Interview with Dr. Kinitra D. Brooks, Horror Scholar by Nicole Kurtz

 

Interview with Dr. Kinitra D. Brooks, Horror Scholar

by Nicole Kurtz

Dr Brooks

Introduction: I sat down with Dr. Kinitra D. Brooks and discussed her approach to academic discourse on black women and why it’s her purpose and passion to not only promote black women in horror, but to engage in analytical discussions of the “Black Women’s Horror Aesthetic.”

Nicole Givens Kurtz, interviewer, [NGK]. Your publications focus on women and horror. Why horror? There’s so much real life violence against black women, why promote and analyze fictionalized versions of horrific acts and situations? Share with us the motivation behind your academic discourse on women and horror, particularly as it relates to women of color.

 

Dr. Kinitra Brooks [KDB]: Why not horror? Lol! I do not specifically associate the violence visited upon black women with horror. With the horrific? Sure. But that is different from the horror genre. Horror Critic Noël Carroll speaks of what we study and write as art horror. A different thing. 

[KDB]: Furthermore, I believe horror offers many of the black women horror creators I study a sense of agency to push back against the horrific. Authors such as Chesya Burke, Kiini Ibura Salaam, and director/activist Bree Newsome use horror to examine the simultaneity of oppressions (race, gender, sexuality, and class) and offer interesting avenues for their black women protagonists to gain control and fight back against these interlocking systems of oppression. “Rosamojo” by Salaam is about a young girl whose only protection against her father’s sexual abuse is through the use of ancestral magic. Chesya Burke’s “Chocolate Park” and “I Make People Do Bad Things” all discuss the supernatural ramifications of the specific vulnerability faced by black women and girls. 

 

  1. [NGK]: In your research, what are some common stereotypes and representations of black women in horror, and what do you see as avenues to reverse or diminish them? What authors, filmmakers, poets, etc are challenging and demolishing those stereotypes common in the horror genre?

 

[KDB]: I spoke to some of those authors above but the number continues to grow. I recommend Sumiko Saulson’s 60 Black Women Writing Horror Series–I keep the printed poster on my office door–as an introduction to those fighting stereotypes of black women in horror. In my work, I criticize the construction of black women when others have characterized her. 

[KDB]: The black woman is usually seen in roles of monstrosity (Def by Temptation, Vamp) or the strong black women (Michonne, and to some extent, Selena from 28 Days Later) and even the Mammy. Now some of the creators start off with the stereotypes and then allow them to grow–Selena from 28 Days Later–who starts off as this uncaring, unfeeling strong black woman who somehow also embodies the Mammy stereotype to Jim, her co-protagonists. But towards the end of the film, Selena has become a much more complex character. She is part of a family unit in which everyone is working together for survival. She even becomes the damsel in distress–do you recognize how revolutionary that is for a black woman? Our positionality has always demanded our strength, our ability and sacrifice to save ourselves or others–but for a black woman to be the damsel? For someone to risk life and limb to save HER? Extraordinary. 

[KDB]: So, folks who are not black and/or woman can and have written complex black women characters–Sanaa Lathan’s character in AVP is another. And I will continue to push for that. But I will also push for black women who are writing themselves into horror and changing the very dynamics of the genre as they do it. 

 

  1. [NGK]: Tell us about Searching for Sycorax: Black Women’s Hauntings of Contemporary Horror and why you selected the title, the topic, and the subject matter.

 

[KDB]: In Searching for Sycorax: Black Women’s Hauntings of Contemporary Horror, I use the character Sycorax, the witch from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Critic Sylvia Wynter reads her character as black and I take it and run with it. The play itself deals a lot with colonization and racialized bodies and hierarchies of power. But Sycorax, who is only referred to in the narrative in passing and we never meet (because she has died before the play begins) haunts the narrative and its characters. Sycorax was a witch who occupied and ruled the island before Prospero–the European who now rules it. Her son, Caliban, is now enslaved by Prospero. (Sound like themes we’re familiar with?)

 

[KDB]: I read Sycorax as an absent presence (to use the language of Bell Hooks). She is invisible, and yet her presence continues to be felt. That’s how I view black women in horror–there is an invisibility there but their presence is continuously felt. Black women are an absent presence in horror. The book is a critical treatment of black women in horror as I use the questions to move towards a theory of Black Women’s Horror Aesthetic. What does black women’s horror look like? What are its parameters? Is there a difference in characterization? Can it only be created by black women? My book delves into a lot of these questions and begins the conversation of attempting to answer them.

 

  1. [NGK] You’re a native of New Orleans. How has such unique cultural influence your work?

 

[KDB]: New Orleans is such a place of promise and excitement for the future while being grounded heavily in the past. It is a shapeshifting city oscillating between its African, European, and Indigenous roots. It’s an American city and yet not. It’s a European city and yet not. It’s a Caribbean city and yet not. It’s a liminal and interstitial space. My hometown just opened so much up with me in terms of the many different possibilities of being and existence that was open to me. 

[KDB]: Most importantly, New Orleans is a magical place for me and a place that has an understanding and a celebration of death as a transition–not an end. We have this sort of peace with death that is very non-Western in its perspective. We casually discuss death, talk about when we die, what colors we want our family to wear to our funeral. For me, it’s green. For my mother, it’s purple. My grandmother had her entire funeral program written out long before she died. We see death as a natural part of life and that shifts a lot of understandings of horror for me. Because being surrounded by death in this way is not necessarily a bad thing, or something of which to be afraid. 

[KDB]: New Orleans, as a port city, was integral to so many peoples throughout the centuries and has been battled over, sold, and traded so many times it’s ridiculous. That reality enriched our culture–but it has also soaked our land with the blood of our ancestors. New Orleans was also the last stop of being sold from the South–to the Caribbean. The trade of enslaved Africans was integral to the economic development of this city. And it is here where the words of Jean Marc-Ela come into play–“The Dead are not Dead” in New Orleans. 

 

  1. [NGK] This month, Horror Addicts is celebrating Black Women in Horror. When you hear that title, what comes to mind? Who comes to mind?

 

[KDB]: Joy. Excitement. I mean, we have supposedly been missing for so long from horror. Though, I suggest that black women have always been writing horror–it simply manifests differently. There are so many talented women out there and I can’t wait for more to join the ranks and do the work. The creative aspect is so important to me because if you don’t create–I have nothing to work with! That is what we are trying to combat with the double volume–Towards a Black Woman’s Horror Aesthetic: Critical and Creative Editions. Both are working together–as well as interweaving visual narratives from some black women artists to be interspersed throughout the volumes–to articulate, ponder, and imagine the possibilities of black women in horror.

[KDB]: I’m co-editing the project with Dr. Susana Morris from Auburn University and Linda Addison, multiple Bram Stoker award and winning horror poetess. We are really trying to do the work to get more materials out there. 

 

  1. [NGK] Black women writing horror is a marginalized group of a marginalized group. What do you see are effective ways of moving from those margins and into the mainstream?

[KDB]: I believe that is looking at the margins as a place of deficit and not opportunity. We are in the ghetto of an already ghettoized genre. One thing the mainstream is very good at is ignoring the ghetto–and maybe that’s how we want it. We may just get free while everyone else is looking the other way. Wouldn’t that be something?

 

That concludes our interview, but read on to discover how to reach Dr. Brooks, discover her amazing works, and stay engaged in the conversation at http://www.kinitradbrooks.com/home.html.

 

Additionally, Dr. Brooks, along with Dr. Susan M. Morris, are editing a series of scholarly work for Ohio State University Press. The series is titled, New Suns: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Speculative Fiction. Book Proposals are open now.

 

 

 

Bio: Kinitra D. Brooks is an assistant professor of English at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Her research interests include contemporary African American and Afro-Caribbean literature, black feminism, and horror studies. Her monograph, Searching for Sycorax: Black Women Haunting Contemporary Horror, is forthcoming at Rutgers University Press. Currently, she is working on a book-length exploration of black women writers and genre fluidity tentatively titled, Nalo, Nnedi, & Nora: Contemporary Black Women Writers Challenging Genre Normativity. She is also coediting a volume on black women and horror entitled Towards a Black Women’s Horror Aesthetic: Critical & Creative Frameworks with Susana M. Morris and Linda Addison. She has published articles in African American Review and FEMSPEC Discover.

Bio: Nicole Givens Kurtz is an educator, a writer, and a publisher. She’s the author of the cyberpulp mystery series, Cybil Lewis. Her novels have been named as finalists in the Fresh Voices in Science Fiction, EPPIE in Science Fiction, and Dream Realm Awards in science fiction. Nicole’s short stories have earned an Honorable Mention in L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future contest, and have appeared in numerous publications and anthologies. Join Nicole on other worlds at Other Worlds Pulp, http://www.nicolegivenskurtz.com.

 

Master of Horror L.A. Banks and her contribution to Horror

Black Women in Horror:

 Master of Horror L.A. Banks and her contribution to Horror.

“If my soul got jacked, where is it?”L.A. Banks

Happy Black History Month! I want to start this out in saying, yes, this blog post will be long and peppered in fangirl moments. I will drone on about the awesomeness of author L.A. Banks and her extraordinary writing skills in horror/thrillers. I will gawk at the idea that she is not praised as much as she should be, and I will tear up at the reality that this author’s incredible gifts have been lost to us in the literary world. This is my respectful tribute to her…it is what it is. -smile-

banks6In the world of Horror, in link with black women, there are only two names that comes to mind for me that have been cultural innovators and pop icons in this area of literature. And today I’m choosing to speak on the one that I was lead to deeply admire, Leslie Esdaile Banks. Better known as L.A. Banks. When you think of horror, the greats who founded it, and those who followed in their footsteps, oftentimes many people don’t equate women in that class.

People always are quick to name the greats, Horace Walpole, Bram Stoker, H.P. Lovecraft, and contemporaries, Clive Barker and Stephen King as the masters of horror. I take nothing away from them. However, women were also at the forefront of horror. They were the literal foundation that inspired many past and current male horror authors that we so fondly idolize.

“Humans have been telling scary stories of great danger, defeat, and triumph since we built campfires outside the caves while the wolves were howling in the hills near us.” – L.A. Banks via Wild River Review 2011

Women of horror helped craft a culture within the medium that added character to how many male horror writers developed their own stories. A level of maturity, audaciousness, sensuality, and political/social commentary between the pages of great stories that scared us senseless. Who were the women that influenced horror? These founding women were: Ann Radcliffe, Mary Shelly, and more. Later they would influence and shaped the pens of contemporary women horror writers such as Carrie Vaughn, Anne Rice, Sherrilyn Kenyon, and Charlaine Harris. However, it is black women writers such as Tananarive Due and L.A. Banks who chose to elevate the medium and bring with them a fresh flair to the foundation that has sorely been missed, the reality of the black voice and everyday man/woman.

banks5L.A. Banks contribution to horror was shaped around where she came from and the no-holds bar realities of her life in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

“L.A. Banks’s career was born out of tragedy. Years ago, her six-month-old daughter was severely burned, she was going through a divorce, she lost her job when she took time off to be with her daughter, and she was broke. Yet somehow, in the midst of all the grief, she turned to writing – creating page after page of entertainment that kept her girlfriends so entranced they submitted the complete manuscript to publishers without telling her.” – Janice Gable Bashman via Wild River Review 2011

I’m very sure if you look at the lives of the founding women writers in horror, that they too began writing due to specifics in their lives that mandated them taking pen to paper. Culture shifts, frustrations with status, political views, a sense of advocacy in the world. Horror provided the appropriate medium for these women writers to showcase our most feared secret places in our psyche and spirit. L.A. Banks had a gift for doing the same thing. Before ‘Black Lives Matter’ was shouted, L.A. Banks characters in her well-loved and known horror/thriller/pararomance series, The Vampire Huntress Series and Crimson Moon Series, were actively in the streets kicking ass, and taking names later in the same branch of protest and demand for justice. Black Lives Mattered in all her works.

“Fear, hatred, oppression – that’s pure evil and it never lasts. Love endures.” – L.A. Banks via Wild River Review 2011

banks4         L.A. Banks was proud of being a woman writer in horror, paranormal fantasy and more. She was proud of her place as a black woman in the literary world as well. This is why she was ahead of her time. She created a culture where young and old could come together for a cause in saving ourselves from the pains of the streets and the political strife in our governments. Her characters bucked the system of global oppression without batting an eye.

Bloodshed, hearts being snatched out, fangs tearing into necks, demon possessions, werewolves and jaguars, naughty sensual sex. L.A. Banks world was intense and oh so good. What is masked as vampires and demons, monsters snatching people from their beds or in the streets, was a well-written allegory for issues such as police brutality, martial law, government cover-ups, drugs and poverty in our communities. Her works were even crafted as a way to speak about the disconnect between young and old in how we all viewed the lens of civil rights and social rights.

Again, L.A. Banks was ahead of her time.

“The vampire represents a lot of what we see in society. They’re scarier because of that; because the vampire can be anybody. He just blends in and looks perfectly normal. Like serial killers often look like normal people… the fear factor is that they’re among us.” – L.A. Banks via Wild River Review 2011

Her grasp of writing to reach those of us not only in the Black community but also in the Latino, and even white community was something that not many authors today can effectively balance. Listen, when you have a supernatural team of people tasked to save us from the apocalypse, and these characters come from every walk of life. Young, old, street kids, Jews, Latino priests, bikers gangs, southern folks, and more? You then have a mix for how we should be coming together to build ourselves up before we fall into destruction and also shows that on a human level, we all should be able to come together without issue. It makes reading her books immensely relatable. This is why L.A. Banks works resonated well with her fans.

“The more I know what is going on in the world, the more it effects my choices, how I vote, how I spend my money, how I relate to others. I am empowered by what I know, laid bare and ignorant by what I don’t know.” – L.A. Banks via Wild River Review 2011

banks3As a means to reach us all, L.A. Banks used her medium of scaring the hell out of you, while educating you without being preachy unless needed to be. Her style was deftly smooth and gripping, that in my opinion it influenced not only her readers but Hollywood as well. Case-in-point, before her passing L.A. Banks had been featured as a commentary for the behind-the-scenes look at HBO’s True Blood as it was premiered. Like many writers, we research our craft to create our worlds.

Not only did the writers do the same in shaping author Charlaine Harris popular book, but they also used the influences of many other writers to make it a richer environment. Once such influence was L.A. Banks slang and flair. “Dropping Fang” came from her works and found a way in the language of True Blood.

“…Vampires had taken the mantle as the perfectly dangerous lover – the forbidden, kinky, deep dark sensualist. Move over, vamps, somebody in pop culture let the dogs out. So we now have the phenomena where injustice, rage, plus the phase of the moon, means that the otherwise mild-mannered individual who is playing by the rules of society just gets fed up and rips your face off.”– L.A. Banks via Wild River Review 2011

banks2L.A. Banks had a powerful influential gift for writing. Had we not lost her, I believe that she and her works would have continued to not only help in our current climate today, but also changed the diversity of Hollywood.

As she stated back in 2011, “There is always a mentor, a Yoda, a Sensei, a learned master that helps the young initiate along their path of trials and tribulations until they emerge victorious.” Mama Banks you were our mentor, and master in the world of Horror, paranormal speculative fiction and more. August 2, 2011 is the day L.A. Banks parted from this world. It still saddens me that she is not celebrated more, because to me, she is right there in the ranks of Octavia Butler. Women in Horror have been overlooked and oftentimes ignored, especially with fellow women writers like myself. One day this will change.

We women are proud to take on the task of holding up the mantel of women horror writers like I’ve mentioned previously. It’s now up to the readers to turn a willing eye our way and step into our creepy, sinister, maliciously evil works and join us on our journey into greatness. Besides, we’ve been the inspiration for many male writers already. Why not continue the ride?

“Knowledge is Power.” – Carlos Rivera (VHL series)

L.A. Banks, also known as Mama Banks (to us fans), we miss you dearly. Thank you for being a beacon of light for myself as a writer and many others. I only hope that I become the same way as you were for me because when no one else will speak your name, I will. This is your right of honor as is your place at the Queen’s table for us black women writers. Thank you again and happy Black History Month!

 

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Born in Iowa, but later relocating and raised in Alton, IL and St. Louis, MO, Kai Leakes was an imaginative Midwestern child, who gained an addiction to books at an early age. The art of imagination was the very start of Kai’s path of writing which lead her to creating the Sin Eaters: Devotion Books Series and continuing works. Since a young childScreenshot_2016-01-31-15-02-55-1-1-1, her love for creating, vibrant romance and fantasy driven mystical tales, continues to be a major part of her very DNA. With the goal of sharing tales that entertain and add color to a gray literary world, Kai Leakes hopes to continue to reach out to those who love the same fantasy, paranormal, romantic, sci/fi, and soon, steampunk-driven worlds that shaped her unique multi-faceted and diverse vision. You can find Kai Leakes at: www.kwhp5f.wix.com/kai-leakes

l.a.banks
Read more of L.A. Banks interview with Wild River Review here: http://www.wildriverreview.com/Interview/L.A._Banks/From_Tragedy_to_triumph/bashman/October_09