Columns > Published on October 2nd, 2017

LitReactor Remembers Kirk Clawes

AWP 2016, Los Angeles: Pictured left to right, top to bottom: Rob Hart, Bree Ogden, Joshua Chaplinsky, Renee Asher Pickup, Taylor Houston, Kirk Clawes, Dennis Widmyer

LitReactor suffered a huge blow a few days ago when we learned our co-founder and technical lead, Kirk Clawes, had passed away in his sleep. It truly was a shock, because Kirk was only 38 and so full of life.

For me, personally, I owe a huge debt to Kirk and LitReactor. They are responsible for keeping me employed (six years running, now), introducing me to numerous kindred spirits, both online and in person, and fostering an environment that provided me with the tools and contacts to see my own fiction published. For that I am grateful.

On top of that, he was a gregarious soul—easy to get along with and fun to be around. The handful of times I hung out with him over the years are testament to that. Case in point: the above photo of the LitReactor crew at AWP 2016 in Los Angeles. If I remember correctly, the men agreed, just before this picture was taken, to look as tough as possible. That's Kirk's "tough" face.

It goes without saying things won't be the same without him. I know it's not much, but we've collected some kind words from Kirk's friends and co-workers below. As I'm sure you'll notice, they are very similar in the best possible ways.

You will be missed, Kirk.

—Joshua Chaplinsky, Managing Editor

Dennis Widmyer — Co-Founder & Editor in Chief

I met Kirk online about fifteen years ago, back when the website I did for Chuck Palahniuk was just a rag-tag fan site. This was the "wild west" of the internet. Nobody was organized. Everything was new. Kirk was someone who reached out to me with a helping hand and soon, through his technical skills, he became not only an integral part of that website, but a good friend. We liked working with each other so much that we went on to develop multiple sites together over the long years, culminating in LitReactor in 2011, a site we co-ran together. It was working here that Kirk and I grew closer. We'd talk regularly every week. Usually about work stuff. But Kirk had a great and morbid sense of humor, like me. So we would always crack each other up. When the site would do literary conventions, I'd get the pleasure of meeting up with Kirk in person, getting dinner and drinks, and just hanging out in-between the work. We were two sides of the same coin. An equal and strong partnership. This year alone, both he and the rest of the core team at LitReactor had plans to revamp the site and launch it into a new phase. Kirk cared deeply about this sort of thing. He loved the community we had fostered on these websites. And he loved the family of people that stepped up and helped us, day to day. He toiled weekends pushing the envelope of what our site could be. As a man, he loved life. And he found love in life too. The pictures and stories he would tell about his girlfriend, Sarah E. Allen, their animals, and his passion for pottery, painted a picture of a multilayered soul. Someone driven. Someone at peace. As his friend and partner, I will do everything I can to continue to honor that soul. The world lost someone special. RIP Kirk, 'ol buddy. I love you and miss you like hell already.

Kirk with Puddle the rabbit and Sausage the pug

Taylor Houston — Instructor & Columnist

I met Kirk five years ago when I convinced the LitReactor crew to get a table at the Portland Wordstock festival. I sat with Kirk for a long time during the LitReactor meetup we had at a restaurant one of the nights we were there, and I had a blast laughing and chatting with him. He was so easy to like: friendly, funny, generous, goofy, enthusiastic, and super smart. I got to see Kirk again at the Seattle AWP when I crammed the whole crew into my car and drove everyone around town to my favorite taco joints and bars. Kirk was always up for another adventure, he always bought everyone a round, or ordered something extra special at the sushi joint for everyone to share. He took such great care of all of us. Kirk and I sat together at the Chuck/Suzy/Lidia/Chelsea/Monica Bedtime Stories reading, and some drunk lady dumped her red wine all over Kirk and me. He offered me his jacket to help soak up the mess. The last time I saw Kirk at AWP in Seattle, he had a lot of sweet words about a new lady in his life—Sarah—and I remember thinking she was a lucky woman. From the relatively few times I got to hang out with Kirk in person, he made a deep impression on me. I have lots of great memories of time spent with him. I really can't believe he is gone. A huge hole has opened up in our little LitReactor family that will be there forever. Rest in peace, friend. Saying that you will be missed is an understatement.

Jon Gingerich — Columnist

I got to hang out with Kirk only twice in person, but we were in contact all the time online. If you worked at LitReactor you relied on him constantly, and he ALWAYS delivered — there was no order too tall, no problem he couldn’t fix, and he always took care of things very quickly, even at punishingly late hours. Over the years I discovered we shared similar tastes in music as well as a penchant for bizarre humor. It wasn’t uncommon for me to wake up to discover the new Guy Fieri pics he’d plastered on my Facebook page that morning, which he did on a regular basis. He was a great guy with a big heart and I still can’t believe he’s gone. I’m really going to miss him.

Left to right: Leah Rhyne, Dennis Widmyer, Rob Hart, Renee Asher Pickup, Bree Ogden, Brandon Tietz, Kirk Clawes, Emma Clark

Leah Rhyne — Columnist

Oh Kirk. I miss you already. You taught me weird things like that there are men who dress in rubber lady-suits for funsies, and you shared the cutest pug videos in the world. You and I found the best ever restaurant in Washington DC, and edged around a White House protest together. You were my bodyguard that day, and it was so fun. From our first time meeting at AWP in Minnesota, I felt like you were family. I didn't know you long enough or well enough but you take with you a little bit of my heart. Take good care of it, my friend. And rest easy, knowing there were so many of us who loved you.

Renee Asher Pickup — Class Facilitator

Kirk, you were one of the easiest people to be around that I've ever met. I loved hanging out with you, manning the LitReactor booths at AWP, and I loved talking to you about the crazy stuff you watched on Netflix. I can't believe you're gone. I wish we had more time to laugh and joke, I wish we got to hug a few more times. I wish I got to hear more about you charming the ladies at your mom's work as a little kid. You built an amazing site that brought so many people together and introduced me to some of my favorite people. I thought of you every time I tried a new whiskey, and I don't think that will ever stop. I wish I could thank you for those brief times we got to spend together, for all the laughter, and fun, and for being one of the most genuine and kind people I've ever known.


Renee and Kirk

Brandon Tietz — Columnist

Kirk, you were without a doubt one of the best parts of this kooky little family we call LitReactor. It feels like only yesterday we were in D.C. eating crack pie, drinking whiskey, and having literary adventures that resulted in an unfortunate incident with the sink. Thanks for not giving me too much shit about that. And thank you for building the thing that would ultimately help me meet so many people I adore and respect—yourself included. I'll never forget our marathon booth chats and bar talks and the way that I would grab your beard without permission and you'd smile instead of punching me in the face. You truly are one of the good ones. You will be missed, my friend.

Emma Clark — Class Facilitator

Kirk was my coworker at LitReactor, but the moment I met him at my first AWP he became a dear friend. He was such an open person, so easy to talk to, that I can’t imagine I’m the first of his friends to feel so instantly close to him. I don’t know that I’ve known a sweeter, more kind or selfless human being. Kirk was a tech guy, always quick to point out that he’s “not a writer,” but who nonetheless possessed a gorgeous artistic streak as evidenced by his beautiful pottery. He had impeccable taste in whiskey. I trusted Kirk to give me sage advice when I needed it (except for the terrible date he encouraged me to go on, which we don’t discuss further here), and make me smile when I was down, and can only hope that I was as good a friend to him as he was to me. I’m honored to have shared the planet with him for a brief while.

Kirk and Emma

Craig Clevenger — Instructor

I only met Kirk in person once, maybe twice; our interaction was almost entirely online, the bulk of it some years ago. I wish I had more personal memories of the man, as reading the recollections of others makes clear how much I missed. So it’s taken a full day to understand why the news of his passing left me so shaken, and I still may not fully know for some time. But here’s what I know right now:

Communities like this are the first line of defense against the maddening solitude of writing, and this community has flourished by virtue of its participants. I believe any collection of people bound by a common goal succeeds when each member’s gains outweigh their contributions. And this place has succeeded by every measure.

We come here to share our work and our experience, our opinions and perspective, to offer and receive both criticism and moral support, and maybe keep abreast with the maddening rollercoaster of publishing industry news.

Kirk built this place.

He certainly didn’t do it alone; plenty of others deserve credit for its creation and maintenance. But it’s safe to say we wouldn’t be here without him. We can come together under a single, virtual roof to offer what we can and take what we need, ultimately becoming better writers, better observes and chroniclers of our species, all thanks to him.

Again, I wish I had known him personally, that I had actual memories of him instead of emails and other messages scattered over the years.

All I can offer is that while maybe each one of us would be a writer no matter what, we wouldn’t be together without Kirk.

Sleep, good man.

Richard Thomas — Instructor & Columnist

Kirk and I go way back to the Cult days. I want to say we met over 15 years ago. He was, at first, just the IT/Web guy at the site, later handling the same duties at LitReactor. But what I found out was that he also lived here in the Chicagoland area—Elgin, not too far from me. It wasn't until I went to his first holiday party that I realized the depth of Kirk's talent, emotion, and kindness. I had no idea that he wanted to sculpt, to throw pots, to create. He was just getting started, but every year that I went back, I got a new Kirk creation, and I will treasure them forever. He was so talented. As we stood in his living room, he explained to me the process, showed me what he was trying out—the work he loved, the pieces he thought were failures, and the new techniques he was trying. He showed me his kiln. It was really exciting. Looking around his house he had so much amazing art, and such great taste. We had a lot in common, our interests and passions—all of that starting with Chuck Palahniuk. I remember when I first met Sarah, when they were still friends, and then later, dating, and I could see then that they were in love. It was a beautiful thing. We lost a good man, way too soon. I was holding my favorite piece of his the other day, hypnotized by the colors, caressing it. It was the passion, the loss, the thought that Kirk made it with his own hands. I found that both tragic and touching, this duality of emotion—bittersweet. An appreciation for everything he was—and the loss of future days where I won't be able to bask in his humor, generosity, and love.

RIP, brother. You'll be missed

About the author

Joshua Chaplinsky is the Managing Editor of LitReactor. He is the author of The Paradox Twins (CLASH Books), the story collection Whispers in the Ear of A Dreaming Ape, and the parody Kanye West—Reanimator. His short fiction has been published by Vice, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Thuglit, Severed Press, Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, Broken River Books, and more. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @jaceycockrobin. More info at and

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