Now is the perfect time to grow your horror fiction collection and make sure your Summer reading list includes some talented Black voices.
Here are 20 riveting reads from Black authors we think you’ll really love — from the influential leaders in the genre to the promising new talent.
There’s a call to action being sent around the internet this week asking people to support Black voices by purchasing any two books from Black writers. The week-long push to Blackout bestseller lists with more incredibly talented but woefully underrepresented authors runs through Saturday, June 20th. However, as we highlighted in our recent post spotlighting a variety of Black creatives — including artists, authors, podcasters and filmmakers — we think you should be paying attention to, anytime is a good time to be lifting up these voices that have been ignored for far too long.
Whether you want to support the cause of “Black Publishing Power” this week or you just want to tune in to more great writing talent you may have overlooked, we’ve got you covered.
Purchasing a book or two from this list a great way to do something meaningful in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, but you’ll also be discovering some of the genre’s finest literary talent of past and present.
1. Fledgling – Octavia E. Butler
Fledgling is the last novel written by the renowned Black writer Octavia Butler, winner of the MacArthur “Genius” Grant and PEN West Lifetime Achivement Award for her body of work. Butler received critical acclaim for her strong protagonists, social observations, and feminist novels that are even more relevant today that ever.
Fledgling is the story of an apparently young, amnesiac girl whose alarmingly un-human needs and abilities lead her to a startling conclusion: she is in fact a genetically modified, 53-year-old vampire. It’s a captivating novel that tests the limits of “otherness” and questions what it means to be truly human.
2. Beloved – Toni Morrison
3. The Good House – Tananarive Due
As a bonus, you should definitely check out Tananarive Due on the essential documentary Horror Noire on Shudder to learn more about the history of Black horror.
4. Crescendo: Welcome Home, Death Awaits – L. Marie Wood
5. White is for Witching – Helen Oyeyemi
6. Let’s Play White – Chesya Burke
White brings with it dreams of respect, of wealth, of simply being treated as a human being. It’s the one thing Walter will never be. But what if he could play white, the way so many others seem to do? Would it bring him privilege or simply deny the pain?
Let’s Play White is a horror anthology that explores how privilege, race, and power dictates Black people’s ability to survive. In each story, Chesya Burke asks what it’s like to escape into someone else’s skin. From the spectrum spanning despair and hope to the stark weave of personal struggles, Let’s Play White speaks with the voices of the overlooked and unheard.
7. Wonderland – Jennifer Hillier
It’s only Vanessa Castro’s first day as deputy police chief of Seaside, and already bodies are dropping at Wonderland. By day, Wonderland may be a magical place boasting retro charm. But before daybreak, an eerie feeling descends. Maybe it’s the Clown Museum, home to creepy wax replicas of movie stars and a massive collection of antique porcelain dolls. Or maybe it’s the terrifyingly real House of Horrors.
Acclaimed author Jennifer Hillier’s edgy thriller is an insidiously creepy, fast-paced roller coaster ride that hurtles towards a shocking and bloody conclusion.
8. We Cast a Shadow – Maurice Carlos Ruffin
How far would you go to protect your child? Like any father, our narrator just wants what’s best for his bi-racial son Nigel, whose black birthmark is growing larger by the day. In this near-future society plagued by rampant racism and segregation, he faces an impossible decision. Does he risk the safety of his son in this dangerous society that devalues and dehumanizes him, or does he put Nigel through an experimental new medical procedure that promises to save lies by turning people white?
This gripping, hallucinatory novel is a sharp satire on surviving racism in America as well as a profoundly moving story of a father’s love and the sacrifices we willingly make to protect those who mean the most to us.
9. The Ballad of Black Tom – Victor Lavalle
Charles Thomas Tester hustles to put food on the table and keep the roof over his father’s head, selling dangerous magic items to people desperate for magic. But when he delivers an occult tome to a reclusive sorceress in the heart of Queens, Tom opens a door to a deeper realm of magic, and earns the attention of things best left sleeping.
This Lovecraftian horror novel is a retelling/alternate version of The Horror at Red Hook. It specifically plays off the racism in Lovecraft’s story (perhaps his most racist story). You don’t have to have read Lovecraft’s original to enjoy this one, but it definitely helps to appreciate the beauty of how skillfully LaValle flips that tale on its head.
10. Who Fears Death – Nnedi Okorafor
In a post-apocalyptic Africa, the world has changed in many ways; yet in one region, genocide between tribes still bloodies the land. A woman who has survived the annihilation of her village and a terrible rape by an enemy general wanders into the desert and gives birth to an angry baby girl with hair and skin the color of sand. It doesn’t take long for the girl to understand that she is physically and socially marked by the circumstances of her conception. But even as a child, she manifests the beginnings of a remarkable and unique magic. As she grows, so do her abilities, but she learns something terrifying: someone powerful is trying to kill her.
This World Fantasy Award-winning novel blends myth and magic with harsh and brutal reality. At times hard to read due to the depictions of savage violence, it’s also balanced by great humanity. This book has been optioned for a TV series for HBO, with executive producer George R.R. Martin.
11. The Gilda Stories – Jewelle Gomez
Author Jewelle Gomez is considered one of the foremothers of Afrofuturism. The Gilda Stories introduces the title character as a slave girl in Louisiana, 1850. Some years later, she is made into a vampire. Each story relates a segment of her long and fascinating life. With strong echoes of Interview with a Vampire, the narrative of Gilda’s life progresses over a 200 year trajectory, as Gomez brilliant weaves together a series of narratives that are as poignant and thought provoking as they are thoroughly entertaining.
Gomez also infused this vampire novel with a great deal of Black Feminist/lesbian perspective, making it the perfect companion to something like Carmilla. The Gilda Stories is also currently in TV development.
12. Brown Girl in the Ring – Nalo Hopkinson
Set in the wasteland future version of Toronto, the affluent have fled the city and barricaded the roads so that the poor and mostly people of color can’t get out. And as the poor must find creative ways to survive, including reverting back to the barter system and homegrown herbs for medicine, they must also find ways to defend themselves from the rich who threaten to harvest their bodies for spare parts. With nowhere to turn, a young woman must open herself to ancient truths, eternal powers, and the tragic mystery surrounding her mother and grandmother.
A startlingly original story, Brown Girl in the Ring is an example of Caribbean magic realism. Hopkinson has a great deal to say about inequality and the horrors that arise when we lose sight of our empathy and compassion for other humans, or when we choose to exploit others for our own survival.
13. Babel-17 – Samuel R. Delany
Samuel R. Delany has opened doors for black writers in the genre, including Octavia Butler, whom he mentored. Delany’s 1967 Nebula Award-winning Babel-17 is a fascinating tale of Rydra Wong, a spaceship captain, who is intrigued by a mysterious language called Babel-17 that has the power to alter a person’s perception of themselves and others, and possibly brainwash her to betray her government.
Babel-17 is all about the power of language, and it’s surprisingly fresh for a novel written in 1966. Lyrical and though provoking, it’s full of interesting ideas — a must read for those passionate about linguistics and lovers of science fiction. The impact of this novel is made all the more remarkable when you consider that Delany was just 23 years old when he wrote it.
14. Minion – L.A. Banks
There is one woman who stands between us and the eternal night. All Damali Richards ever wanted to do was create music and bring it to the people. By day, she is a successful spoken word artist. But come nightfall, she hunts vampires and demons. After a series of brutal murders has rocked the city, Damali realizes she is up against the most powerful vampire she’s ever met. Soon she finds herself being pulled deeper into the vast and horrifying vampire world.
L.A. Banks was a prolific, award-winning writer whose work spanned multiple genres. Her horror opus was The Vampire Huntress Legend Series — a twelve book series centered around a young woman named Damali Richards, part of a long line of humans who are born once every thousand years to fight the Dark Realms. The entire series is based on the never ending struggle between good and evil, religion and love. Start with the first book in the series, Minion, which is widely considered a classic.
15. The Tempest Tales – Walter Mosley
The Tempest Tales centers around Tempest Landry, an everyday black man who is “accidentally” killed by a cop. Denied access to heaven, Tempest refuses to go to hell, citing racism. He ask how a Black man could be judged guilty in a world already set out to do wrong against him. Confounded, Saint Peter sends him back to Harlem, where a guiding angel tries to convince him to accept Saint Peter’s judgment and acknowledge his own guilt. Even the Devil himself tries to win over Tempest’s soul.
Mosley is a novelist, most widely recognized for his crime fiction and historical mysteries. The premise of his horror novel The Tempest Tales, much like Get Out, challenges the way we view good and evil. Through the street-smart Landry, Mosley poses the provocative question: Is sin for blacks the same as it is for whites? And who gets to decide? In the wake of Black Lives Matter, it’s definitely a story of our times.
16. Smoketown – Tenea D. Johnson
A generation ago, the city of Leiodare was overrun with a mysterious epidemic believed to have been spread by birds. Now, in the post-climate change United States, birds are outlawed. And what was once a crater in Appalachia is now a tropical, glittering metropolis where Anna Armour is waiting. Anna is a woman of special gifts. She has chosen this beautiful, traumatized city to wait for the woman she’s lost. When one night Anna creates life out of thin air and desperation, no one is prepared for what comes next.
Told through interlocking stories, Smoketown delves into the invisible connections that rival magic, and the cost of redemption.Johnson’s debut novel examines the relationship between art and society, blurring the boundaries between magic and science. Wildly imaginative and strange, it’s a post-apocalyptic novel with dreamy world building. There’s a deep mystery at the heart of this novel that culminates in a breathless climax.
17. Slice of Cherry – Dia Reeves
Kit and Fancy Cordelle are sisters and best friends. The daughters of the infamous Bonesaw Killer, they are used to feeling like outsiders. Eventually, they start to give into their innate desire to kill, opting only to kill those who truly deserve it. But when Fancy stumbles upon a mysterious and invisible doorway to another world, she opens a door to endless possibilities.
Reeves’ deliciously demented tale is fast moving, unpredictable and extremely engrossing. Her debut novel, Bleeding Violet, was a sexy and gruesome paranormal tale. Her sophomore novel, Slice of Cherry, reads like a twisted childhood fantasy brought to life. Dark and disturbing, it’s definitely not for the feint of heart.
18. How to Recognize a Demon Has Become Your Friend – Linda Addison
From the first African-American to receive the HWA Bram Stoker award, this award-winning collection of both horror and science fiction short stories and poetry reveals demons in the most likely people (like a jealous ghost across the street) or in unlikely places (like the dimension-shifting dreams of an American Indian). Recognition is the first step, what you do with your friends/demons after that is up to you.
Linda Addison an American poet and writer of horror, fantasy, and science fiction. She’s also a four-time HWA Bram Stoker award winner. Her collection of haunting short stories and poems, How to Recognize a Demon Has Become Your Friend, is as visceral as it is melodic.
A film inspired by her poem, MOURNING MEAL, by award-winning filmmakerJamal Hodge is set to release this year. The screenplay won Best Unproduced Short Screenplay at the 2018 NYC Horror Film Festival. Checkout the first trailer: Mourning Meal Trailer.
19. Dread Nation – Justina Ireland
Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville — derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few. Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s not a life Jane wants. But when families begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.
Cleverly bringing together history and the undead, Dread Nation is provocative and frightening — addressing the devastating impact of racial tensions while delivering a fearless and inspiring heroine of color living in the era of Reconstruction. Author Justina Ireland is the former editor in chief of FIYAH Literary Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction, for which she won a World Fantasy Award.
20. Old Farmer’s Road – Isaiyan Morrison
After moving to Minneapolis, Cecilia is befriended by Isaac and Elsie, siblings who have kept a dark secret hidden about their past for countless years. As her body is taken over by a demonic force, she finds herself an Impa, a rare and supernatural creature who lives off the flesh and essence of her victims to stay alive. With the bloated bodies of missing teens beginning to resurface, the voice of the ratchet Old Farmer’s voice inside her head begs for “Just One More.”
Old Farmer’s Road is a chilling, gore-filled paranormal mystery novel that will keep you enthralled from the first to last page. Heavy on the horror and the creep factor, this tale features otherworldly creatures, unsettling urban legends, murder, mystery, soul-eating Impas, a witch and hope for saving a lost soul. It’s a dark, tension-filled story that is sure to get you in a Halloween frame of mind.