By Ashly Moore Sheldon • February 26, 2020
In celebration of Black History Month, here's the last of our series featuring great black authors from four different genres. Last week's focus was on Science Fiction and Fantasy. This week, we are excited to profile scribes who write Horror and Mystery. These are two more literary areas, in which writers (and characters) of color have historically been overlooked and outnumbered. So we're excited to offer up some seriously hair-raising, spine-tingling, jaw-dropping choices for scary and suspenseful stories written by black authors.
Over the last few years, Jordan Peele's meteoric rise as a writer and director of horror films has sparked discussions about the lack of diversity in this genre. For a history of black representation in horror cinema, check out Horror Noire by Robin R. Means Coleman. This documentary based on the book features several of the masters of the genre, including Peele and executive producer Tananarive Due, a prominent horror author. Due explains why she believes Horror is particularly important to a black audience saying, "black history is black horror." Despite the lack of visibility, "black writers, horror writers, and directors are out there and have been out there," she says. Here are a few shining examples, including Due herself.
Jewelle L. Gómez
The winner of two Lambda Awards, The Gilda Stories presents the story of a young woman who escapes slavery in the 1850s. Published in 1991, the groundbreaking novel follows Gilda as she is inducted into a family of vampires and sets off on a thrilling 200-yearlong coming-of-age odyssey.
There are plenty of horror-ific options when it comes to Florida-born Due's body of work. Her 2003 novel introduces a woman returning to the house where her son died in hopes of finding some clues about his death. And The Good House, as it is called by townspeople, is definitely hiding some secrets.
A master of imagery, British author Oyeyemi has been lauded for her ability to build elegant, spooky suspense. White is for Witching (2009) is an intricate, twisty story about an unusual mother-daughter relationship. The Silver women have a powerful connection, one that reaches even beyond the grave.
Winner of multiple awards, including the Shirley Jackson Award, The Ballad of Black Tom established New York author LaValle as an up-and-coming star. Tommy Tester is a hustler, selling black-market magical items. But when he delivers an occult book to a reclusive sorceress in Queens, he finds himself in over his head.
As in horror and sci-fi, many black writers of mystery report the experience of growing up reading their favorite books and wondering why all the authors and characters seemed to be white. In 2015 article, The Case of The Disappearing Black Detective Novel, Sara Weinman discusses the dearth of black heroes and authors in the genre—a problem that only seems to be getting worse. Here are some thrilling storytellers who should be on your radar.
Published in 1990, Devil in a Blue Dress is the first in Mosley's bestselling series about Easy Rawlins, a hard-boiled WWII veteran living in Los Angeles and working as a private investigator. Mosley's rich, atmospheric style draws comparisons to noir greats Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett.
Blanche on the Lam introduces protagonist Blanche White, a middle aged domestic worker turned amateur detective when she, herself, is accused of murder. Published in 1992, this is also the first in a popular series.
Paula L. Woods
While editing an anthology of black mystery and crime fiction, Woods felt there was a great character missing. To fill that void, she created her Charlotte Justice series, featuring a tough-as-nails, female LAPD detective. First in the series is 1999's Inner City Blues.
Known for her gripping, fast-paced Jazz-Age stories, Walker's Harlem Redux, published in 2002, places the reader squarely in 1920s Harlem, where handsome young lawyer David McKay has returned home looking for answers after his beloved sister has died of suicide.
Bluebird, Bluebird is an explosive thriller poised at the intersection of love, race, and justice. Published in 2017, it is the first installment in the bestselling Highway 59 series introducing black Texas Ranger Darren Mathews.
Does this leave you jonesing for some spooky, frightful, and thrilling reading? In any case, we hope that our Black History Month series has offered some interesting and enlightening reading. Of course, we have only been able to feature a tiny fraction of the talented black authors who have created awesome literature. Please let us know if we missed any of your favorites.