Erle Korshak (1923-2021)

Erle Korshak, one of the last two surviving attendees of the first Worldcon in 1939, died August 25.

With Korshak’s death, Bob Madle is the sole surviving attendee of the first Worldcon.

Front: Mark Reinsberg, Jack Agnew, Ross Rocklynne Top: V. Kidwell, Robert A. Madle, Erle Koeshak, Ray Bradbury at Coney Island, 7/4/1939, during the first Worldcon held in New York.

Korshak’s first encounter with science fiction was in 1934 as an 11-year-old, following up his good friend Mark Reinsberg’s interest in the stories Astounding was publishing. In 1939, he created Moonstruck Press with the ambition of compiling a bibliography of every fantasy book published to that time. 

Korshak also was part of the leadership triumvirate that brought the second Worldcon to Chicago in 1940. Reinsberg was chair, Korshak secretary, and Bob Tucker treasurer. Korshak presided over the opening day of the con, when Reinsberg fell ill.

A Buck Rogers-themed header from the Chicon program book. Supplied by the John F. Dille Co.

Korshak was going to be one of the guests of honor at the 2022 Worldcon, Chicon 8. Convention chair Helen Montgomery said, “We were so happy to be able to call and ask him to join us. Erle was so excited to be our Guest of Honor, and told us so in every conversation we had with him since then.”

Erle Korshak auctioning at Pacificon, 1946.

During World War II he served in the U.S. Army, enlisting in 1942 a month after he turned 19. He later graduated from law school, as did others in Chicago’s influential Korshak family. He became a successful lawyer and businessman in California and Nevada. (A diagram of the family tree is here.)

In the Fifties, Korshak helped found Shasta: Publishers together with T.E. Dikty and Mark Reinsberg, one of the earliest sf specialty presses. They initially planned only to publish Everett F. Bleiler’s The Checklist of Fantastic Literature (1948). However, the Library of Congress reviewed the copy they received, calling it “a lasting contribution to the American arts in the field of the humanities,” Korshak told interviewers. “Every library in America bought the book, the checklist. We couldn’t believe it. All of a sudden we’re selling these things — and it was expensive, because six dollars was big money in those days.” They sold out the first edition, and then did a second edition. “So now [Dikty]and I are looking at each other and saying hey, this is a great feeling, why don’t we publish some more books?” They began reprinting famous pulp sf works in hardcover. Some of Shasta’s best-known books were Who Goes There? (1948) by John W. Campbell, Jr.; The Man Who Sold the Moon (1950) by Robert A. Heinlein; Sidewise in Time (1950) by Murray Leinster; and The Demolished Man (1953) by Alfred Bester. Shasta operated from 1947-1957. And in 2009, Korshak and his son Stephen revived the imprint as “Shasta-Phoenix” to publish collections of classic sf art.

When Shasta originally went out of business, Erle dropped out of organized fandom for three decades. He resumed attending conventions in the Eighties, beginning with the 1986 Worldcon where his friend Ray Bradbury was guest of honor.

He was inducted into the First Fandom Hall of Fame in 1996.

At the Chicago 7 Worldcon of 2012, Erle Korshak was interviewed onstage by John Scalzi. Asked by Scalzi how many people came to the first Chicago Worldcon, Korshak said 129, and Scalzi gestured to the front of the Grand Ballroom, “About the first two rows here.”

Erle Korshak being interviewed at Chicon 7 in 2012. Photo by Keith Stokes.

Chicon 8’s announcement of Korshak’s death says he will still be celebrated next year:

Our plans to honor Erle will not change. We will continue to plan to celebrate his amazing life and his contributions to fandom, from the early days of Worldcon to starting Shasta Publishing to his career as an attorney and his love of art which he passed on to his children.

Erle Korshak photo from the Chicon 8 website.

A slideshow of additional photos of Erle Korshak taken by Andrew Porter.

8 thoughts on “Erle Korshak (1923-2021)

  1. Wow. I’m surprised he wasn’t invited to be a Worldcon GoH sooner. He did really well, especially making it to 98.

    RIP, Erle Korshak.

  2. I always enjoyed chatting with him at conventions (and once in a bookstore). He had interesting stories to tell of the early days of fandom. I’m glad he got to do the FANAC interview with Joe Siclari. I think we will all miss him. Our memories of him will definitely be a blessing.

    I guess Bob Madle gets to drink the elusive bottle of bourbon.

    Grace and Peace.

  3. I never had the honour to meet Erle Korshak, but I’m still very sorry to hear this, if only because I’d hoped that he’d get to enjoy his time as GoH of Chicon 8.

    Still, what an amazing life!

    My sympathies to his family. May he rest in peace.

  4. Erle Korshak – A Fan History Zoom Session with Joe Siclari and Stephen Korshak

    Erle Korshak, founder of the legendary Shasta Publishers, instrumental in the second Worldcon in 1940 (Chicon I), very likely the first SF bookseller, and a Guest of Honor at Chicon 8 (2022 Worldcon), sat with his son, Stephen, and fan historian Joe Siclari for a dive into his 80+ year SF fan career (April 2021).

    Part 1 of this wide-ranging and entertaining interview covers Erle’s early days in fandom beginning in 1934, his experiences at the first Worldcon as a 16 year old with his high school friend, Mark Reinsberg, and how they became the leaders of the 2nd Worldcon, Chicon 1, in 1940. Erle tells numerous anecdotes about some of the famous fans and pros of the period, including Bob Tucker, E.E. “Doc” Smith, Anthony Boucher, L. Ron Hubbard, Robert Heinlein and others.

    Part 2 of his interview is replete with entertaining anecdotes of well known fans and pros in the field such as Aldous Huxley, Charlie Hornig, and Bob Tucker. Erle recounts a sweet tale of Frank R. Paul drawing on stencil, and a charming story of how he himself came to be the model for the Hubert Rogers cover for Heinlein’s “Revolt in 2100”.

    Erle tells wonderful stories of Shasta, including how the Library of Congress made them successful. He recounts in detail the rise, fall and controversies of the small press.

    Part One — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1wrUeYvvzJ8
    Part Two — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0PE8pcwolOo

  5. At a WorldCon in the early 2000s, I was waiting in line for a late breakfast. It was one of those things where you put your party size in and they call when a table That many becomes available. There were three of them and me but there was a long wait for one and two person tables. His party got seated at a four-banger, so Erle invited me to sit with his party of three and we ended up talking for almost 3 hours over a very nice Buffet. So much history pouring out

  6. For all we know, we was invited to be a GOH at Worldcon earlier. I understand the reasoning behind not publicizing the GOH before the vote; I remain baffled why the secrecy afterward. I’m sorry to see he’s gone.

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