Our editorial board member and regular contributor Christina Connor sat down (virtually!) for an interview with Tananarive Due, author of the 2023 World Fantasy Award-winning short story “Incident at Bear Creek Lodge” and the new hit novel The Reformatory (2023). They discussed Due’s process of becoming a horror writer, the use of fictional horror as a way to engage with real-life horrors, and current trends in the genre. Due is also executive producer of Shudder’s documentary Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror, and Studies is very excited to feature the full interview in our forthcoming special issue devoted to “Black Horror,” guest edited by Stefanie Dunning.
Here is an excerpt from that interview:
CC: In your talk at the Library of Congress National Book Festival, you mention the “fun” in horror allows you to address difficult topics like racial trauma through a monster rather than the real horrors of violence, like lynching. How is horror a site for engaging with real-world monsters?
TD: I’ll explain this through the framework of my new horror novel The Reformatory (Simon & Schuster 2023). Anything that is about an especially difficult topic that has touched people in the real world—even if you want to scream it from the rooftops—if you write about it in a way that is too on the nose, it can retrigger, rather than help people transcend above or more fully engage, because our tendency to look away will be too strong. You don’t want your readers to look away; that’s the last thing that you want. In fact, in a horror novel, you want readers not to be able to stop. In order to create a book that people can’t stop reading, you can scare them, but you can’t hurt them.
I knew I was going to have to temper the real horror of the story—which is history—with a fantasy element that would make it easier to withstand the history. That’s the same principle that works in the new Candyman, adding that element of fantasy for the level of remove. So, my story is a ghost story, and I can accomplish a lot with a ghost story. I can create my scares and dread with the ghost, and I can honor the fact that many people died there without having to show death after death. It’s serving two purposes, and that to me is the path to confronting difficult history without re-traumatization. If you are creating a horror piece with a literal lynching in it, I would advise you to step back and take a look at the feeling of a lynching, the corruption of a lynching, the legacy of a lynching, to see if there’s another way to replicate that feeling without having to put the viewer or reader directly in the midst of the thing itself, like a magical tree that’s in a bad mood because of the long-ago lynching. It’s hard to be enriched or uplifted when you’ve first been drug through the mud of your family’s history; it’s not entertaining. I really hope that The Reformatory will lead to real-life policy changes, real-life criminal justice changes; that’s part of why we write.
CC: To make a difference.
TD: Exactly, to make a difference.