When you walk into your local book store’s horror section only to find it dominated by the big K’s of King and Koontz, it may feel like there are no women writing in the genre. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. While the book shelves of your local B&N may be filled to the brim with these typical names of horror, among other male authors, the genre has been contributed to significantly by female authors from around the globe. Join us now as we take a look through horror history and the women whose haunting works have been and are influencing it.
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley – Frankenstein
It wouldn’t be a complete list without including one of the first women of the horror genre, the legendary Mary Shelley. Her novel Frankenstein is unquestionably one of the most well known and influential novels in history. It has inspired countless film, tv, comic, literary adaptations, and reimagining’s, while also being one of the first gothic novels.
Given that the story itself was written in the course of but a few days, the fact that it has stood the test of time truly shows that this novel still has relevance today. Written as part of a competition between herself, her then lover Percy Bysshe Shelley, and the poet Lord Byron during their stay by Lake Geneva, this classic tale is one that helped originate the warning against playing god and the consequences of what happens when Victor Frankenstein creates and abandons his own creation.
Shirley Jackson – We Have Always Lived In The Castle
Shirley Jackson’s most well-known novel may be The Haunting of Hill House; however, she has written a wealth of other phenomenal tales. One such story of significance is We Have Always Lived in the Castle, a modern gothic novel about Merricat Blackwood, 18-years-old and quite peculiar, who lives with her sister Constance and unnerved Uncle Julian in a large manor in Vermont. Being a first person account from Merricat’s perspective, we see a long lost cousin arrive at the manor with unknown intentions, as their dark family secret is slowly unraveled.
Tananarive Due – The Between
Tananarive Due is an multi-award winning horror author as well as a historian of black horror. Her work has spread far beyond just writing as well with a course she created for UCLA called “The Sunken Place: Racism, Survival And The Black Horror Aesthetic,” which she developed after the production of Jordan Peele’s Get Out. The class has been widely praised across the nation and even received the attention of the film maker himself.
In her debut novel The Between, Due tells the story of Hilton, an African-American man who nearly died from drowning as a child but was saved by his grandmother, who died in his place. Hilton’s world begins to crumble around him after his wife, the only African-American judge in Dale County, FL, is sent racist hate mail that shatters their peaceful life together.
When he starts having vivid and horrifying dreams on top of the racists threats to his wife, Hilton struggles to keep his sanity amidst the horrors of his dreams. When his psychiatrist decides he is schizophrenic, he and his family are faced with the question of whether his dreams are real, or if he is simply losing his grip on reality.
Hye-Young Pyun – The Hole
Hye-Young Pyun, is one of Korea’s up-and-coming horror authors, who began publishing her work in 2000 and has since published her work in The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, and Words Without Borders, as well as publishing five novels including The Hole.
After a horrible car crash Oghi wakes up from a coma to find his wife dead and himself all but completely paralyzed and unable to speak. With only his mother-in-law to take him in, Oghi is pushed against his will into her care, which starts out as pleasant enough while being overly pushy; however, that quickly morphs into a malevolent attitude as she begins to abuse the bedridden Oghi. When his mother-in-law begins to uproot and dig holes in the garden his wife once cared for intensely, he soon realizes he is in grave danger of the hole she is digging. Sometimes compared to Stephen King’s Misery, The Hole brings a truly unique psychological horror story to the table.
Daphne du Maurier – The Birds
This title may sound familiar to fans of Alfred Hitchcock, as her short story is the source material for the iconic Hitchcock horror film. A mixture of gothic, horror, and historical fiction, Daphne du Maurier is hard to pin down in a specific genre, having works spread far around the spectrum of genre and literary fiction; however, The Birds is without a doubt horror. With a number of other novels and stories adapted into film, du Maurier is without a doubt a massive influence on the horror genre, and the work of Alfred Hitchcock in particular.
The Birds follows farmhand and WWII vet Nat Hocken in Cornwall, du Maurier’s home country, who is but one of the many people in the county subject to bombardment by flocks of birds. The protagonist and his family fight back and try to survive against the onslaught of birds, but struggle to make it out alive. Given the stories origins in post-WWII England, it also seems that the story holds a metaphor for aerial bombing during the war and the associated fear being displayed in the form of flocks of aggressive birds divebombing the citizens.
Mariko Koike – The Graveyard Apartment
A writer of detective, horror, and recently romance stories as well, Mariko Koike has recently become recognized in the United States as an incredible author of horror stories, while also being one of Japan’s most popular authors as well. Her works have been translated from Japanese to English in recent years, making them more accessible to the world. The Graveyard Apartment is one of her most popular.
The novel tells the tale of a new family that seems to have found the perfect new home, naturally built next to a graveyard. In classic horror fashion, they quickly realize that their new apartment has an evil secret, one that wants to keep them there forever. The couple holds their own dark secrets and, as the other residents of their new home leave, they find themselves all alone with the sinister force that inhabits the apartment’s basement. If nothing else, this story will certainly give you something new to fear about going into a dark basement.
Silvia Moreno-Garcia – Mexican Gothic
Born in Mexico and currently based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Silvia Moreno-Garcia is the author of award winning novels such as Gods of Jade and Shadow, Velvet Was the Night, and the critically acclaimed horror novel Mexican Gothic. After receiving a panicked letter from her recently married cousin begging for help, Noemí Taboada travels to the Mexican countryside and the remote home of her cousin, High Place. Despite her looks as a high class socialite, Noemí is more than capable of handling herself. Nothing will stop her from discovering the truth of High Place and saving her cousin, not even when the menacing house begins invading her dreams with horrible visions.
Mexican Gothic has received plenty of awards, including the Locus Award, British Fantasy Award, Pacific Northwest Book Award, Aurora Award, and the Goodreads Award. Besides writing, she also works as a contributor for The Washington Post and is the publisher of Innsmouth Free Press.
Looking for more horror from female authors? More can be found about these and other authors here!