Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Guest Editor-in-Chief and Original Fiction Editor
What scares you?
When I was growing up in Mexico, I watched horror movies set in the United States. The people there lived in huge houses crammed with luxury gadgets. And as the minutes ticked on, I hoped the killer got all the privileged, snotty kids with their fancy houses and their white picket fences.
What scares you when you are in a horror movie in the US? Your nice house built on Native American land being ransacked by ghosts, unencumbered young people who go camping and have sex in the woods only to face a masked killer, zombies who devour everyone at the shopping mall.
In these horror movies, there was never anyone like me. Never anyone who took the crowded subway and had to fend off men who wanted to pinch some teenage ass, never anyone who lived in an area dotted with factories and a sprinkling of petty crime.
The kids in American horror movies might as well have been living on Mars. It was the same with horror books. Upper middle class, white men faced evil. Four men in Peter Straub’s Ghost Story, multiple New Englanders in Lovecraft’s tales. Sometimes evil touched women, like in William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist or the lone girl in Stephen King’s It, but these were also alien women, as distant as the moon.
This issue of Nightmare looks at the people who traditionally have not made it into the pages of horror books. People without white picket fences. People who face no masked killers or zombies who devour brains, but instead wade into more insidious waters.
What scares me? The stories and essays contained in these pages, which chronicle a deeper, darker haunting than anything experienced in Amityville.
Tananarive Due, Reprints Editor
As the reprints editor, I had a tough job selecting these four stories from so many worthy suggestions and submissions of previously published horror by writers of color. They were well-written and disparate and always engaging, so two central questions guided my choices: Do I believe in these characters? Does this story fill me with dread?
Dread is not a fun state in real life, but it’s a delicious feeling when we’re reading horror. For me, the guts of horror fiction is not the creature, or the infection, or the possession, but the way it forces us to feel about characters facing overwhelming odds. And what it teaches us about ourselves.
Nisi Shawl’s vivid storytelling and poetic language in “Cruel Sistah” makes her haunted world come to life. Priya Sharma’s “The Show,” about a psychic with a television broadcast gone awry, spooked me with its warning not to meddle where we shouldn’t. Terence Taylor’s “Wet Pain” is an all-too-plausible rumination on the ways the past can creep into the present. And Junot Díaz’s plague story “Monstro” is simply one of my favorite short stories (I teach it often), both for the horror it reveals in his fictitious world and in our real one.
They are the kind of stories that make daily headlines easier to read, life’s mysteries easier to accept, and our own travails meek by comparison. They are also groundbreaking stories: authentic in voice and experience, and political by their very existence in a genre where writers of color are still vastly absent.
These stories help us better understand the wider world and further illustrate that all of us—regardless of background, age or circumstances—are still very much afraid of monsters, whether they lurk without or within.
Maurice Broaddus, Nonfiction Editor
The greatest gift my mother gave to me was the ability to dare to dream . . . and destroy. She was the first black nurse at the hospital where she worked, told repeatedly that she shouldn’t bother applying. She made us the first black family to move into our neighborhood. She was always going where people thought she couldn’t (or shouldn’t) go, and often where some people didn’t want her. She didn’t care about facing down the hard stares of neighbors or dealing with the grumblings of co-workers. She ignored the tidal wave of micro-aggressions that became a part of her daily life for simply daring to exist and pursue the promised American Dream. Hers was a legacy of firsts and being a first destroys—it destroys preconceptions, destroys barriers, and that destruction makes room for something new.
Being in a space where not everyone wants you is not a new experience for any person of color. SQWs (Status Quo Warriors) want to reduce our experience to an obsession with identity politics, somehow turning the reduction of exclusion into a case of white victimhood. The same people who resent our presence try to relegate us to second-class citizen writer status. Demanding that we “earn [our] place at the table” while their place had been assumed. Because, ironically, at the root of their argument is fear. Fear that our inclusion means that we’re taking slots from them. So, in the face of losing their ability to dominate and define, they get active and louder. These are the times we live in.
But we’ve been here before.
Being a first requires that people challenge the assumptions of how things are done. The genre continues to struggle with what it looks like to be inclusive, to not erase people of color from conventions (often relegating them to diversity panels) or anthologies. The genre has more than its share of editors who still proudly proclaim/defend a lack of diversity in their anthologies. Those editors march on, oblivious to the optics that they may be any combination of:
Lazy (because, seriously, how hard is it to reach out to people?).
Not widely read.
Unwelcoming (anyone can submit, as long as they ignore the latent hostility).
Without a very diverse circle of friends/influence.
Over a decade ago, editor/writer Brandon Massey released Dark Dreams: A Collection of Horror and Suspense. When the anthology was discussed within the tight-knit horror community, which wasn’t very often, the discussion revolved around the series being the equivalent of “reverse discrimination” (ignoring the history of all-white, even more specifically, all-white male horror anthology series). Some writers and editors derided it as an affirmative action anthology, with the not-necessarily-unspoken insinuation that editors of diverse anthologies were actually bean counters produced by a PC culture; the writers themselves dismissed as recipients of some sort of editorial handout.
The defense for those wholly white and wholly male horror anthologies was that those editors were “just about the story.” The reality was that they were about a certain kind of story. The problem was that those editors read from the same pool, catered to the same readers, and kept producing all-too-similar product to diminishing returns. Those same critics missed the whole point of an anthology aimed at the black market in an effort to grow the pie of readers. Instead, they focused on their fear of someone else cutting into what they saw as an already shrinking pie.
Being a first also challenges the definition of the status quo. When talking about the legacy of (western) horror, noted horror historian Darrell Schweitzer said: “Lovecraft is a defining writer. He is a figure like Wells or Heinlein in science fiction. The whole field either reflects him or rejects him. Your whole idea about what horror is or should be probably pivots on your ideas about Lovecraft, pro or con. He also defined much of the canon of the field in ‘Supernatural Horror in Literature’ . . . and he gave us much of the vocabulary of our discourse: weird fiction, cosmic horror.”
The entire genre venerates H.P. Lovecraft and this points to the strangeness of the relationship of horror with people of color. Through the long lens of Lovecraft, people of color occupy a space of being viewed as The Other.
Sadly, being a first makes you question why you bother in the first place, and wonder whether putting up with the nonsense is all worth it. If horror is an emotive element, a matter of authorial intent—another common definition of the genre—then the emotions and the history of people of color are included. Which is partly why I’m drawn to the genre. I write from a personal place. Horror is the perfect genre to make sense of the daily horrors around me, make sense of my wounds, make sense of my scars. It gives voice to my despair, hurt, pain, and rage. By that measure, horror ought to be a point of connection between people. Horror should be a bridge to allow us to relate to one another if we’re willing to listen to one another’s stories. Different voices, different stories, different terrors, coming together since fear and pain are universal and reveal the same human condition.
You’ll see these themes play out in the essays I chose. How the definition of horror—both through the lens of Lovecraft and as an emotive element—is seen from the outside and what our fears say to those outside of the U.S./Europe. What it means to be feared or erased. How horror can be a tool to exorcise our demons, deal with our pain, and process our rage. What works should be considered canon and why some works in that canon are problematic. All conversations we need to have as we build toward a better future.
The greatest gift my mother gave to me was the ability to dare to dream. To realize that to be born into a story doesn’t mean you have to be constrained by that story. The horror genre is still in its phase of firsts, but people of color have nothing to prove. We are at the table, and SQWs have to deal with it. While the angry cries of SQWs may be evidence of a last, desperate gasp of an outdated mentality and way of doing things, that’s also when those voices are the most dangerous. However, I live in hope. The fact that a rising chorus shouts down those SQWs’ voices may portend a new day. In the meantime, I dream of a better future.
Spread the word!