Out There Screaming: An Anthology of New Black Horror, Edited by Jordan Peele and John Joseph Adams
Reviewed by Tamika Thompson
Jordan Peele is back, this time on bookshelves instead of in theaters. In Out There Screaming: An Anthology of New Black Horror, the actor, writer, director, and Academy Award-winning creator of Monkeypaw Productions and blockbuster hits Get Out, Us, and Nope, edits an anthology that brings together original tales from nineteen masters of the horror genre in a literary compilation that shines a light on American terrors.
With an introduction by Peele that touches upon the chilling real-world inspiration for Get Out’s “Sunken Place,” the work possesses range and genre-straddling stories that tackle an assortment of topics from familial bonds and romantic love, to hate, monsters, sacrifice, and the evils that lurk within us all.
I am not privy to the backstory on how this Random House anthology came to be, but I did find John Joseph Adams a curious choice to edit the work alongside Peele. As series editor of Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy, editor of more than forty anthologies, and publisher and editor of award-winning science fiction magazine Lightspeed, Adams is obviously experienced, but he lacks a key credential for co-editing a black horror anthology—experiencing life as a black person.
Perhaps one would argue that with Peele at the helm and experts of craft in the table of contents, the role of co-editor is merely a logistical one. But as I stared at the title page that included Adams’s name, I couldn’t help but think of New York Times bestselling and award-winning writer, poet, and editor Sheree Renée Thomas, who is the current editor of the preeminent speculative periodical Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, or DaVaun Sanders, publisher and editor of award-winning FIYAH: A Magazine of Speculative Black Fiction, or writer, editor, and publisher, Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki, who edited and/or co-edited Bridging Worlds, Dominion, The Year’s Best African Speculative Fiction, and the Africa Risen anthologies. And that’s just off the top of my head.
I wondered what kind of book I was holding, what was lost when the stories passed through the lens of the white gaze. But I begrudgingly put aside the presence of the white co-editor occupying space in a black anthology so that I could actually read the text.
In American media, black creators are often relegated to telling stories about racial trauma to the detriment of literally everything else, and in order to enjoy widespread distribution, the plots and settings for many works by black creators must include the unique brand of racism America has produced, alongside its outputs—slavery, reconstruction, Jim Crow, backlash to the civil rights movement, black ghettos, the prison-industrial complex. But the table of contents for Out There Screaming strikes a balance between stories that contextualize black trauma tropes and those that do not include much of them at all, between characters who are black and addressing racism/anti-racism and those who are just faced with evil.
The opening story is “Reckless Eyeballing,” from award-winning sci-fi and fantasy author N.K. Jemisin, in which a cop sees eyes on the cars he pulls over. While this story provides a meditation on police brutality, anti-black racism, and self-hatred, it does so in a way that turns those tropes on their heads. This is a creeping, grueling tale with twists, turns, and tons of tension.
And the contributors don’t let off the gas.
A young girl descends into the watery depths of the Earth to kill the devil that murdered her parents in “The Most Strongest Obeah Woman of the World,” by award-winning speculative author Nalo Hopkinson, and what transpires is a wonderfully disgusting tale of body horror the reader won’t soon forget. How do you kill the devil? And how do you keep from becoming the devil yourself?
In a second-person narrative, critically acclaimed writer and illustrator Ezra Claytan Daniels’ “Pressure” captures the family dynamic between cousins dubbed “the good, the bad, and the ugly.” The main character, “the ugly,” is the black cousin within a white family, which creates its own stress, but the secondary pressure that builds in this story is from a source not necessarily of this world. The ending is both unexpected and inevitable.
In iconic horror writer Tananarive Due’s tale, “The Rider,” two freedom riders board a segregated bus to Montgomery, Alabama, despite warnings that they should drive instead. The pair and their white driver find themselves on a deserted, deep-South backroad, facing a supernatural evil far worse than the white supremacists staring down their vehicle.
In “Invasion of the Baby Snatchers” by Lesley Nneka Arimah, readers get a riveting otherworldly plot that unfolds with daring twists.
Rebecca Roanhorse deftly renders a brother-sister pair of monster hunters in “Eye & Tooth.”
L.D. Lewis offers “Flicker,” a suspenseful tale in which a blink of a few seconds turns into a gravity-defying phenomenon, where all that is real might not be real at all.
With Out There Screaming’s deep roster of talent, it is difficult to pick favorite tales because each one works in its own way. I can’t shake Cadwell Turnbull’s “Wandering Devil,” in which a man struggles to remain in the life that perhaps has been predetermined for him. Does he play the role or does he strike out and find adventure and new beginnings? What if his wanderlust is a fixed force itself, one that perhaps has an evil source? Is he running to or from something? And what if the wanderer finally stays put? Who is really pulling the strings?
Another favorite is “A grief of the dead,” by Rion Amilcar Scott. This story has everything and is everything—slavery, mass shooting plots, zombies, gun violence, catfishing. And it ponders the ways tragedy and grief destroy families and cloud lives.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Nnedi Okorafor’s “Dark Home,” in which a narrator disturbs tradition in the Nigerian village of her youth by disrupting her late father’s obsequies. When she brings a sacred object back to her Arizona home, she unknowingly unleashes a menacing force that follows her across the Atlantic. This story captures the tension between tradition and modernity, the ways in which members of the African diaspora navigate “mother country” and “new world,” and it also happens to be creepy as hell.
While Out There Screaming is not earth-shattering, I do recommend it. The text works well as a companion to several excellent projects by black writers: Sycorax’s Daughters, Dark Matter, Octavia’s Brood, Blackened Roots, and the previously mentioned Africa Risen.
Packed with powerful characters and deeply imagined plots that seep into your bones and stay there, Out There Screaming is a treat for lovers of Black horror, American horror, and horror that makes you think.
Out There Screaming: An Anthology of New Black Horror
Jordan Peele, the visionary writer and director of Get Out, Us and Nope, and founder of Monkeypaw Productions, curates this groundbreaking anthology of brand new stories of Black horror, exploring not only the terrors of the supernatural but also the chilling reality of injustice that haunts our world.
Featuring an introduction by Jordan Peele and an all-star roster of beloved writers and new voices, Out There Screaming is a masterclass in horror, and – like his spine-chilling films – its stories prey on everything we think we know about our world, and redefine what it means to be afraid. Very afraid . . .
A cop begins seeing huge, blinking eyes in place of the headlights of cars that tell him who to pull over. Two freedom riders take a bus that leaves them stranded on a lonely road in Alabama, where several unsettling somethings await them. A young girl dives into the watery depths in search of the demon that killed her parents. Here you’ll find monster-hunters fighting monsters, humanoid AIs fighting for their rights, and an Igbo woman standing up to a powerful spirit. These are just a few of the worlds of Out There Screaming, Jordan Peele’s anthology of all-new horror stories by Black writers.
Featuring stories by: Erin E. Adams, Violet Allen, Lesley Nneka Arimah, Maurice Broaddus, Chesya Burke, P. Djèlí Clark, Ezra Claytan Daniels, Tananarive Due, Nalo Hopkinson, N. K. Jemisin, Justin C. Key, L. D. Lewis, Nnedi Okorafor, Tochi Onyebuchi, Rebecca Roanhorse, Nicole D. Sconiers, Rion Amilcar Scott, Terence Taylor and Cadwell Turnbull.
Tamika is a writer, producer, and journalist. She is author of speculative fiction collection Unshod, Cackling, and Naked, which Publishers Weekly calls “powerful,” “unsettling,” and “terrifying,” as well as author of horror novella Salamander Justice. She is co-creator of the artist collective POC United and fiction editor for the group’s award-winning anthology, Graffiti. Her work has appeared in several speculative fiction anthologies as well as in Interzone, Prairie Schooner, The New York Times, and Los Angeles Review of Books among others. You can find her online at tamikathompson.com.