Tananarive Due: Women in Horror Month

In conversation with Tananarive Due

I think all humans are fearful, a lot of our political climate right now is due to fear. Fear of being outbred, fear of payback, whatever. I think it’s more unconscious for a lot of men, maybe, who are not as aware of being fearful when they’re outside of the house, as it is for someone like a Black woman, where now you’re aware not only of your gender but also your skin color drawing unwanted attention

I first met Tananarive Due at the World Fantasy Convention in 2017 where I worked up the courage to ask her to autograph my copy of Ghost Summer: Stories (2015). She was kind and gracious, and I became an instant fan. Over the years, Tananarive Due has been an author I’ve watched. She was one of those pioneering women writing during the horror boom in the 80s and 90s, fearlessly breaking ground in a male-dominated genre and creating a space for other women to follow. But more than that, she is notable for having an incredible body of work that stretches across a wide variety of mediums. In her work as an educator, Tananarive Dueteaches Black horror and Afrofuturism at UCLA. In film, she is known for her work as an executive producer and a screenwriter, my favorite being the fantastic documentary Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror. And in the realm of prose, she broke down boundaries in the 90s as the first Black woman nominated for a Bram Stoker award (The Between, 1995). Not only that, but she kept at it. Today, she is currently a finalist in two Bram Stoker award categories: novel (The Reformatory, 2023) and long fiction (“Rumpus Room,” The Wishing Pool and Other Stories, 2023). When I started my research on what would become the Apex Magazine article “Words Wielded by Women,” Tananarive Due was at the top of my list. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to sit down and chat with her, and I’m happy to share more of that interview with readers today. – Carina Bissett

About Tananarive Due

Tananarive Due

TANANARIVE DUE (tah-nah-nah-REEVE doo) is an award-winning author who teaches Black Horror and Afrofuturism at UCLA. She is an executive producer on Shudder’s groundbreaking documentary Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror. She and her husband/collaborator, Steven Barnes, wrote “A Small Town” for Season 2 of Jordan Peele’s “The Twilight Zone” on Paramount Plus, and two segments of Shudder’s anthology film Horror Noire. They also co-wrote their upcoming Black Horror graphic novel The Keeper, illustrated by Marco Finnegan. Due and Barnes co-host a podcast, “Lifewriting: Write for Your Life!”

A leading voice in Black speculative fiction for more than 20 years, Tananarive Due has won an American Book Award, an NAACP Image Award, and a British Fantasy Award, and her writing has been included in best-of-the-year anthologies. Her books include Ghost Summer: Stories, My Soul to Keep, and The Good House. She and her late mother, civil rights activist Patricia Stephens Due, co-authored Freedom in the Family: A Mother-Daughter Memoir of the Fight for Civil Rights. She and her husband live with their son, Jason.

You can find out more about Tananarive Due on her website (https://www.tananarivedue.com/), Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/tananariveduewrites), and Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/tananarivedue/).

Interview Tananarive Due

BISSETT: As someone who has been writing and publishing for the last 20 years, what changes have you seen in the representation of women and people of color in the horror genre? 

DUE: I’ve been publishing since 1995, which was not a bad little renaissance itself. It was a great time for genre. But I would consider this to be an even greater renaissance that we’re living through right now in terms of inclusivity, not only in publishing but also in film and television, which has long been such a difficult barrier for so many of us. Women and marginalized creators are getting opportunities that would have been unheard of in the 90s. This idea that it matters to include the author’s voice in adaptations is fairly new and exciting. And I think that’s because they want that ring of authenticity. When you’re talking about marginalized creators, you can’t have the usual suspects writing a Black horror series or a LatinX horror movie. You really need to bring in creators who know what they’re talking about, and I’m glad the industry is starting to realize that. There’s a long way to go, but I’m very optimistic about these times we’re in. 

BISSETT: What attracts you to horror?

DUE: My story is this. I had no choice. My late mother Patricia Stephens Due was a great horror fan. She was the first horror fan in my life, and from the time I can remember, she had us watching these old movies like the Creature Feature, the Universal horror movies. I didn’t try to analyze my love for horror beyond that for many years, but since my mother passed away, I started to think about it a little bit more deeply. I found that there were many other people like me, who were Black and whose mothers and grandmothers had turned them on to horror, which is interesting because Black people were so badly represented or underrepresented. And then I finally got it. It’s a way to process trauma. So of course, the population that has been exposed to generational trauma due to racism would cling to horror movies as an escape, and I think that’s exactly what my mother was doing. Horror movies allow you to take your real-life fears and compartmentalize them in a very specific way. Racism doesn’t have a specific form; it can look like anybody—the banker, a real estate agent, your child’s teacher, the police officer who pulled you over just because he doesn’t like the way you look. There are so many forms, where do you even begin? So, a monster, a demon, that is somewhere you can focus the fear, and you have the satisfaction of watching characters vanquish that monster, which is especially exciting, but even if they don’t, you get the joy of watching them try. And I think trying is the point. It’s the struggle. 

BISSETT: What are your thoughts on the representation of fear and the way it’s portrayed in horror?

DUE: I think all humans are fearful, a lot of our political climate right now is due to fear. Fear of being outbred, fear of payback, whatever. I think it’s more unconscious for a lot of men, maybe, who are not as aware of being fearful when they’re outside of the house, as it is for someone like a Black woman, where now you’re aware not only of your gender but also your skin color drawing unwanted attention. There are probably aspects where marginalized people are more aware of their fear, but everybody has it, and it manifests in different ways. Sometimes it manifests outwardly as violence, and sometimes it manifests inwardly as self-harm or self-sabotage. In my own work I try to address these topics somewhat sideways. I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve never been the victim of a physical attack of any kind. I’ve never been in a fight. And I know that is a privilege I have, that it is not something that is true for everyone. So, my stories might not reflect the everyday fears that might traditionally be expected to be women’s fears. I’m most interested in characters who are wrestling with the consequences of their decisions, not a hostile world that wants to hurt them.

BISSETT: Horror is considered an inclusive genre. Would you agree? In what ways have you felt welcomed? Excluded?

DUE: Just to put things in perspective, not that long ago, my husband and I cowrote a two-book, YA zombie series: Devils’ Wake and Domino Falls. The protagonist was a 15-year-old Black girl, but that 15-year-old Black girl did not appear on either cover for those books. In both cases they used white women, and this was not that long ago. So, it’s been a relatively quick shift that it’s considered smart to have a Black woman on the cover of a book. I really do think it’s partially wanting to decolonize—to diversify your mind, to be a good citizen, but mostly it’s because these books are good—it’s novel; it’s a different approach; it’s a different mythology; the demons are coming from different directions. There’s only so far you can get from readers or viewers who “want to do the right thing.” You have to entertain and enchant them, first and foremost. At a time when we’re starting to see more diversity at meetings among publishers, editors, and executives, it’s a little less lonely than it was. But I do fear, when it comes to marginalized communities, all it takes is one famous failure to have a ripple effect for the next twelve women, the next twelve Black creators who come through the door. I’m hoping the doors will stay open.

BISSETT: What do you think the future holds for women working in horror right now?

DUE: I feel like that part of the key that attracts horror readers is novelty because, when you think about it, that thing you’ve seen a hundred times before can only scare you so much. Now of course there’s a lot of great original horror in terms of screenplays, but I will always love my horror novelists. It’s especially exciting right now that readers are going out of their way to find new voices or #ownvoices. There are so many women—Alma Katsu, Silvia Moreno Garcia, Nalo Hopkinson, Sheree Renee Thomas—really getting their work out there, getting opportunities to shine. It’s very exciting.

BISSETT: What advice do you have to women working in the field?

DUE: I think, sometimes, people intentionally look at the marketplace and say, “I’ll do better if I do this.” And what I really would prefer young and up-and-coming writers to think about is what they have to tell that is unique to them. There are tons of writers who can write that story you’ve read before. In fact, they’re already writing it. But no one can write what you can write. No one will have your experience. No one will have your specific fears. Sometimes being different is exactly what you need to do to stand out from the pack. It’s easier said than done. What’s new? What’s exciting? What’s novel? I think novelty—especially in horror—is critical. 

About The Reformatory, by Tananarive Due 2023 (A Bram Stoker Award finalist for Superior Achievement in Fiction)

About The Reformatory, by Tananarive Due

“You’re in for a treat. The Reformatory is one of those books you can’t put down. Tananarive Due hit it out of the park.” —Stephen King

Gracetown, Florida

June 1950

Twelve-year-old Robbie Stephens, Jr., is sentenced to six months at the Gracetown School for Boys, a reformatory, for kicking the son of the largest landowner in town in defense of his older sister, Gloria. So begins Robbie’s journey further into the terrors of the Jim Crow South and the very real horror of the school they call The Reformatory.

Robbie has a talent for seeing ghosts, or haints. But what was once a comfort to him after the loss of his mother has become a window to the truth of what happens at the reformatory. Boys forced to work to remediate their so-called crimes have gone missing, but the haints Robbie sees hint at worse things. Through his friends Redbone and Blue, Robbie is learning not just the rules but how to survive. Meanwhile, Gloria is rallying every family member and connection in Florida to find a way to get Robbie out before it’s too late.

The Reformatory is a haunting work of historical fiction written as only American Book Award–winning author Tananarive Due could, by piecing together the life of the relative her family never spoke of and bringing his tragedy and those of so many others at the infamous Dozier School for Boys to the light in this riveting novel.

Carina Bissett

Women in Horror Month By Carina Bissett

Carina Bissett is a writer and poet working primarily in the fields of dark fiction and fabulism. She is the author of numerous shorts stories, which are featured in her debut collection Dead Girl, Driving and Other Devastations (Trepidatio Publishing, 2024), and she is the co-editor of the award-winning anthology Shadow Atlas: Dark Landscapes of the Americas. She is currently a Bram Stoker finalist for her essay “Words Wielded by Women” (Apex Magazine, 2023), a comprehensive retrospective of women in horror. Links to her work can be found at http://carinabissett.com.

Dead Girl, Driving and Other Devastations

 Dead Girl, Driving and Other DevastationsWomen in Horror Month

In this powerful debut, Carina Bissett explores the liminal spaces between the magical and the mundane, horror and humor, fairy tales and fabulism. A young woman discovers apotheosis at the intersection of her cross-cultural heritage. A simulacrum rebels against her coding to create a new universe of her own making. A poison assassin tears the world apart in the relentless pursuit of her true love—the one person alive who can destroy her. Dead Girl, Driving and Other Devastations erases expectations, forging new trails on the map of contemporary fiction. Includes an introduction by Julie C. Day, author of Uncommon Miracles and The Rampant

Praise for Dead Girl, Driving and Other Devastations

Check out Steve Stred’s Review of Dead Girl Driving here

“Carina Bissett is one of my favorite speculative authors writing today—magic and myth, horror and revenge, wonder and hope. Her stories are original, lyrical, and haunting—Shirley Jackson mixed with Ursula LeGuin and a dash of Neil Gaiman. An amazing collection of stories.—Richard Thomas, author of Spontaneous Human Combustion, a Bram Stoker Award finalist

“Carina Bissett’s collection is a thing of wonder and beauty. It is a true representation of Carina herself: whimsical, visceral, lovely, and fierce. You can hear women’s voices screaming while roses fall from their lips. Dead Girl, Driving and Other Devastations is a triumph.”—Mercedes M. Yardley, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of Little Dead Red

“From fairy tale revisions to fresh takes on monstrous transitions and the absolute horrors of being female, no one knows how to write a story like Carina Bissett. Fierce yet fragile.”—Lindy Ryan, author of Bless Your Heart

“In a debut collection weaving folklore and fairy tale and told in magical, lyrical, irresistible prose, Carina Bissett inveigles readers with the breadth of her skill. A feat of woven wonder, with spells sketched in the air and strands stretched taut, Dead Girl Driving and Other Devastations is an enchanting tapestry of silken stories, the collection establishing Bissett as a world-class author of fabulism, fantasy, and horror. A must-read for lovers of Neil Gaiman, Angela Slatter, and Carmen Maria Machado.” —Lee Murray, five-time Bram Stoker Awards-winning author of Grotesque: Monster Stories

“Ravishing flights of fantasy.”—Priya Sharma, Shirley Jackson award-winning author of All the Fabulous Beasts and Ormeshadow

“Dark, often violent, Dead Girl, Driving & Other Devastations doesn’t lie to you about the nature of its stories. Between the title page and the Afterword lies a harrowing alliance of nightmare and fairytale. The pages are full of strange birds, resurrections, second chances, monstrous women, enchantments, and inventions. These stories explore a dark and permissive imagination, unafraid to disturb the monster at the back of the cave. It is a collection for the brave and forlorn, for those seeking escape, vengeance, transformation, or grace. There is wonder here, and freedom from shackles—for those fierce enough to wrench loose of them.”—C. S. E. Cooney, World Fantasy Award-winning author of Saint Death’s Daughter

“Carina’s short stories are absolutely luminous and deeply unsettling. Savour this collection like a fine blood-red wine. It’s absolute perfection and will linger long after the pages are closed.”—KT Wagner

The Heart and Soul of Horror Promotion Websites

Author

  • Carina Bissett

    Carina Bissett is a writer and poet working primarily in the fields of dark fiction and fabulism. She is the author of numerous shorts stories, which are featured in her debut collection Dead Girl, Driving and Other Devastations (Trepidatio Publishing, 2024), and she is the co-editor of the award-winning anthology Shadow Atlas: Dark Landscapes of the Americas. She is currently a Bram Stoker finalist for her essay “Words Wielded by Women” (Apex Magazine, 2023), a comprehensive retrospective of women in horror. Links to her work can be found at http://carinabissett.com.

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