Image - photos of speakers and Edgar Allan Poe

San Francisco

Humanities West Presents Edgar Allan Poe: Myths, Mysteries and Misconceptions

In-person TicketsOnline-only Tickets

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The popular image of Edgar Allan Poe is that of a sickly, gloomy, dour fellow obsessed with all things eerie and terrifying. Tragically, both for his personal life and because it reinforced this literary myth, Poe died on October 7, 1849, at just forty, in a painful, utterly bizarre manner that would not have been out of place in one of his own tales of terror. The literary effect of his untimely death was also compounded by the mystery of what happened to him, during the three days he went missing, before he was found delirious on the streets of Baltimore, wearing ill-fitting clothes that were not his own. There has been a staggering amount of speculation about the cause of his death, from rabies and syphilis to suicide, alcoholism, and even murder. But many of these theories are based on the caricature we have come to associate with Poe: the gloomy-eyed grandfather of Goth, hunched over a writing desk with a raven perched on one shoulder, drunkenly scribbling his masterpieces. By debunking the myths of how he lived, we intend to come closer to understanding the real Poe.

Poe scholar Amy Branam Armiento will discuss select works by the master of the macabre. She will explain the temptations and dangers of linking Poe to his insane narrators and grief-stricken speakers as well as cover some examples of how he incorporated contemporary events into his poems and tales. Drawing upon her scholarship on Poe and women, Armiento will also elucidate the roles women have played in inspiring his writing, restoring his reputation, and sustaining his literary legacy for more than 200 years.

Mark Dawidziak will discuss how the grotesque stereotypes about Poe have little basis in fact, and will undercut the many myths and misconceptions that have obscured the versatile, prolific and dedicated artist responsible for such classic works as "The Tell-Tale Heart," "The Cask of Amontillado," "The Purloined Letter," "The Raven" and "Annabel Lee." Dawidziak also will examine how Poe’s death, under haunting circumstances that reflect the mystery and horror genres that he took to new heights, has been one of the key factors keeping him alive in the 21st century as one of the best-read and most-recognized American writers.

MLF Organizer
Jolene Huey.

Come in costume, if you wish. Starting at 4 p.m., we will have a reception with snacks, drinks and a costume contest. Prizes will be awarded around 4:45 p.m. for Best Halloween costume, for Best Edgar-Allan-Poe-Themed Costume, and for other categories we will make up on the spot, inspired by your creative costumes.

This Humanities West program is co-sponsored by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at San Francisco State and by the Mechanics' Institute, at 57 Post Street, where its CinemaLit series will be showing the 1961 film The Pit and the Pendulum on October 20 at 6 p.m. Tickets to that film are free for Commonwealth Club members and for Humanities West members.

This program has 2 types of tickets available: In-person and online-only. Please pre-register to receive a link to the live-stream event.

If you have symptoms of illness (coughing, fever, etc.), we ask that you either stay home or wear a mask. Our front desk has complimentary masks for members and guests who would like one.

A Humanities Member-led Forum program. Forums at the Club are organized and run by volunteer programmers who are members of The Commonwealth Club, and they cover a diverse range of topics. Learn more about our Forums.

Photo courtesy the speaker.

All ticket sales are final and nonrefundable.

Fri, Oct 27 / 5:00 PM PDT

The Commonwealth Club of California
110 The Embarcadero
Taube Family Auditorium
San Francisco, CA 94105
United States

Image - Amy Branam Armiento

Amy Branam Armiento

Professor of English, Frostburg State University; Past President, Poe Studies Association; Co-editor, Poe and Women: Recognition and Revision

Image - Mark Dawidziak

Mark Dawidziak

former Television, Film and Theater Critic, Akron Beacon Journal and the Cleveland Plain Dealer; Author, A Mystery of Mysteries: The Death and Life of Edgar Allan Poe

Image - George Hammond

In Conversation with George Hammond

Author, Conversations With Socrates


4 p.m. doors open, check-in & Halloween costume reception
5–7 p.m program
(all times PDT)


$25 members
$35 nonmembers
Free for Leadership Circle members and for students 
$10 for members
$20 nonmembers
Free for Leadership Circle members and for students