Sumiko Saulson is the author of Solitude, Warmth, and The Moon Cried Blood. Her blog, “Things That Go Bump in my Head,” focuses on horror writing, women in horror writing, African-Americans in horror writing and other topics. “20 Black Women in Horror Writing” originally appeared on her blog on Feburary 12, 2013 and she has graciously allowed us to crosspost it here as part of our 31 Days of Halloween celebration.
February is Black History Month here in the United States. It is also Women in Horror Month (WiHM). As an Ambassador for WiHM, and as a woman of color (I am Black and Jewish) who is a horror writer, I am poignantly aware of the fact that while women writing horror is a rare occurrence — women of color are exceedingly so. The number of black women writing horror that most people are aware of can still be counted on one hand. For a lot of people, in fact, it can be counted on one finger: “Octavia Butler.” Most people are aware that the talented Ms. Butler, best known for her Science Fiction works, has also written horror. Far too many fans of the genre are unfamiliar with Linda Addison, first African American winner of the Bram Stoker award, or Stoker award nominees Tananarive Due and Jemiah Jefferson. I am pleased to announce that I will be interviewing Linda Addison and Jemiah Jefferson for Women in Horror month as a part of the 2013 Women in Horror Interview Series. Every February, Women in Horror Recognition Month (WiHM) assists underrepresented female genre artists in gaining opportunities, exposure, and education through altruistic events, printed material, articles, interviews, and online support. You can find out more about WiHM here: http://www.womeninhorrormonth.com/
1. Octavia Butler
The first time I walked into a bookstore with a copy of my book Solitude and the shopkeeper at Marcus Bookstore read that it was science-fiction/horror the conversation quickly turned to Octavia Butler. The Hugo and Nebula award-winning science fiction writer was high-profile as a genre writer, although not all fans were aware of her race. She successfully crossed barriers of race and gender on the page, breaking down doors for generations to come. While she was best known as a science-fiction writer, some of her paranormal fiction such as “Fledgling,” the story of an adult vampire forever trapped in the body of a child, are considered by many horror. She passed away in 2006 at 58 years of age, leaving a legacy of firsts behind. One door she didn’t break down, though, was Hollywood. Unlike her contemporaries such as Harlan Ellison, none of her stories were ever made into a movie.
2. Linda D. Addison
Poet and horror writer Linda D. Addison was the first African American to win the coveted Bram Stoker Award in 2001 for her critically-acclaimed Consumed, Reduced to Beautiful Grey Ashes — the book’s first signing was at Barnes and Noble at Rockerfeller Center on 9/11/2001 and its themes connected with readers and critics alike in the wake of this national tragedy. The groundbreaking award winner went on to win the Bram Stoker Award an impressive total of three times, most recently for her 2011 poetry and prose collection How To Recognize A Demon Has Become Your Friend? Other current projects include “Four Elements” with three other female Stoker Award recipients, and Dark Duet, a book of music-inspired poetry.
3. Tananarive Due
Two-time Stoker Award nominee Tananarive Due is an NAACP Image Award and an American Book Award winner. The New York Times called her novel, My Soul To Keep, “Riveting, and masterfully researched.” A highly prolific writer, her impressive body of work includes over a dozen titles, written alone or in collaboration with her husband, Steven Barnes. Taking on everything from supernatural viruses to zombies to vampires, she is a trailblazer in that she is one of the first African American purely genre horror writers. She doesn’t just write stories from another genre that cross over into horror — she writes pure, unadulterated horror.
4. L.A. Banks
Leslie Esdaile Banks wrote in four different genres under four different pen names, all based on her own name, but it was her Vampire Huntress series under the “L.A. Banks” moniker that first caught my notice. When I first started reading them I didn’t know she was black, or a woman, but I loved the story… The Forsaken: A Vampire Huntress Legend. And I wasn’t the only one, apparently: I left it on the bar at a the local karaoke club and someone stole it while I was in the bathroom. The series read like a streetwise Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie with a hip, multicultural cast and grittier adult entanglements rife with lust and complication instead of teenage romance. Her experience as a romance writer definitely complemented this aspect of her highly entertaining stories. Unfortunately, she passed away in 2011 after a battle with cancer, leaving behind her a massive body of work.
5. Jemiah Jefferson
The hero of nerdy black women everywhere (me included), Jemiah Jefferson is like a superhero: comic book editor by day, author by night. No… seriously, editing comic books is her day job. She works at the editorial department of Dark Horse Comics (my fiance just said “hell ya!”) Her Gothic Horror series “The Vampire Quartet” begins in San Francisco with the adventures of Daniel Blum and then follows his extended vampire family across the ocean and back in time. It has been published in multiple languages. She has also written erotica, and a comic coming of age story called Mixtape for the Apocalypse.
6. Toni Morrison
One of the preeminent voices in African American literary fiction, Toni Morrison, while not a horror writer, has written a work that definitely warrants entry into the genre’s cannon of literature. Her Pulitzer Prize winning 1987 Civil War era drama Beloved is a classic ghost story. It tells of a presence at 124 Bluestone Road – thought of as malevolent by some. The magical realism of Song of Solomon and the dark psychological spaces in Jazz, Love, and The Bluest Eye certainly hold aspects in common with horror, which often deals in perception distorted, but only Beloved can be identified as a horror novel.
7. Helen Oyeyemi
British author won the 2010 Somerset Maugham Award and was nominated for the Shirley Jackson Award in 2009 for her work of dark fantasy and Gothic horror, White is for Witching. It isn’t the first foray into horror for this young author. Born December 1984, she was still in her early 20s when she wrote her 2006 book. The Icarus Girl mixes Nigerian myths with elements of the ghost story tradition and psychological horror. Two other novels, 2008′s The Opposite House and 2011′s Mr. Fox are not horror but the share elements of myth, magic and mysticism that horror so often shares in common with fantasy.
8. Nalo Hopkinson
Jamaican sci-fi and fantasy writer Nalo Hopkinson received multiple awards, including the 1999 Locus Award for Best First Novel for her debut work Brown Girl in the Ring, a tale against a post-apocalyptic backdrop involving a seer named Ti-Jeanne whose psychic visions only include the deaths of others, and a criminal mastermind overlord with a necromancer like ability to summon the dead. If that sounds a lot like horror to you — you’re not the only one. Her short story anthology, Skin Folk, features creepy folk tales about skin-shedding shape shifters, also fits the bill. She’s written three other novels, and a short story called “The Smile on the Face” appeared in a horror anthology.
9. Nnedi Okorafor
She won the Locus Award and was nominated for the Nebula award for her critically-acclaimed dystopian fantasy Who Fears Death?, and her Young Adult novel Zahrah the Windseeker appeared on the same short-list as Octavia Butler’s Fledgling in 2006. She counts among her influences Octavia Butler and Stephen King. This prize winning Nigerian American author is generally associated with the science-fiction and fantasy genres, although dystopic and post-apocalyptic literature is sometimes considered horror. Who Fears Death? is the post-apocalyptic tale 0f Onyesonwu, the last surving member of a tribe decimated by genocide, who discovers she possesses great magic and a mysterious shamanistic destiny.
10. N.K. Jemisin
Science-Fiction & Fantasy author N.K. Jemisin has won the Locus Award and twice been short-listed for the Hugo and Nebula Awards. Anyone who spends any time reading her witty political blog will know in a short while how compelling her writing style is. It is her dark fantasy The Killing Moon that got her on this list, however. Death, dark magic, and a peaceful religious society with a creepy “angel of death” style mercy-killing squad with a dream blood addiction all add up to the kind of disturbing thought provocation associated with top-notch science-fiction. One positive Amazon review of The Killing Moon said it was great, other than the fact it made it hard for the reader to sleep. As any Harlan Ellison fan can tell you, that is precisely the line at which speculative fiction becomes horror.
(Slay Belle: You can read our book club discussion of Jemisin’s fabulous The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms here.)
11. Alaya Dawn Johnson
Speculative fiction writer Alaya Dawn Johnson’s work of paranormal science-fantasy Moonshine gives us an alternate 1920′s New York that is crawling with blood-drug addicted vampire mobsters. Social activism isn’t enough to keep her protagonist, Zephyr Hollis, off the radar of a darkly seductive blood sucker named Amir. It’s sequel, Wicked City, gives us more of the plucky heroine. whose new cause is outlawing the blood-drug Faust. That’s when the vampires start dying.
Here latest work, The Summer Prince, is dystopian young adult fiction.
12. Chesya Burke
Speculative fiction writer Chesya Burke successfully blends literary fiction in the African American tradition with contemporary horror. She’s published over forty short stories in various publications including Dark Dreams: Horror and Suspense by Black Writers, Voices From the Other Side, and Whispers in the Night. She won the 2004 Twilight Tales award for short fiction. Publisher’s Weekly said of her short story collection, Let’s Play White, “The label of ‘dark fantasy and horror’ fits this collection both ironically and genuinely.” The short story “Unremembered,” available for free on her website, is a powerfully moving piece about a young autistic girl and a boy with leukemia.
13. Dia Reeves
Up-and-coming novelist Dia Reeves has two books to her credit: 2010′s Bleeding Violet and 2011′s Slice of Cherry. Both works of dark fantasy/horror are marketed as Young Adult, but contain enough blood, sex and angst to make them inappropriate for younger teens. Bleeding Violet is a coming-of-age story where bipolar biracial protagonist Hanna runs away from home only to find herself in a hotbed of paranormal activity. Before long, she must help combat an ancient evil. Slice of Cherry is a buddy story about a couple of mixed up kids getting ready to follow in their serial killer father’s footsteps. The psychotic duo live in the same strange town Hanna ran away to.
14. L. Marie Wood
L. Marie Wood is one of a half dozen black female writers who embrace the horror genre label. Her novel, Crescendo, debuted to positive press reviews. Her short story anthology, Caliginy, offered tales of psychological horror and suspense featuring vengeful women and restless spirits. This extremely prolific writer has ten published books, over one hundred short stories, and twenty poems to her credit. Crescendoreceived critical acclaim from such entities as Midwest Book Review and Buried.com. The novel was called “a highly complex work” by Book Publicity, LTD. She was nominated for the Bram Stoker Award for her short story anthology. We will be interviewing her later this month. While many writers
15. Pearl Cleage
Known for her civil rights orientation and her feminist views with regards to what black women experience, Pearl Cleage has achieved critical acclaim and commerical success for her non-fiction titles and her genre-hopping fiction. Her latest in a long list of excursions into new genre territory is the supernaturally themed 2011 Just Wanna Testify. It is about a couple of black fashion models in Atlanta who just happen to be vampires, although they have a whole lot in common with succubi. In a biting bit of social satire, the two women don’t survive off of life’s blood, but do feel the need to use and discard men for stud in the most brutal possible interpretation of the word. The story has the usual warmth, wit and wisdom of Cleage stories. While humorous tone of the tale puts it a bit out of the genre, it definitely belongs on this list.
16. Evie Rhodes
Award-winning gospel singer Evie Rhodes is also the author of several books in the urban fiction genre stories about the battle between Good and Evil. Her best received work, critically speaking, was her 2006 novel Criss-Cross, a psychological horror novel that pits Detective Micah Jordan-Wells against a dangerous serial killer who marks the bodies of the young women he murders with an “X”. Rhodes does a good job of getting into the head of her villain here and mixing elements of realism with fantasy in a world where the evil is both human and supernatural in origin. Other works which contain supernatural elements and can be categorized as horror include Out “A” Order and Expired. Unlike “Criss-Cross”, which was published by Kingston Press, her later books under Dafina came under some criticism for sloppy editing.
17. A.L. Peck
Psychological horror novelist A.L. Peck is not just the first black woman I interviewed on this blog – she’s the first author I interviewed of any kind. Her well-researched debut novel Abstract Murder puts the reader inside the minds of the criminals and detectives alike as we follow the terrifying lives of the monsters next door – serial killers – and the officers who track them down and capture them. Fan favorite serial killer “Mr. Nobody”, a.k.a. “The Artist” intrigued some readers so much that Andie began entertaining her fans by writing posts on Facebook in character. She is working on a second book in the series, which will be a prequel to the novel, tentatively titled Abstract Horror.
18. Sumiko Saulson
Sumiko Saulson is… well, this blogger. I am the author of three horror-genre novels, my well-received 2011 science-fiction/horror novel Solitude, the dark fantasy/horror novel The Moon Cried Blood, and the dark humor ghoul-and-zombie gorefest I lovingly refer to as Warmth. I also released a short story anthology at the end of 2102 named after this blog, Things That Go Bump In My Head. Although generally well received, my novel length works have (like the works of Evie Rhodes) received some criticism for poor editing, but were praised regarding plot and character development, cultural understanding and research. My stories tend to have multicultural casts and urban settings. The short story book – my most recent offering – is said to benefit from improved editing and so far is quite well received – if you can trust the author’s undoubtedly biased opinion on such things, that is.
19. Darlene Black
African American novelist Darlene Black is the author of the 2008 horror title Necromancy. She is working on a second novel, Hollis Hill. She hails from Philadelphia, which she sets as the backdrop for her debut work: an occult horror story about a man who follows his fiance further down the rabbit hole after she gets in too deep with a woman who has convinced her that she can speak to the dead. In attempting to know what is better left unlearned, Lansandra has pierced the Veil, which separates the living and the dead… and now she can indeed see the dead, and along with them angels, and demons, and Satan himself.
20. Angela C. Allen
The Dark Thirst Anthology includes short vampire stories by five different African American authors, three of whom are women. I’ve listed it under the name of its editor, who also has a short story in the collection, but horror writer Linda Addison has a story in the anthology, as do young adult novelist Monica Jackson, and romance novelist Donna Hill. In Ms. Allen’s short “Vamp Noir,” a charming young vampire is exiled from her clan and decides to start a new life in New York – as a mafia enforcer. Her story is a stand out, one of the two that showed up most often in association with positive reviews of the book on “Goodreads”. Although many in the blog-o-sphere have praised the work, we haven’t heard more from the talented Ms. Allen since 2004 – but we are certainly hoping we will in the future.
Since I published this article, I’ve been receiving more names, so I am working on a Part 2 but for now, I have simply added an addendum here:
If you can think of anyone who should be on this list but is not, please leave it in the comments for either article or send me a tweet @sumikoska or – email me firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know.