By Sumiko Saulson

“Saulson has collected magic in ways that hypnotize, entertain and make the reader shudder. In these stories desire and greed are answered with magical justice and getting what is wished for comes with ultimate, soul level prices. Walk with these women, through fables of magic, spells, werewolves, cursed days & nights and be prepared to be entertained and shook to your core.”

—Linda D. Addison, award-winning author of “How to Recognize a Demon Has Become Your Friend”

I’ve been a horror fan as long as I can remember. I grew up in the seventies, before people decided it was important to protect children from skinned knees, bruised heads and horror movies. As a child, my parents took me and my brother to drive-in movies like Its Alive, The Omen, and The Exorcist. I still remember being five years old, playing on the slides and swings with my four year old brother, and watching cartoons like Heckle and Jeckle or Woody Woodpecker. We knew that once the cartoons were over, we were supposed to leave the playground and return to the car. We weren’t afraid of being kidnapped, and we didn’t know that some people thought Heckle and Jeckle were probably racist and based on minstrel stereotyped jive-talking crows in Dumbo

We also didn’t notice that none of the people in our favorite horror movies were black. See, the eighties trope where the black guy dies first hadn’t started, and there were no black people to speak of in Carrie, The Hills Have Eyes, and Jaws. It wasn’t until 1976’s Dawn of the Dead that I saw a movie with a major black character in it. And he was the hero!

“In the 21th century there are very still few characters like us, and out of this small pool many are post-modern “Step-and Fetchit” stereotypes. This is why speculative fiction is so important. This genre helps us to see outside reality, to say: what if? It helps us to imagine and create spectacular, wondrous realms, step back and find the beauty and wisdom there, and then transform our own space.” 

— Valjeanne Jeffers, author of the short story The Lost Ones.

Like Valjeanne, I have noticed a dearth of African Diaspora characters in fiction. Where they are present, they are relegated to support or background roles. I believe it is important for the self-esteem of a people to be able to envision ourselves as heroes. That means that we should be able to read stories and watch movies where there are heroes who look like we do. We shouldn’t be brainwashed into viewing ourselves as less than central in our lives. 

Nowadays, it’s not as bad as it used to be. We see characters like Michonne on The Walking Dead, Bonnie Bennet on The Vampire Diaries, or Jenny and Abbie Mills on Sleepy Hollow, and feel encouraged that black people in general, and black women in particular, can be viewed as powerful, vital, and heroic. But the killing off of first Abbie, then Jenny Mills, and subsequent cancellation of Sleepy Hollow tell a darker tale; people aren’t ready for black women to be front and center. Even the creation of Richonne, the Rick and Michonne power couple on The Walking Dead, shows that people need a black woman to be clearly secondary to a white, male protagonist in order to be strong, or continue to live. Never mind the series of replaceable black men: T-Dog, Tyreese, Bob, Noah… and that other guy who was on there so briefly I almost didn’t register that he wasn’t T-Dog.

That’s where projects like Black Magic Women come in.

“It’s always an honor to be included in a project like Black Magic Women. Most of us are in our own corner, writing and promoting, so this project gives us a chance to catch up on each other.” 

Return to Me author Lori Titus.

I was inspired by older anthologies like the Dark Matter series, edited by Sheree Renée Thomas. It debuted July 18, 2000 with Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora. When I put together a blog series on black women who write horror in honor of Black History Month and Women in Horror Month back in 2013, I had to do a lot of research to come up with my first three lists that year. The lists, and the interviews with black women in horror that were a part of that blog series, were eventually published in 2014 as the book 60 Black Women in Horror

When I first put together 60 Black Women in Horror, a few women asked if they could add stories to the end of the eBook. That’s how I ended up with short stories by myself, Crystal Connor, Valjeanne Jeffers and Annie Penn at the back of the eBook. They weren’t in the print edition. So, when I started to work on 100 Black Women in Horror, an update to the original book with over 100 biographies and more than 20 interviews,  I decided that rather than toss a few stories in the reference guide, I should put together a separate anthology of horror stories written by women listed in the guide. I was thrilled when Nicole Kurtz from Mocha Memoirs Press expressed interest in the anthology, Black Magic Women.

“Black Woman Magic is the natural spiritual root for our ancestral legacy in life. It is protection, warrior work, praise/worship, love or it is root-work meant to hex those who harm, cause mischief or to even bring about life lessons and mores. Black Magic Woman is badassness others want.” 

—Kai Leakes, author of the short story Sisters.

But this anthology doesn’t only consist of badass women. It is a collection of horror tales where blackness is up front and center, and a black woman is always a significant player, even in stories like Delizhia Jenkins’ Dark Moon’s Curse,  Valjeanne Jeffers’ The Lost Ones and Kenesha Williams Sweet Justice, and Cinsearae S’s Killer Queen, where the protagonist is male. The women may be sensitive souls, like preteen title character in Kamika Aziza’s zombie apocalyptic slice of life Trisha and Peter, thoughtful and introspective, like the witch in Lori Titus’ Return to Me, or idealistic justice seekers like Kai Leakes’ Sisters and the circle of friends in Dicey Grenor’s Black and Deadly

“In a world where Black Women are portrayed to either be mammies, angry, or sassy, I’m so happy for a project like Black Magic Women where we get to be the heroes and maybe even the villains. So many times, because of our lack of portrayal in the media, it seems as if all Black Women characters must be paragons of virtue lest we “shame the community”. Embracing both sides of someone’s humanity, the good and the bad, is to allow them to be fully human. We shouldn’t have to be one end of the spectrum or the other, like all people, we are varying shades of gray and I think this anthology will show that.” 

—Kenesha Williams, author of Sweet Justice.

Of course, a well-rounded book of black women contains characters that are not necessarily good. Morally ambiguous creatures haunt stories like Mina Polina’s Appreciation, Nuzo Onoh’s Death Lines, Nicole Givens Kurtz’s Blood Magnolia, Crystal Connor’s Bryannah and the Magic Negro and my own Tango of a Telltale Heart. You have to read the whole story to figure out if they are heroes, villains, or something in between. In some cases, even after you’re done you aren’t entirely sure. 

Some of these stories fit into the ancient and honorable horror tradition of the cautionary tale. What would it mean to have had a black scream queen in movies like Halloween, Friday the 13th, or Nightmare on Elm Street? The hopeless romantics, hapless nice girls, clueless ingénues, and ordinary janes in Tabitha Thompson’s Alternative™ , Alledria Hurt’s The Prizewinner, R. J. Joseph’s Left Hand Torment, Kenya Moss-Dyme’s Labor Pains, and L.H, Moore’s Here, Kitty! face extraordinary situations. Will they make it out alive?

“Black women have always been magical. It’s our tradition, our heritage. It’s in our blood. A part of that tradition is a belief in the fantastic and supernatural. And yes, we do write and enjoy horror. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.” 

—LH Moore, author of Here, Kitty!

The first time I walked into a book store – Marcus Bookstore, a historical black bookstore in San Francisco – the proprietor expressed shock and awe at the idea of a black person writing horror. The closest thing she’d ever heard of was sci-fi writer Octavia Butler, and wanted to know if that’s what my stories were like. So I started to research horror by black authors, to see where I fit in, in this wild world of unknown and potentially amazing stories by black women, on the edge of this new frontier.

Why have there been so few documented black women horror writers up until now? Part of it, I think, has to do with respectability politics. Black writers of any gender are told we should write literary fiction, be serious, and not involve ourselves in trash genres like horror. To this day, I am invited to speak at speculative fiction conventions and on panels where they start right out insulting my genre. They act like calling Beloved a ghost story is paramount to calling Toni Morrison a dirty name. That being the attitude of a lot of authors and academics many scribes are loath to admit to writing horror, even if they do.

The other factor is the tendency to view horror as a male thing. If a woman, say L.A. Banks, writes a series called The Vampire Huntress Legends about a bad ass slayer of demons and vampires, her hero, Damali, is in a paranormal romance. Conversely, if two white dudes, Sam and Dean Winchester do the same thing, they are in a horror series called Supernatural. This is not limited to black women: Buffy and the Vampire Slayer, The Medium, Charmed, and The Ghost Whisperer aren’t really horror, because they center around girls and girly stuff like marriage, children and romance. So people tend to categorize our stories as something other than horror; urban fiction, paranormal romance, supernatural, or even magical realism, because girls don’t do horror, therefore it cannot be horror and must be something else.That’s why projects like Black Magic Women and 100 Black Women in Horror are so important.