The annual Robert E. Howard Days return this Friday and Saturday to Cross Plains, celebrating the life and work of the acclaimed author and Conan the Barbarian creator.
The event will include tours of Howard’s home, bus tours, a silent auction, a swap meet, panel discussions, a poetry reading and lots of food as Howard enthusiasts from across the country join together to remember the literary pioneer.
Bill Cavalier is an Indiana resident who helps organize the annual festival and has attended every Robert E. Howard days since 2002. He was at the original Howard gathering in 1986. “A fellow named Rusty Burke, who is probably the number one Howard fan in the world, organized a trip,” Cavalier said of the inaugural festival. “He thought that it would be a good idea for some Howard fans to get together and visit Cross Plains and see where Howard worked.
“It was pretty exciting to get together with like-minded people who share a passion for a certain writer,” Cavalier said.
In 1989, a group called Project Pride formed and helped to formally organize the festival. They restored Howard’s home and turned it into a museum, and Cavalier said the home is now laid out as it was when Howard worked there in the early 20th century.
Today, Cavalier said Robert E. Howard Days have become a must-attend event for the author’s fans. “The best thing about the festival is that it’s all free,” Cavalier said. “You can get a guided tour of the house and see the actual spot where Howard did most of his writing … and there’s a pavilion adjacent to the house where you can sit out under the wide open spaces of Texas.”
The pavilion will host a hot dog lunch on Friday and a barbecue on Saturday evening. “Plus, there are plenty of ongoing things during the day,” Cavalier said. “We have a total of seven panels.”
Most of the panel discussions will be held at the First United Methodist Church in Cross Plains.
Cavalier said the theme of this year’s Howard Days is “Howard Detectives.” “Most of us, we’ve done research into Howard and we’ve gathered up all kinds of information,” Cavalier said. “Most of the prominent [Howard researchers] are going to be there this year.”
On Friday night, the festival will hold its annual celebration banquet and recognize this year’s guest of honor Paul Herman. “He is one of the main Howard detectives,” Cavalier said.
Despite all the fanfare, Cavalier said the festival serves primarily as a bonding experience for people who enjoy Howard’s work. “A lot of us when we get together, we talk about how Howard has affected our lives and what he means to us,” Cavalier said. “That always gets into some good conversation.”
Howard was born in 1906 and lived most of his life in Cross Plains, also spending time in Brownwood. Writing pulp fiction in a variety of genres, Howard is credited with creating the “sword and sorcery” subgenre that later inspired an entire industry of fantasy novels and stories.
Howard’s most famous character is Conan the Barbarian, who appeared with other Howard stories in the magazine “Weird Tales.” Howard died in Cross Plains in 1936 at the age of 30. He is buried in Brownwood’s Greenleaf Cemetery.
Cavalier said Howard also enjoyed boxing, a lesser-known fact about the prolific author. “They used to have boxing matches in back of the ice house there in Cross Plains,” he said. “He would actually go up there and fight …. We’ll have a panel where we talk about Howard’s boxing stories at the site where he actually boxed. That’s pretty neat.”
Cavalier thanked Project Pride for helping to organize Howard Days and preserve the writer’s legacy. All the proceeds they gather from the silent auction, banquet and donations will go back to the upkeep of the Howard Museum.
A complete schedule of events is available at www.howarddays.com. The Howard House is located at 625 SW Fifth St. in Cross Plains.