Sycorax’s Daughters gives Black Women in Horror a Voice
By Sumiko Saulson, editor of Black Magic Women
Editor’s Note: On February 5, 2018 the Horror Writer’s Association announced that all three of the works by black women mentioned in this article have made it to the final Stoker’s ballot. The article was written when the ballot was still preliminary and reflects this.
Currently on the preliminary ballot for the Horror Writer Association’s Bram Stoker Award in the short story category, Sycorax’s Daughters is a short story anthology showcasing works by women of African heritage. Originally published in February 21, 2017, the book is experiencing a new wave of interest due to its position on the HWA preliminary ballot, and because of Black Magic Women, as the books share a common theme and about a third of the same authors. Its editors are Linda Addison – the first and only black Stoker Award winner; Kinitra Brooks – an academic who researches black women who write horror – and Susana M. Morris.
Hopefully, this year will mark the end of Linda’s reign as the only black author to have won a Stoker. Her co-editor Kinitra Brooks is also on the preliminary list for non-fiction for her book Searching for Sycorax: Black Women’s Hauntings of Contemporary Horror. Although Octavia Butler is gone, she is also on the preliminary ballot in the graphic novel category, for Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation which lists her as author alongside Damian Duffey.
However, the preliminary list is not the same thing as the final list, and these people are not even considered nominees. As far as I know, Tananarive Due is the only other black person to have made it to the final ballot. If more than one black author makes it to the final ballot this year that, and of itself will be a very big deal. And you have to know that everyone associated with Black Magic Women is paying close attention, since we are now following in their footsteps.
As Walidah Imarisha: explains in the foreword, Sycorax was the mother of Caliban in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. She was banished before Caliban was born, but her son tells Prospero that he is the rightful owner of the island because it once belonged to his mother. So the title, Sycorax’s Daughters, refers to how like Sycorax, black women have been historically silenced. Our stories are told by our sons – black men – or through the eyes of the oppressor, like Prospero. Stories of the terrifying Sycorax are used by Prospero to keep his white daughter, Ariel, in line.
Anthropologists and those who study human DNA have confirmed that Eve, the first human woman, was an African. Black folks existed in Africa 100,000 years before humans were found anywhere else in the world. But like Sycorax, the black woman has been silent. She has frightening legend to terrify little white girls into chastity and obedience to men, or a mother the enslaved black man wistfully invokes when he tells the white man about the power he used to have when his mother ruled the world he is now enslaved in. But what of Sycorax’s daughters, the women in this anthology ask.
Picking up pen and putting it to paper, her black daughters give voice to their mother; finally allowing the long silenced African woman to tell her own story.
I first met Walidah Imarisha and Kinitra Brooks at the end of AfroBlackness II at Loyola Marymount College back in March 2015. I was down there on a book promotion tour with author Crystal Connor. Since I was foolish enough to travel without my business bank card, and my personal credit is poor, I was stuck on the bus. I was pretty frazzled by the time I arrived. Crystal and I whispered back and forth about how intimidated we were to be down there with Kinitra Brooks, PhD; I do believe Nisi Shawl was there as well.
Black Girl Nerds like me and Crystal Connor have our own relationship to black women in horror, which is a lot like musicians on the Chitlin Circuit or poor rappers who sell mixtapes out of the trunk of their car. These women were so educated, and felt outclassed and were terrified that we were going to say the wrong thing or use the wrong salad fork. They took us down to a bar that had barbecue, and we did our best to fit in.
I’d been corresponding with Kinitra Brooks for about a year at that point. She’d contacted me about my 2014 book 60 Black Women in Horror. She’d been using it as a reference for a book she was working on Searching for Sycorax: Black Women’s Hauntings of Contemporary Horror, and wondered if I could help her with the book. It soon became apparent that I was not really educated enough to help her do anything more than locate black women who write horror. As a reference guide, 60 Black Women in Horror which will be re-released February 15, 2018 as 100 Black Women in Horror – is more of a Who’s Who than anything else. So I ended up giving her a lot of people’s email addresses and we both added a bunch of women on Facebook. She ended up working with a friend of mine, Linda Addison – who I was introduced to by a good friend and local author Rain Graves. I am not the least bit ashamed to admit that Linda is a lot more educated than I am. And she’s the only editor of Sycorax’s Daughters who doesn’t have a PhD after her name.
I am incredibly proud of the black female horror writing community, and the small role 60 Black Women in Horror played in what would become Sycorax’s Daughters, a sort of a matchmaking service introducing black women in horror to each other. In a very real way, bout Sycorax’ Daughters and Black Magic Women owe a tremendous debt to Sheree Renée Thomas, the author of one of the short story Seven Bells Turns the World Round Midnight. She was the editor of a series of anthologies showcasing horror by black authors called Dark Matters. A large segment of the women who ended up on the list 60 Black Women in Horror were authors on that project.
Another woman we owe a debt of gratitude to isn’t black at all. Hannah Neurotica, the woman behind Women in Horror Month, a February celebration of women in all aspects of the horror industry, not only writing, inspired the 2013 blog series that became 60 Black Women in Horror.
Sycorax’s Daughters contains 28 horror stories and 14 dark-themed works of poetry. The book gives voice to a diversity of black female horror writers. Some of the authors are relative newcomers. The authors include established, award-winning authors who are not best known for horror such as Patricia E. Canterbury, a number of authors from the Dark Matters series like Joy M. Copeland, several horror-branded authors like Kai Leakes, Nicole Givens Kurtz, Crystal Connor, Zin E. Rocklyn, L. Marie Wood, Sheree Renée Thomas and Lori Titus. There are authors of dark speculative fiction who cross genres into fantasy, paranormal and sci-fi like Eden Royce and Valjeanne Jeffers.
The other authors on the project are Tiffany Austin, Tracey Baptiste, Regina N. Bradley, Amber Doe, Tish Jackson, Tenea D. Johnson, R. J. Joseph, A. D. Koboah A. J. Locke, Carole McDonnell, Dana T. McKnight , LH Moore, L. Penelope, , Kiini Ibura Salaam, Andrea Vocab Sanderson, Nicole D. Sconiers, Cherene Sherrard, RaShell R. Smith-Spears, Tanesha Nicole Tyler, Deborah Elizabeth Whaley, , K. Ceres Wright, and Deana Zhollis
About the Author: Sumiko Saulson is Sumiko Saulson is a horror, sci-fi and dark fantasy writer, winner of the StokerCon Scholarship from Hell and 2nd Place Carry the Light Sci-Fi Short Story Award. Born to African-American and Russian-Jewish parents, she is a native Californian and has spent most of her adult life in the Bay Area. She ranked 6th place in the Next Great Horror Writer Contest.