Horror can sneak into any genre if given the angle. Black authors convey this best in their writing.
Tananarive Due said it best:
Black history is black horror.”Tananarive Due
At one glance, these writers can easily pass in science fiction or fantasy, but we can’t ignore the horror elements to each story brought. Whether they bring historical background to their stories or creating alien invasions that warp your mind, here are seven writers that changed the game in the horror genre.
1. Octavia E. Butler
Octavia E. Butler was born and raised by a widowed mother. As a child, she was an introvert, so her gateway was going to the library and reading fantasy. In her teens, she began to explore science fiction writing, and her writing abilities only blossomed when she attended Clarion Workshop.
Octavia E. Butler has won a plethora of awards, from Hugo to Nebula awards. She was the first science fiction writer to win the MacArthur Fellowship award. Now, why is Butler in the horror category if all her awards are associated with science fiction? The majority of her work heavily leans into horror elements and other genres such as science fiction, fantasy, and psychological fiction.
“Humans said one thing with their bodies and another with their mouths and everyone had to spend time and energy figuring out what they really meant. And once you did understand them, the Humans got angry and acted as though you had stolen thoughts from their minds.”— Octavia E. Butler
Science fiction, fantasy, and horror elements are heavily present in her storytelling.
Her more infamous horror books are:
2. Victor Lavalle
Victor Lavalle was born and raised in Queens, New York by a single mother. As a child and in his teens, he gravitated toward horror novels. He once stated that he always related to the monster–- of the villains in stories.
“What makes a monster? Who has to be victimized for someone or something to be considered evil? I’d like to think there are some bedrock goals or beliefs that are universal, but even a cursory glance at world history—at the clash of various cultures—suggests otherwise. So maybe the only thing to rely on is a grounded perspective in either a narrator or a protagonist, one that communicates the values at play in a particular story. If those are clear then a reader might, I hope, follow any culture anywhere.”— Victor Lavalle, Nightmare Magazine
Like Butler, he tends to overlap the horror element with other genres. But he bluntly focuses on horror elements as a way to display that Black people make choices in their stories based on what they believe is right.
Lavelle has won numerous awards from within the horror category: Bram Stoker Award and Shirley Jackson Award, to fantasy centric World Fantasy Award, British Fantasy Award, Whiting Writers’ Award, and a Guggenheim award.
For his horror novels, please check out these four titles down below!
3. Leslie Ann Peterson (Pen Name: L.A. Banks)
Born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Leslie Ann Peterson was a writer of many trades. She wrote for different magazines, newspaper columns, and commercial fiction for five publishing companies: St. Martin’s Press, Simon & Schuster, Kensington Publishing, BET/Arabesque, BET/Arabesque, and Genesis Press.
Her most famous work is her vampire series. The Vampire Huntress intermixes horror undertones with sexy mystics inside this fictitious world. She implemented Black characters in usually predominated white roles, but no matter the case, she made sure her characters were strong, resilient, and black.
Shortly after her death, a fellow writer wrote about their experience knowing Banks,
“But the first thing Leslie did was set all that stuff down and hug me. We’d never met. I was unprepared for that much open, shared joy at just being in the company of another writer. It was both disarming and infectious. That was, and always will be, Leslie Banks.”— Gregory Frost, Tor.com
Her most notable award was the Essence Literary Award.
Check out her supernatural book series.
The Vampire Huntress Series (12 books)
Crimson Moon Novels (6 Books)
4. Tananarive Due
Tananarive Due was raised by civil rights activist, Patricia Stephen Due and civil rights lawyer, John D. Due Jr. With that in mind, she was on the path to success. She originally went to school with a journalism degree at Northwestern University, but obtained her Master’s in English Literature with an emphasis in Nigerian Literature.
“I didn’t know there was Black horror for the most part when I was a developing writer. But in the 1990s, I look back on some of my work and I can see shades of Candyman. Before the nineties, I hadn’t ever seen what I would call a Black horror movie. I didn’t even know that it existed. Maybe Night of the Living Dead, which now I realize we consider Black horror because it had a Black lead in Duane Jones, but I didn’t get that there was any such thing as a Black horror writer.
I didn’t have any role models until I read Gloria Naylor’s book Mama Day, which I wouldn’t call horror, but it has some metaphysical aspects that told me, oh, as a Black woman writer who wants to be a respected writer, it’s okay to write about the metaphysical. That was a big eye-opener for me.”— Tananarive Due, Lunch Ticket
Although she worked as a journalist, that did not stop her from writing her first novel, The Between. This was the start of her supernatural-themed novels, and since then, she has always been a part of the strange and unusual within her books. Her writing journey flourished in many different genres, but as of recently, Due took part in creating a course at UCLA entitled, “The Sunken Place: Racism, Survival And The Black Horror Aesthetic,” inspired by Jordan Peele’s movie Get Out.
Check these titles down below!
The Reformatory (coming out in June)
5. Dexter Gabriel ( Pen Name: P. Djèlí Clark)
Although P. Djèlí Clark was born in New York City, he was raised in Trinidad and Tobago. After eight years, he went back to the US and lived in Staten Island and Brooklyn. He pursued a History degree in Houston, Texas. However, Clark decided to publish short stories with history being an inspiration to his works.
“While I can’t point to the many issues leading up to that time directly influencing my novella (Trayvon Martin, Ferguson, Sandra Bland), I’d be surprised if it wasn’t all seeping in there—even if the story is set in the 1920s. That’s how writing is. You’re always pulling in from what’s around you, whether you’re aware or not. It’s either coincidence and kismet I keep saying, that the novella is coming out right now. Certainly, there are themes in there that speak to this moment or any other: resistance, hate, trauma—and how they can be intertwined.”— P. Djèlí Clark, The Nerd Daily
He tends to bend the rules of genre-bending. Speculative, fantasy, and horror hold hands in his work. He’s won a couple of Nebula and Locus Awards along with a British Fantasy Award for his story Ring Shout.
Check out these titles!
6. Tade Thompson
Tade Thompson was born in London, but his family later returned to Nigeria at the age of seven. In Nigeria, he studied medicine, and social anthropology, and eventually specialized in psychiatry. Excuse my French, but Thompson is a badass. He continues his doctor practice and manages to write exquisite stories of horror, thriller, and science fiction books. How does he do it all? He has a strict schedule of writing earlier in the morning, going to work, and writing before bed.
“If you’re writing science-fiction, often people are expecting astronomy and space ships,” […] I’m more interested in the human being who has to go up in a rocket. What does loneliness do to him? How does he keep his head together while he’s in orbit? What really interests me are human emotions.”— P. Djèlí Clark, The Guardian
Thompson has been nominated for many awards, but more notably, the Shirley Jackson Award. He has also won a Nommo Award, Kitschies Golden Tentacle, and John W. Campbell Award.
Here are some of his books!
7. Craig Laurance Gidney
I will never not mention Craig Laurance Gidney. His short story, Etiolate, inside of Sea, Swallow Me, & Other Stories has prompted me to put him on this list. Frightening, mystical, and unique are the stories I can best describe. He is known for bending genres at his will, most notably horror, fantasy, folklore, and magical realism. He is a writer who incorporates queer voices in his stories and creates dialogue.
“For a long time, I resisted being labeled a “horror writer” because, like a lot of folks, I associated horror with gore. Now, I realize that horror can be subtle and disquieting. It can be a vibe. Shirley Jackson isn’t a gorehound, but her work is very much “horror fiction.” Now, I embrace being a horror writer, though maybe “weird fiction” might be closer to what I do.”— Craig Lawrence Gidney, Locus Mag
He won Bronze Moonbeam Medal and Silver IPPY Medal for Bereft. In 2019 Carl Brandon Parallax Honor List for A Spectral Hue.
Check out these titles:
Horror is not strictly gore and slasher-like reads. It can be just as magical, and fantasy driven in horror stories. We can find terror in a room full of magic and label it simply as a narrowing genre. So yes, you may see some of these writers tap into other genres, but at the end of the day, their stories leak into terrifying elements that deserve to be noted.
For more black writer recommendations, click here!