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Meeting Your Heroes

I’ve heard it said to “never meet your heroes.” However, there are certain people who impact your life in such a profound way that it would be a disservice to yourself and to them if you didn't seek them out when possible to have the chance to maybe engage on a more personal level. I personally believe, in this ever-distancing world, that these encounters are more important now than ever.

A literary hero might be the most elusive of all. 

I had the good fortune of meeting Clive Barker at a Harry Schwartz bookshop in Milwaukee about 20 years ago. It, to this day, plays on repeat on the highlight reel of my life. 

To say he is a major influence in my life is a vast understatement. At 14, when I first read his short horror fiction, I knew this was something unique and special. His writing brought poetry and elegance to a genre that was sorely lacking in those qualities up to that point. It has influenced and inspired my art and my writing ever since.

To those not familiar with Mr. Barker, he was very prolific in the 80’s and 90’s, moving from horror to dark fantasy to full adult fantasy novels. In 2012 he fell into a coma after a dental procedure left him battling toxic shock syndrome, which has affected his health ever since. He recently posted that he would be doing a handful of personal appearances throughout 2024 and then focusing entirely on various unfinished projects.

This news came the same evening as my final cover reveal for my upcoming horror poetry collection from Wild Ink. I learned that he would be coming to Chicago at the end of March and I made arrangements to make the trip.   

I arrived at the convention center with a framed photo of the two of us from that first Milwaukee meeting as well as a binder containing a selection of my strongest poems, a copy of the cover art for my book and an emotional letter explaining what a profound effect he has had in my life. Two hours later we would meet for the second and, most likely, last time.

He shook my hand and said ‘’Hello” and I was taken aback at the frail man before me. It was emotional to say the least. 

I showed him the photo of the two of us and he commented how we were both “children” back then. We reminisced on the picture and then I asked him if I could give him something. I handed him the folder and told him about the pending publication and that it would not even exist if it weren't for him. I could see he was affected by this and he shook my hand again.

He leafed through the pages and asked me how long I had been writing poetry and “why” I had started writing. Again I told him “because of you.” He said he was honored and actually asked ME to autograph the sampling for him. I was astounded. It was surreal as I signed my name to a dedication to him! 

He asked my wife if she was proud then asked her if “I” was proud, to which we both responded, absolutely. He ended by saying what a huge accomplishment this was. Before I left I shook his hand again and told him my contact information was included inside and if he ever felt the urge to send along any words of encouragement or advice I would be forever grateful.

I left deeply moved and affected and filled with many feelings. Validation, pride, hope, and a bittersweet sadness knowing this might be the last time I ever speak to him. It was a complete full circle moment for me and I am beyond grateful for his words and attention and just for being the genuinely decent human being I remember from 20 years before. I hope on some level it meant as much to him as it did to me.

I have been fortunate enough over the years to meet or have interactions with many of the people I look up to and respect. It is a gift to share these moments with individuals who have moved or inspired you and I would encourage anyone to take that chance if it presents itself.

Greg Jones is a poet and short story writer from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Specializing in horror and themes of a darker nature, his first poetry collection will be published by Wild Ink Publishing in Fall 2024.

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