I finally got a copy of Parable Of The Talents by Octavia E. Butler. I found the copy at a local Black owned bookstore (Yes, it was Eye See Me!). When I found it, held it in my hands, I almost burst into tears.
Yes, I know she wrote 12 novels.
Yes, I know she won awards.
Yes, I know I could have gotten this book on Amazon!
But, it was different. I found her book at a Black owned bookstore. As a Black writer, I cannot tell you what it meant to have this book in my hand among and in a space full of people that looked like me.
However, as I cradled the paperback book, I thought about one of my most favorite quotes from her:
“I know that I am a rare bird.”
This month on Shudder, there is a documentary I had been wanting to see. And at the urging of Twitter, I saw it. The documentary, Horror Noire: A History Of Black Horror is based on the book of the same name by Dr. Robin R. Means Coleman. In watching this documentary, I actually tweeted this to Tananarive Due:
Yes, that is a GIF of her making plates. Moving on.
In watching this documentary, I almost broke in to tears. Not from fear, no. But the utter intertwining of this Black experience to the horror genre! Not only that, I saw myself in the directors and writers of movies I had grown up watching!
Rare birds, indeed.
With the success of Get Out, on top of Jordan Peele’s Oscar for the same movie, I could not help but be grateful for this space. I couldn’t help but think about how amazing it is to be a writer, and a Black writer. And a Black writer that can do horror.
“Some Black fans have been slow to embrace horror because of religious beliefs or erasure in the genre, but our support is very strong. As Black Horror emerges more distinctly as a sub-genre, our support will only grow.” -Tananarive Due
I have followed Tananarive Due on Twitter for years, and have even picked her brain on several occasions. She is always, always gracious with an answer or advice. In watching Horror Noire, I got a history lesson. I saw how genuinely difficult it is to write this genre, and to do it well! Jump scares and gore aside, now that you’re scaring the life out of people, you have to have something to say! You have to direct the gaze.
Horror in general, especially Black Horror, allows the viewer to look though the glass darkly (the glass being the offensive, real life scary things society ignores) and actually see something. In seeing that something, you record what it might be. In watching the documentary, I saw how influential Black history overall has influenced this genre of literature and film. When that history is put along side the growth of this genre, the impact is undeniable!
We as a people went from: zombies, scary buffoons, monsters (symbolizing otherness and what/who is not white), magical/sacrificial Negroes, to main protagonists. This is a feat considering we weren’t even considered people for the better part of two hundred years!
Horror writers, speculative fiction writers, are indeed a flock of rare birds. They see what is ignored. Focus on what is overlooked. Yet, they create what can never be duplicated or unseen. Which is the job of any artist. James Baldwin says it this way:
“The goal of the artist is to disturb the peace.”
What better way to disturb the peace than to scare the shit outta you.
*Special thanks to the lovely, and gracious Ms. Tananrive Due for her time, brilliance and quotes. You are a gift, and a fruit of this writing tree. Thank you for all that you due to encourage Black writers, and Black horror writers especially.