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From the Haunted Stacks: 2023 Bram Stoker AwardsⓇ Wrap Up

For books that are horrifyingly good. 

five bram stoker award winning book covers on spider web background
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  • Photo Credit: Rafael Garcin / Unsplash

Each year, the Horror Writers Association presents the Bram Stoker AwardsⓇ for Superior Achievement in thirteen categories. There are a few interesting things about these, the most prestigious awards in the Horror genre. 

One, the award itself is very cool, an eight-inch replica of a haunted house, designed specifically for HWA by sculptor Steven Kirk. The door of the house opens to reveal a brass plaque engraved with the name of the winning work and its author. 

Two, the Bram Stoker AwardsⓇ are not for the “best” works of the year, rather they are “for superior achievement” which leaves room for more titles to be considered in a broader context. And three, the awards are chosen by a hybrid system of juries (one for each category) and member input.  

When you put all of this together, the results are always a cause for celebration. And that is exactly what happened on June 1, 2024, when the Bram Stoker AwardsⓇ  for books published in 2023 were presented live in San Diego, CA as part of StokerCon.  

Visit the Bram Stoker AwardsⓇ  official website for a full list of winners here. Or you can watch the entire ceremony for yourself in the YouTube video below.  

In Haunted Stacks style though, I am not here to simply list the winners for you. Rather I am going to focus on the titles that won in five of the categories, and offer you two read-alikes to continue your superior reading adventure.  

Superior Achievement in a Novel 

The Reformatory: A Novel

The Reformatory: A Novel

By Tananarive Due

Tananarive Due became the first Black person to win the Bram Stoker AwardⓇ in the novel category. Due had been nominated in this category before, but The Reformatory was her first win.

Set in Jim Crow Florida, this novel is based on a real and notorious reformatory school, a place where many children, especially those who were poor and/or Black were sent, some never to return, including a relative of Due’s. 

As I wrote about this masterpiece on this very site in my 2023 Horror Book HIghlights article: The timeline may be short but the history of the horror that imprisons Robbie is long and the ghosts who live on the school’s grounds are unwilling to wait any longer for justice.

An engrossing and heartbreakingly beautiful story that speaks to all situations where injustice occurs and compels its readers to act.  

If you like The Reformatory try…. 

The Nickel Boys

The Nickel Boys

By Colson Whitehead

Whitehead’s historical novel about systemic racism is based on the true events at the Dozier School for Boys when bodies were dug up; the same school and notorious history that Due used in her novel.

While it does not have any of the supernatural ghosts that appear in Due’s novel, it is just as menacing and disturbing. 

Told in layers, readers follow Elwood during his childhood before he got sent to the school through when he is out as an adult and living his life in NYC.

The story bounces back and forth, but it is not confusing. In fact, this narrative choice adds suspense and quickens the pacing. It also prepares readers for the ending, guaranteed to leave all speechless. 

The Trees: A Novel

The Trees: A Novel

By Percival Everett

Everett’s uncanny, terrifying, and stunning story is framed as a police procedural set in Mississippi, where Black law enforcement officers are called in to investigate a series of strange murders, all committed by Black men against white people.

The killings are tied to lynchings from the past and the killers are found dead at the scene, but then they "disappear." 

This highly sardonic novel quickly transforms into a revenge-driven zombie story, but one that draws heavily on the rules established by the Afro-Caribbean zombie tradition.

This book expresses the anger, sadness, frustration, and victimization of our country's violent history of white people killing people of color just because they are Black or Asian, Indigenous, LGBTQ etc… with raw and honest emotion and page-turning suspense.  

Superior Achievement in a First Novel 

The Daughters of Block Island: A Novel

The Daughters of Block Island: A Novel

By Christa Carmen

Once again the First Novel category revealed a plethora of exciting new voices, and this year, Christa Carmen took home the haunted house statue for her meta exploration of the Gothic genre.

The Daughters of Block Island opens with Blake, as she heads to the titular island, 14 miles off the coast of Rhode Island, to confront her birth mother and untangle her family’s complicated history. 

However, she is quickly murdered, but not before getting a letter off to the sister she never knew. That sister, Thalia, returns to the island after a ten-year absence to finish what Blake started.

A compelling debut about grief, trauma, and the pain caused by secrets that also consciously contemplates the act of storytelling within a Gothic framework, past and present. 

If you like The Daughters of Block Island try…. 

Reluctant Immortals

Reluctant Immortals

By Gwendolyn Kiste

A finalist in the novel category last year, Kiste’s book shares with Carmen’s an interest in probing Horror’s classic storytelling tropes and characters from a 21st Century perspective, and the results in both cases make for a great reading experience.

Here the setting is 1967, the Summer of Love, and our main characters are ripped from the pages of classic novels—Lucy, from Dracula and Bee, the first wife from Jane Eyre

Together these women, who were the victims of evil men whom history has turned into romantic heroes, are cursed to protect the world from Dracula’s return.

A serious but fun adventure that honors its source material while injecting something new into the canon. 

The Spite House: A Novel

The Spite House: A Novel

By Johnny Compton

Fellow nominee on the 2023 ballot, Compton is also a voice on the rise.

Like Carmen, his novel uses the lens of grief to take a fresh look at an established Horror trope, in this case, the Haunted House. Eric is running away from his past, trying to protect his two daughters, when he sees an ad to be the caretaker of one of the most haunted places in Texas, he jumps on the opportunity. 

If he can stay there long enough to prove the paranormal activity, without being driven mad, not only will Eric get a huge pile of money, but he may save his family from what has kept them running scared all these years.

Sounds easy, right?  But many have failed in the past, and Eric must fight with everything he has to survive.  

Superior Achievement in Long Fiction 



By Ai Jiang

Ai Jiang has received just about every possible nomination for her novella, Linghun, and it came as no surprise that the Chinese-Canadian took home her first haunted house trophy at the Bram Stoker AwardsⓇ ceremony.

Jiang’s original and unique tale is set in the town of HOME, a place where the dead live on as spirits, and the relatives of the dead, filled with intense grief, do whatever they can to be close to their deceased loved ones. 

However, what is the cost of living in a town that worships the dead but has no respect for the living? This thought-provoking and confident novella will make you excited to read what Jiang publishes next. 

If you like Linghun try…. 

Ghost Eaters: A Novel

Ghost Eaters: A Novel

By Clay Chapman

When her best friend, Silas, dies of a drug overdose, Erin learns that he has discovered a pill that allows him to see the dead. Wanting one more chance to see Silas, Erin takes the pill and begins a descent into a terrifying world of wandering ghosts and addiction. 

This is a poignant, immersive, and visceral tale about the power grief has to pull us out of the real world and into a nightmare, all to spend just a few more precious moments with the ones we love.

Like Linghun, Chapman’s story provides a new  twist on the haunting trope. 

The Perfectly Fine House

The Perfectly Fine House

By Stephen Kozeniewski

Kozeniewski and Young’s novel is one of the best-overlooked books of the past few years. Imagine a world where ghosts not only exist, but they live openly, alongside the living as functioning members of society and the economy.

After Donna has a panic attack at work, her dead twin brother finds her the perfect getaway, a house so far off the grid, that it isn’t even haunted. 

But when Donna arrives, she unknowingly unleashes a force that may alter their world forever.

A compelling and intriguing novel set in an expertly crafted world, featuring great characters, that will fill readers with existential dread even as they are racing to the finish to find out what happens. 

Superior Achievement in an Anthology 

Out There Screaming: An Anthology of New Black Horror

Out There Screaming: An Anthology of New Black Horror

By Jordan Peele

With no nomination for Ellen Datlow and a strong field, the anthology category was up for grabs this year, and the competition was astounding with some of the strongest anthologies I have seen on a single ballot ever.

Out There Screaming: An Anthology of New Black Horror edited by Jordan Peele, featuring stories by titans of Black Horror today such as  Erin E. Adams, Maurice Broaddus, Chesya Burke, P. Djèlí Clark, Tananarive Due, Nalo Hopkinson, N. K. Jemisin, Nnedi Okorafor and more, walked away with the award.

These are stories that actively grapple with the Black experience and its notable absence in anthologies of the past and all are a terrifying joy to experience. 

If you like Out there Screaming try…. 

Never Whistle at Night: An Indigenous Dark Fiction Anthology

Never Whistle at Night: An Indigenous Dark Fiction Anthology

By Shane Hawk and Theodore C. Van Alst

Hawk and Van Alst were also nominated this year for their identity-based anthology, this one featuring original, dark fiction stories by authors from across the literary landscape such as Cherie Dimaline, Tommy Orange, Rebecca Roanhorse, and Morgan Talty.

They use the fact that many Indigenous cultures share a belief that one should never whistle at night as the unsettling springboard to introduce the reader to chilling tales steeped in each author’s personal history.

The resulting volume is not only a stupendous achievement as a themed Horror anthology, but it also serves as a celebration of Indigenous people and their survival despite history’s aggressive attempts to silence them. 

Beyond the Bounds of Infinity

Beyond the Bounds of Infinity

By S.A. Cosby

This brand-new anthology could very well be a contender in this category next year, and it makes a great read-alike for this year’s winner as well.

Centered around the popularity of Cosmic Horror but openly acknowledging the trope’s racist progenitor—Lovecraft— debut editors Jackson and Pearre set out to share brand new tales of Cosmic Horror from the perspective of historically marginalized voices Lovecraft himself despised. 

Well-known authors like S.A. Cosby, Mary SanGiovannni, and L. Marie Wood anchor the volume, sitting alongside 15 authors chosen from an open call.

The result is an anthology bursting with existential dread that would make Lovecraft himself shudder with fear as he spun in his grave. 

Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection 

blood from the air gemma files book cover

Blood From the Air

By Gemma Files

Gemma Files nabbed her second win in this category in the last two years with Blood From the Air.

Showcasing her expertise in the scary short story format, Files once again explores common tropes in new ways, using lyrical prose and presenting an ethereal and immersive reading experience, featuring characters that readers will follow even when they know they shouldn’t always trust them. 

One uniting feature of this particular collection is the appearance of angels throughout many of the stories.

Like any collection by Files, this one was a not-to-miss read even before she took home yet another Bram Stoker Award.Ⓡ Two other nominees in the category this year are also worth checking out. 

If you like Blood From the Air try…. 

Cold, Black & Infinite: Stories of the Horrific & Strange

Cold, Black & Infinite: Stories of the Horrific & Strange

By Todd Keisling

A previous nominee in the Novel category for Devil’s Creek, this year marked Keisling’s first appearance in the Collection category.

 His stories have already appeared in critically acclaimed anthologies alongside such established names as Josh Malerman, Gabino Iglesias, and Linda Addison, but here his work is gathered into one tome with 13 previously published stories and three new to this book. 

This is a thought-provoking collection of immersive and uneasy stories that look into terrifying topics such as insatiable corporate greed, bullying, and mental health struggles.

Also of interest here, many of the stories are part of the Devil’s Creek universe, adding an extra layer of enjoyment for readers even as the stories stand strongly on their own. 

Root Rot & Other Grim Tales

Root Rot & Other Grim Tales

By Sarah Read

A former nominee in this same category and winner of the Bram Stoker AwardⓇ  for Superior Achievement in a First Novel in 2019, Read’s collection more than lives up to its promise of providing “grim tales.”

The 18 stories contained here use both fairy tale frames of yore like dark woods and wishes granted, and familiar tropes from science fiction and fantasy such as parallel worlds or uninhabitable cities. 

Read sustains a compelling pace, encouraging readers to experience each utterly original, immersively terrifying, and extremely sinister tale, repeatedly stabbing the reader in their most tender places.

It won’t be long before Read is nominated again in this category. 

Featured image: Rafael Garcin / Unsplash