W was originally planned as a continuation of August W Derleth's The Arkham Collector (10 issues Summer 1967-Summer 1971; > Arkham House) and was thus to be called Whispers from Arkham, but legal considerations required the curtailed title. The intention was to provide news of forthcoming titles from Arkham House and other small presses – a service that W continued to provide, although its news was often dated – but from the outset space was always made for fiction, articles and poetry. The fiction was initially mainly by H P Lovecraft disciples – the opening story, "House of Cthulhu" by Brian Lumley, being an indication of direction. By #2 the magazine's ambience had already clearly widened to encompass the broader Weird Tales school of authors – with stories from Fritz Leiber and Henry Hasse (1913-1977) – and by the next issue W had begun to establish its own identity, with fiction from writers of a new generation – establishing, in a way, a modern equivalent of the WT school. #3 (1974) featured Karl Edward Wagner's "Sticks", based on an incident that had happened to artist Lee Brown Coye (1907-1981), who provided the cover. The story won the British Fantasy Award; W itself went on to win the first World Fantasy Award in 1975. The emphasis on new work by WT writers never faded – later issues featured Hugh B Cave, Carl Jacobi (1908-1997) and Manly Wade Wellman – but W increasingly became a core publication for new and even established writers at a time when markets for fantasy and Supernatural Fiction were poor. Contributors included Robert Aickman, Ramsey Campbell, David Campton (1924- ), Dennis Etchison, Charles L Grant, R A Lafferty, Richard Christian Matheson, William F Nolan and Ray Russell (1924- ). W also featured good cover art by Tim Kirk (1947- ), Stephen Fabian (1930- ), Frank Utpatel (1905-1980) and John Stewart (1942- ).
The pressure of Schiff's studies and his professional work as a dentist restricted the time he could spend on W; as issues became variously delayed, he converted them to double issues, which provided better value. These were eagerly awaited, as they tended to focus on a particular author. The first of these (#11/#12 October 1978), on Wellman, was also the first issue of W to be professionally typeset; the next (#13/#14 October 1979), on Leiber, had W's first wraparound colour cover. Other special issues were #15/#16 (March 1982), on Campbell, #17/#18 (August 1982), on Stephen King, and #19/#20 (October 1983), on Whitley Strieber. W's fiction, while remaining true to the diversity and colour of the WT tradition, also helped succour the roots of the new school of horror that emerged in the wake of Stephen King's success. The magazine won the World Fantasy Award again in 1977, 1983 and 1985; "The Bones Wizard" by Alan Ryan (1943- ) (from #21/#22) shared the 1985 World Fantasy Award. The success of the magazine gave rise to an anthology series (> 2).
In 1975 Schiff founded Whispers Press, through which he issued hardbound copies of the magazine: Volume I (1975) (#1-#4); II (1978) (#5-#8) and IV (1979) (#13-#16) – there was no hardbound III, which was simply the magazine issue itself. The last 5 double issues – #15/#16, #17/#18, #19/#20, #21/#22 and #23/#24 – were also released in hardcover editions. In addition Whispers Press issued A Winter Wish and Other Poems (coll 1977) by Lovecraft, Rime Isle (1977) by Leiber, Strange Eons (1978) by Robert Bloch, Heroes and Horrors (coll 1978) by Leiber, The Scallion Stone (coll 1980) by Basil A Smith (1908-1969) – Ghost Stories in the M R James tradition – Psycho II (1982) by Bloch, Foundation's Edge (1982) by Isaac Asimov and The Tomb (1984) by F Paul Wilson. Unfortunately, production costs became too great, and both Whispers Press and W itself died. [MA]
2. An Anthology series grew out of Whispers magazine: Whispers (anth 1977), Whispers II (anth 1979), III (anth 1981), IV (anth 1983), V (anth 1985) and VI (anth 1987), all ed Stuart David Schiff. The first volume consisted primarily of reprints from the magazine, but later volumes each contained only 5-6 such reprints, the remainder of their contents being new. The series tended to publish darker and more sinister material than the magazine. "Elle est Trois (La Mort)" by Tanith Lee, from Whispers IV, won the 1984 World Fantasy Award. The Best of Whispers (anth 1994) was selected from the earlier anthologies and from the unpublished «Whispers VII». [MA]