic. The Washington Post called him "the best kept secret in contemporary horror fiction."
Ligotti started his career as a published writer in the early 1980s with a number of short stories published in various American small press magazines. He was contributing editor to Grimoire from 1982-1985. While his tales gathered a small following, Ligotti's relative anonymity and reclusiveness led to speculation about his identity. In an introduction to a collection of Ligotti fiction, The Nightmare Factory (1996), Poppy Z. Brite mentioned these notions with a rhetorical question: "Are you out there, Thomas Ligotti?"
He has cited Thomas Bernhard, William S. Burroughs, Emil Cioran, Vladimir Nabokov, Edgar Allan Poe, and Bruno Schulz as being among his favorite writers. H. P. Lovecraft is also an important touchstone for Ligotti: a few stories, "The Sect of the Idiot" in particular, make explicit reference to Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos, and one, "The Last Feast of Harlequin", was dedicated to Lovecraft. Also among his avowed influences are Algernon Blackwood, M.R. James, and Arthur Machen, all fin de siècle horror authors known for their subtlety and implications of the cosmic and supernatural in their stories. He has also invoked the influence of philosophers such as Arthur Schopenhauer and Peter Wessel Zapffe.
Ligotti has suffered from chronic anxiety and anhedonia for much of his life; these have been prominent themes in his work. Ligotti avoids the explicit violence common in some recent horror fiction, preferring to establish a disquieting, pessimistic atmosphere through the use of subtlety and repetition. Ligotti has stated he prefers short stories to longer forms, both as a reader and as a writer, though he has written a novella, My Work Is Not Yet Done (2002) In 2011, he published The Conspiracy Against the Human Race, a non-fiction work.
In 2015, Ligotti's first two collections, Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe: His Lives and Works, were republished in one volume by Penguin Classics as Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe. Michael Calia of The Wall Street Journal wrote of the reprint that "Horror writer Thomas Ligotti is about to enter the American literary canon. Next month Penguin Classics will publish a volume of Mr. Ligotti’s short stories, making him one of 10 living writers, including Thomas Pynchon and Don DeLillo, among the hundreds the imprint has published in the U.S." Ligotti's work received high praise following the publication from the likes of The New York Times Book Review, The Los Angeles Times Review of Books, The Washington Post, and The New Yorker. Terrence Rafferty contrasts Ligotti with Stephen King, observing, "King, the great entertainer, needs the story as the comedian needs the joke, and when he can’t quite deliver it he dies (in the comedian’s sense). King is a master of horror, though. When inspiration fails, he has the technique to fake it. Thomas Ligotti is a master of a different order, practically a different species. He probably couldn’t fake it if he tried, and he never tries. He writes like horror incarnate."
Influences in other media
In 2014, the HBO television series True Detective attracted attention from some of Ligotti's fans because of the striking resemblance between the pessimistic, antinatalist philosophy espoused in the first few episodes by the character of Rust Cohle (played by Matthew McConaughey) and Ligotti's own philosophical pessimism and antinatalism, especially as expressed in The Conspiracy Against the Human Race. Prior to accusations that dialogue from Cohle's character in True Detective were lifted from The Conspiracy Against the Human Race, the series' writer, Nic Pizzolatto, confirmed in The Wall Street Journal that Ligotti, along with several other writers and texts in the weird supernatural horror genre, had indeed influenced him. Pizzolatto said he found The Conspiracy Against the Human Race to be "incredibly powerful writing". On the topic of hard-boiled detectives, he asked: "What could be more hardboiled than the worldview of Ligotti or [Emil] Cioran?"
Collaborations with musicians
Ligotti collaborated with the musical group Current 93 on the albums In a Foreign Town, In a Foreign Land (1997, reissued 2002), I Have a Special Plan for This World (2000), This Degenerate Little Town (2001) and The Unholy City (2003), all released on David Tibet's Durtro label. Tibet has also published several limited editions of Ligotti's books on Durtro Press. Additionally, Ligotti played guitar on Current 93's contribution to the compilation album Foxtrot, whose proceeds went to the treatment of musician John Balance's alcoholism.
Ligotti attended Macomb County Community College between 1971 and 1973 and graduated from Wayne State University in 1977.
For 23 years Ligotti worked as an Associate Editor at Gale Research (now the Gale Group), a publishing company that produces compilations of literary (and other) research. In the summer of 2001, Ligotti quit his job at the Gale Group and moved to south Florida. He politically identifies as socialist.
- 1982: Small Press Writers and Artists Organization, Best Author of Horror/Weird Fiction: The Chymist
- 1986: Rhysling Award, from Science Fiction Poetry Association (nomination): One Thousand Painful Variations Performed Upon Divers Creatures Undergoing the Treatment of Dr. Moreau, Humanist
- 1991: World Fantasy Award for Best Short Fiction (nomination): The Last Feast of Harlequin
- 1992: World Fantasy Award for Best Collection (nomination): Grimscribe: His Lives and Works
- 1997: World Fantasy Award for Best Collection (nomination): The Nightmare Factory
- 1995: Bram Stoker Award for Best Short Fiction (nomination): The Bungalow House
- 1996: Bram Stoker Award for Best Fiction Collection: The Nightmare Factory
- 1996: Bram Stoker Award for Best Long Fiction: The Red Tower
- 1996: British Fantasy Award for Best Fiction Collection: The Nightmare Factory
- 2002: Bram Stoker Award for Best Long Fiction: My Work Is Not Yet Done
- 2002: International Horror Guild Award, Long Form Category: My Work Is Not Yet Done
- 2010: Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in Nonfiction (nomination) The Conspiracy Against the Human Race
In July 2015 Born to Fear: Interviews with Thomas Ligotti, edited by Matt Cardin, was announced as one of the nominees for that year's World Fantasy Awards.