Months ago, November to be exact, when I'd enlightened everyone with horror fiction about "man-eaters" to read leading up to Turkey Day, I’d brought up the fact that February was Women in Horror Month, a month that celebrates the dark and creative minds of women specifically in the horror genre. This was an incredible celebration birthed by the WiHM Organization, which has recently disbanded but continues to encourage the spotlighting of women in horror during the month of February and every month. We are now halfway through February - which, seeing as it’s the shortest month of the year, is practically near the end. So while it’s not too late for me to wave the banner that screams “celebrate women in horror month”, March is practically around the corner, which means we get a smooth transition into Women’s History Month. On top of that, it’s still Black History Month, so I will be taking this glorious opportunity to kill three birds with one stone and introduce you to the books of a literary heroine of mine: Tananarive Due!
For anyone unfamiliar, Tananarive Due is an author and educator known for her literary works of horror blended with science-fiction and fantasy. She is also a film historian specifically in the Black horror genre, an executive producer for the documentary Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror (which you can watch on the horror streaming platform Shudder), and is praised by literary/film giants like Stephen King and Jordan Peele. From haunted houses to apocalyptic plagues to blood-drinking immortals, Due's books cover them all. Her writing is powerful, gripping, emotional, teeming with fictional characters who feel real, are relatable, and look like me (*cries nerdy, horror-loving, Black girl tears*). It’s safe to say I am a fan and you should be too! Here are a few book recommendations to add to your reading list.
During the hot and claustrophobic summer of 2020, I escaped into Ghost Summer, a collection of short stories ranging from paranormal horror to dystopian science fiction. One short story in particular (one that happens to feel more like a novella than a short story) shares the same title as the collection and is easily a favorite. It follows a young black boy named Davey who is looking forward to spending the summer with his grandparents in Gracetown, Florida where it is said the town’s children are known to see ghosts. Davey is hoping to spot some of those ghosts himself. Instead he uncovers a dark, ghostly mystery ripe with the dark history of the town’s racist and hateful past. This story is a very tragic, emotional read that Due puts her whole heart into, and it's a big reason this collection became one of my favorites of all time.
Should you pick this book up, be sure to read Due’s author’s notes at the end of each story to learn more about her motivations and inspirations for her characters, their emotions, and their experiences.
If you’re like me and you’re a lover of haunted house narratives, The Good House is a must-read. In fact, I’d go as far as to say this is my second favorite work of Due’s after Ghost Summer. The story follows a variety of compelling characters–mainly Angela Toussaint–a woman haunted by the suicide of her young son Corey which took place in the basement of their old family home, known to many around town as the Good House. At first, Angela struggles with where to place blame on her son’s sudden death. But as the story progresses, it dawns on Angela that their family home harbors dark secrets beginning with Angela’s grandmother who was known as the town’s VooDoo practicing witch doctor.
In spite of the premise I just gave you, this book will not be what you expect it to be and flipped my expectations for what I look for in a haunted house novel. Due’s writing in this 500 page family saga is easy to fall into and her characters feel like flesh and blood. You’ll miss them once the book is over.
Fans of paranormal romance and fantasy will devour Due’s “African Immortals” series! Book One introduces us to Jessica, a journalist married to a man too good to be true–handsome, intelligent, multilingual, and ageless. It just so happens that Jessica’s husband is an immortal sworn to secrecy by a centuries-old, blood-drinking brotherhood of fellow immortals. Knowing this secret puts Jessica in grave danger and trouble only escalates when the loved ones around her wind up gravely injured if not dead. This book puts a twist on the vampire trope, so if that is your niche, I highly recommend you pick this one up!
And finally for the zombie lovers out there, you’ll be thrilled to learn that Tananarive Due co-wrote a zombie apocalypse series with husband and science fiction writer Steven Barnes. This is a duology following a group of young people forced to abandon all they’ve known when a viral outbreak destroys civilization. Our young heroes band together and venture across the American Northwest in search of a safe haven known as Domino Falls. Throughout their journey, they constantly come face to face with the infected, flesh-hungry undead—“the Freaks”— whose complexity not only makes them different from your average zombie but also more dangerous. You will absolutely love and devour (see what I did there?) this series and it’s diverse cast of likeable characters. I highly recommend it for zombie lovers, fans of apocalyptic horror, and admirers of both Tananarive Due and/ or Steven Barnes!
There you have it! Now that you know of the Queen of Black Horror herself, you have zero excuses to avoid these amazing books mentioned! Please feel free to celebrate the remainder of Women in Horror Month and Black History Month, as well as the beginning of Women’s History Month by introducing yourself to the brilliant author that is Tananarive Due. But don’t just stop there, because books by Black women should be read all year round! So by all means, make 2022 the year of Tananarive Due!
-Christina James is a Readers' Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.