Book Club Nominees

6 Terrifying Horror Books by Black Authors

by @arbocrednammoc, curator of HOWLS Book Club nominees for September’s “Blackshually, Horror is an Emotion” category

“The monster of racism will always sort of be hiding behind the door in a lot of Black storytelling, but the stories themselves are going to be as varied as the artists who dream them. And that’s what’s just beautiful about horror in general: the difference and variety and novelty.” – Tananarive Due

“I think we can understand horror to fundamentally be an emotion, the anticipation of fear that it creates within the participant. Horror, of course, is and can be many more things than this, but this is its definition at the fundamental level. So, while you, as an individual reader or writer, can add many differing definitions to what you believe horror should be, you cannot take away these basic, essential principles that have long been established as horror, simply to exclude certain writings or writers.” – Chesya Burke

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Staring unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery, this spellbinding New York Times bestseller transforms history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby. 

Sethe, its protagonist, was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. And Sethe’s new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved. Filled with bitter poetry and suspense as taut as a rope, Beloved is a towering achievement. 


“I remember being introduced, you know, at a literary event, by this really fine writer, he’s dead too, Doctorow. We were very close, I thought he was just a magnificent writer, anyway, he introduced me to the group and he said ‘I don’t think of Toni as a Black writer, I don’t think of her as a woman writer, I think of her as…’ he paused, and I said ‘like a White male writer!’”

Toni Morrison is my favorite author. Of all her books, Beloved is the one I want to reread the most. It’s the one I began with, four years ago. Between us, I’m side-eyeing this so-called “me” who first experienced it. They suck. Rereading it with HOWLs would be really magical, but I understand this isn’t the first time it has made a list, and if y’all make me, I’ll just have to read it without you. Again.

Morrison won the Pulitzer Prize for Beloved in 1987; she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993.

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Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Jojo is thirteen years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. He doesn’t lack in fathers to study, chief among them his Black grandfather, Pop. But there are other men who complicate his understanding: his absent White father, Michael, who is being released from prison; his absent White grandfather, Big Joseph, who won’t acknowledge his existence; and the memories of his dead uncle, Given, who died as a teenager.

His mother, Leonie, is an inconsistent presence in his and his toddler sister’s lives. She is an imperfect mother in constant conflict with herself and those around her. She is Black and her children’s father is White. She wants to be a better mother but can’t put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use. Simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high, Leonie is embattled in ways that reflect the brutal reality of her circumstances.

When the children’s father is released from prison, Leonie packs her kids and a friend into her car and drives north to the heart of Mississippi and Parchman Farm, the State Penitentiary. At Parchman, there is another thirteen-year-old boy, the ghost of a dead inmate who carries all of the ugly history of the South with him in his wandering. He too has something to teach Jojo about fathers and sons, about legacies, about violence, about love.


First, I must allay any fears about this book being the second in a series. They are all standalones that merely share the same fictitious location based upon Jesmyn Ward’s hometown. That’s it. There’s no crossover of characters or storylines.

So far, the only thing I’ve read of Jesmyn Ward’s was her Vanity Fair article about grief, the pandemic, and the Black Lives Matter movement. She lost her husband, Brandon R. Miller, to COVID in January of 2020, and she had to witness the absurdity that followed, while caring for their two young children, without him. If you haven’t been devastated in a minute, there’s your quick unfix.

Sing, Unburied, Sing won the 2017 National Book Award for fiction. In 2022, the U.S. Library of Congress selected Ward as the winner of the Library’s Prize for American Fiction. At age 45, Jesmyn Ward is the youngest recipient of the award for a lifetime of work.

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The Book of Night Women by Marlon James

The Book of Night Women is a sweeping, startling novel, a true tour de force of both voice and storytelling. It is the story of Lilith, born into slavery on a Jamaican sugar plantation at the end of the eighteenth century. Even at her birth, the slave women around her recognize a dark power that they–and she–will come to both revere and fear.

The Night Women, as they call themselves, have long been plotting a slave revolt, and as Lilith comes of age and reveals the extent of her power, they see her as the key to their plans. But when she begins to understand her own feelings and desires and identity, Lilith starts to push at the edges of what is imaginable for the life of a slave woman in Jamaica, and risks becoming the conspiracy’s weak link.

Lilith’s story overflows with high drama and heartbreak, and life on the plantation is rife with dangerous secrets, unspoken jealousies, inhuman violence, and very human emotion–between slave and master, between slave and overseer, and among the slaves themselves. Lilith finds herself at the heart of it all. And all of it told in one of the boldest literary voices to grace the page recently–and the secret of that voice is one of the book’s most intriguing mysteries. (StoryGraph)


I first added Marlon James to my to-read list because of his dark fantasy series, a planned trilogy (The Dark Star), characterized as “an African Game of Thrones,” “full of monsters, sex, and violence, set in a mythic version of ancient Africa.” I wouldn’t have guessed I would be reading one of his other books before that.

Born in Jamaica in 1970, James grew up in a middle-class family, his mother a police detective. Sadly, James feels he’s disappointed a few media outlets for not having emerged from poverty. In an interview with la Repubblica, the interviewer, perhaps averse to research, first asked: “As someone who escaped the ghetto through the power of the pen, how do you feel about what’s going on in Jamaica?” Jamaican middle-class life, according to James, is “reasonably stable, but there’s not many opportunities; lots and lots of boredom. It’s the Jamaica that never gets written. You want stuff about the Jamaican ghetto or crime, you can find stuff. You never hear about the middle class.”

Marlon James would leave Jamaica, fearing career stagnation and the threat of anti-gay violence. “Homophobia is still largely driven by the church, it’s legitimized. It’s also tied to sexism, because those two are never far apart. It’s interesting for me watching how religiosity is gripping Nigeria right now. Because I remember when it was gripping Jamaica, especially in the 80s. […] Whether it was in a plane or a coffin, I knew I had to get out of Jamaica.” In 2006, he received a master’s degree in creative writing from Wilkes University in Pennsylvania. The Book of Night Women won the 2010 Dayton Literary Peace Prize and the Minnesota Book Award, and his novel A Brief History of Seven Killings won the 2015 Man Booker Prize.

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The Trees by Percival Everett

Percival Everett’s The Trees is a page-turner that opens with a series of brutal murders in the rural town of Money, Mississippi. When a pair of detectives from the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation arrive, they meet expected resistance from the local sheriff, his deputy, the coroner, and a string of racist White townsfolk. The murders present a puzzle, for at each crime scene there is a second dead body: that of a man who resembles Emmett Till.

The detectives suspect that these are killings of retribution, but soon discover that eerily similar murders are taking place all over the country. Something truly strange is afoot. As the bodies pile up, the MBI detectives seek answers from a local root doctor who has been documenting every lynching in the country for years, uncovering a history that refuses to be buried. In this bold, provocative book, Everett takes direct aim at racism and police violence, and does so in a fast-paced style that ensures the reader can’t look away. The Trees is an enormously powerful novel of lasting importance from an author with his finger on America’s pulse. (StoryGraph)


The Trees is the rare “page-turner” that’s left me with a sense of fulfillment, and the author’s oeuvre is as protean as he is. You have to suspend disbelief just reading about the guy.

“I grew up where the Civil War started, in South Carolina, and I have never in my life heard someone say, ‘Where fo’ you be going?’ So Alice Walker can kiss my ass.”

Percival Everett doesn’t sleep. He is a Black American writer of over thirty-four books, mostly novels (with several poetry and short story collections); a Distinguished Professor of English at University of Southern California; a father of two sons; an accomplished painter; a cowboy, trainer of horses, mules, and dogs (he’s also nursed a crow back to health); a jazz musician and restorer of damaged mandolins and guitars; a fly-fisher. His agent, Melanie Jackson, never knows what he’s going to do next. She once said, “You could make a lot more money if you just write the same book a couple of times.” Finally, something Everett can’t do!

Before moving on to the next title, I must warn you all that, yes, The Trees has received some criticism for its caricatures of White southerners, and Everett wants everyone to know he appreciates their concern. “I grew up watching those wide-eyed porters in Three Stooges comedy shorts. The other night at 3:00 a.m., they had an Abbott and Costello film on, Africa Screams. I said, ‘That’s on television!’ And any bad feelings I had about publishing The Trees were all gone. Part of the novel is just turning it around.”

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Nine Bar Blues by Sheree Renée Thomas

The stories collected in Nine Bar Blues weave emotion, spirit, and music, captivating readers with newfound alchemy and the murmurs of dark gods. Rooted in rhythm, threaded with magic, these tales encompass worlds that begin in river bottoms, pass through spectral gates, and end in distant uncharted worlds. These stories describe the pain that often accompanies the confines of sanctuary and the joy that is inextricably bound to the troubles of hard living. Nine Bar Blues sings a multiverse of fully realized worlds that readers will remember for ages to come and cherish from page to heart thumping, foot-stomping page. (StoryGraph)


“I never read short fiction collections or anthologies in order. Sometimes I reach back and start from the end, or just pick the titles that intrigue me the most. Then I fill in from there.”

Sheree Renée Thomas, quoted above, is an award-winning fiction writer, poet, and editor. Her work is inspired by myth, folklore, Mississippi Delta conjure, and natural science. If her prose fiction is half as disturbing as her reading practices, it should be labeled “not safe for life” (NSFL). She did, however, quickly win me over again with her (eerily) rhythmical apology to an interviewer, who has always been “creeped out by cicadas,” for her short story’s (“Thirteen Year Long Song”) irreversible impact on them.

“I’m so sorry! I am chuckling now because cicadas are truly the weirdest looking insects in the world. They’re so ugly they’re cute. I am fascinated and repulsed by them at the same time. I find their wings extraordinary, the sounds they make a source of comfort with just the mildest bit of dread. When I hear the cicadas, I know it’s deep summertime, and I’m happy but I also grieve to see the ones who don’t make it. Little corpses covering the grounds like fallen leaves. They have such a short life span but when they’re with us, it’s all about the music and lovemaking. Not a bad way to go if you don’t think about it too hard. So yes, when I’m writing, I do dial down into the things that create questions for me. The writing helps make sense of the things that I love and the things that I fear, the things I hope to better understand. It is excavation and reclamation. And like Capote said, as mysterious as it sometimes is, the beauty of writing is ‘the inner music that words make.’”

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Falling in Love with Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson

Nalo Hopkinson (Brown Girl in the Ring, The Salt Roads, Sister Mine) is an internationally-beloved storyteller. Hailed by the Los Angeles Times as having “an imagination that most of us would kill for,” her Afro-Caribbean, Canadian, and American influences shine in truly unique stories that are filled with striking imagery, unlikely beauty, and delightful strangeness.

In this long-awaited collection, Hopkinson continues to expand the boundaries of culture and imagination. Whether she is retelling The Tempest as a new Caribbean myth, filling a shopping mall with unfulfilled ghosts, or herding chickens that occasionally breathe fire, Hopkinson continues to create bold fiction that transcends boundaries and borders. (StoryGraph)


Time and again, I have found myself in front of Nalo Hopkinson’s bookshelf, only to shuffle along without pulling down one of her volumes. Falling in Love with Hominids broke the habit. Its opening words: “I didn’t used to like people much.” Sold.

In 2020, Hopkinson was named the 37th Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master, a lifetime honor from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. She was both the youngest recipient and first woman of African descent. During her acceptance speech she said, “I know I represent a lot of people who didn’t think they could do what I’m doing for various reasons. People from marginalized experiences like I am, being Black, being an immigrant to North America, being female, being queer, being over a certain age, having some level of disability. It’s something I do take seriously.”

Hopkinson was born in Jamaica. She also lived in Guyana and in Trinidad/Tobago. But the majority of her life–thirty-five years–was spent in Toronto, Canada. Afterwards, she moved to the USA for a professorship in Creative Writing. My heart went out to her reading about the culture shock she experienced in moving from the Caribbean to Connecticut, and from there to Toronto at sixteen-years-old: “It’s an experience I’ve not seen described much. I had lived in the U.S. as a child, when my father was studying theater at Yale University in Connecticut, so I wasn’t totally unprepared. Still, the enormity of suddenly becoming a member of a minority (and not a very popular one at that), of being in lands where people spoke like the people in movies (and they said I was the one with the accent!), of being unable to get the foods I’d grown up with and loved, of eight months of the year having to clothe oneself in a space suit in order to be able to remain alive when one stepped outside one’s door is something to which I’m still not fully reconciled.”

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And The Winner Is…

Out of these six books, HOWLers voted to read Beloved by Toni Morrison. Discussion starts on September 11th, and you can read along by joining the Discord! This will be a 2-week read.

*The HOWLS affiliate storefront pays a 10% commission to HOWL Society and gives a matching 10% to independent bookstores

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