Horror is alive and well in the short story format. As I noted in my book, The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Horror, third edition [ALA Editions, 2021]:
“Because horror is actively trying to invoke fear in its readers, the short story is a particularly effective medium, when done well, since it can be read in one sitting. The length itself allows the author to grab readers and keep them in their thrall for the entirety of their tale, while simultaneously allowing readers to succumb to emotions and lose themselves in the anxiety, dread, and terror completely, in a way for which a novel does not allow. As a result, horror readers and authors both love the short story…”
Anthologies are books that collect short stories by multiple authors, often under a common theme. Because these volumes contain tales by different voices, the work of the editor is extremely important. Not only does the anthologist have to solicit and select the titles to include, but they also have to edit and arrange said stories into a cohesive tome. The very best anthologists are able to expertly walk that line, offering different voices that when expertly brought together, create a unified whole, a single book that readers will enjoy from cover to cover.
Anthologies are also the best way for readers to survey the landscape of a genre, to see a wide variety of styles and voices writing under one umbrella. They also provide a tasting menu of voices familiar and brand new. And if the editor does their job well, readers will finish the book having learned of a few new writers who will be added to their personal to-read pile.
In this article, I have gathered six Horror anthologists you should not miss, offering up a little bit about them and providing you with two “start with” volumes of their work.
One final note before the list, I am keenly aware that only one of the anthologists listed below is a person of color; however, it is important to note that each of these editors is committed to diversity within the table of contents of the critically acclaimed titles they produce.
The list of Horror anthology editors starts with Ellen Datlow. She is the most decorated and critically acclaimed editor and anthologist in the genre. Datlow crafts anthologies that unfold like a novel, layering stories that build off of each other which adds depth to the reading experience. It is important to note that Datlow has been consciously inclusive in assembling the table of contents for each of her books—and that intentionality (by the field’s top editor) no less has inspired others to follow her lead.
Although I am not including it below, you should also check out her annual Best Horror of the Year, now at volume 13—which considers the very best short horror fiction published in print and online, from all over the world.
Echoes: The Saga Anthology of Ghost Stories
An exceptional compilation of 30 tales, 27 of which were commissioned for this collection specifically, Echoes does not simply rehash old haunted tales; rather, Datlow prioritizes a fresh version of a tried and true trope. The breadth of the theme itself provides a satisfyingly complex and broad reading experience as tales that terrorize sit comfortably next to atmospheric pieces that wait until announces the face of 21st Century horror to the world through its most visceral and universal trope while still giving respect to the ghost story’s illustrious history.
Echoes was awarded the 2019 Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in an Anthology.
When Things Get Dark, Stories Inspired by Shirley Jackson
After attending 2019’s ReaderCon, the event during which the Shirley Jackson Award winners are announced each year, Datlow started thinking about how deep an influence Shirley Jackson has on today’s dark fiction writers, be it conscious or unconscious. Subsequently, she asked a variety of writers in whose work she could see shades of Jackson, to embrace Jackson’s uncanny eye for finding the dark, weird, and unsettling just under the surface of the average American life—and use it to tell their own original story. The result was spectacular, producing a volume that both presented original stories by an amazing list of today’s talent and paid homage to a master, introducing her to new readers as well.
This anthology went on to win the 2021 Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in an Anthology.
Christopher Golden is a New York Times Bestselling author of his own novels. He has created comics, written for existing media properties, and worked as an editor on many anthologies. While not everything he writes is solely Horror, everything he does has Horror elements. Like Datlow, he is a force to be reckoned with in the genre, but I would argue that it is his dedicated work as an advocate for new and diverse voices that has best defined his career. Golden has edited a handful of anthologies, almost always with a co-editor, and with each, he not only actively solicits and includes underrepresented voices and new writers, but he does so in a conscious way, signaling to the world that being intentional about diversity is not only possible, but it can produce some of the best Horror anthologies in recent memory.
Hex Life: Wicked New Tales of Witchery edited with Rachel Autumn Deering
Using his privilege as a white man to draw in more readers, Golden worked with Deering to solicit all-new stories by a diverse group of women, asking them to update the classic witch trope, both to a 21st Century storytelling standard and to reflect the authors’ individual writing styles. The insistence that only women be included in this anthology is key to its success as the character of the witch and the negative connotations associated with it throughout history have been centered on women. This book not only sets the standard for the 21st Century witch tale, but it also opens up the subgenres’ past for a new generation of readers.
Related: 13 Horror Books About Witches That Will Cast a Spell on You
The Twisted Book of Shadows
This anthology, like all of the volumes included in this article, is a great read, but why it is “not to miss” has to do with how Golden and Moore collected the stories. Understanding that the vast majority of authors appearing in the most critically acclaimed and popular anthologies were heterosexual, white, cis, men, Golden and Moore set out to actively dismantle this systemic oppression by creating a blind submission process. They enlisted a diverse team of assistants to do the work of collecting submissions, logging them, and then striping them of their authors. The results: a fairly judged, diverse anthology where the author’s stories—not their reputations—spoke for themselves. Authors who had never before been published anywhere were included in this 2019 Bram Stoker Award Nominee for Superior Achievement in an Anthology.
Murray is widely considered one of New Zealand’s best speculative fiction writers. She writes military thrillers, a supernatural crime noir series, and numerous short stories and novellas, and has been nominated for and won the Bram Stoker Award numerous times in six different categories. One of those categories is for editing anthologies. In fact, she has edited 18 anthologies at this point. Her position as an outsider, both coming from Oceana and as a person of Asian descent means that she is always conscious of collecting the voices of "the other" in her anthologies. She also has some of the most original and engaging ideas for the themes she focuses on with her edited volumes, as you can see with the critically acclaimed anthologies included below.
Hellhole: An Anthology of Subterranean Terror
Talk about creepy. Murray reached out to a wide swath of Horror writers and asked them to submit a story that took place “underground.” Due to Murray’s background, many of the stories have a military, horror, and thriller frame and storytelling style. While each story is wildly different, all focus on creating a terrifying, detailed, and claustrophobic sense of place. The topic itself is refreshing, as Murry did not frame the anthology around traditional horror subgenres, while the execution is top-notch. This book was nominated for the 2018 Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in an Anthology.
Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women
As Asian American author Alma Katsu, notes in the introduction, Asian women, despite being from vastly different cultures are stereotyped as a monolith: demure and subservient, either sexually fetishized or conversely seen as cold and domineering. But not here, not with Murray and Flynn in the driver's seat.
Collecting 14 stories from a variety of horrific viewpoints such as tales of dangerous science fiction, bleak near-future dystopias, reimagined folk tales, battle-ready princesses, and just straight-up furious horror. The anthology is entertaining and the stories excellent on their own, but it is in the conscious act of compiling these tales, where this anthology shines, as readers experience the breadth of cultural experiences, storytelling styles, and originality of ideas and come to understand how harmful society’s preconceived notions of both the authors’ identities and their ability to craft Horror are delightfully pulverized. This volume won the 2020 Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in an Anthology.
Guignard has quietly built himself into a must-read anthologist. Not only are the volumes he builds entertaining, but he also goes out of his way to provide readers with a unique experience, giving them something they literally cannot find anywhere else. He also runs a micro press, Dark Moon Books, whose mission is to publish unusual and invigorating dark fiction for readers around the world with a focus on authors who are experimental, innovative, or progressive, while also being serious-minded, and enjoyable to read, and finally, Guignard is looking for authors who offer a diverse representation of the culturally rich world in which we live. As you can see from the two anthologies included below, he clearly follows his mission with every book. A writer on the rise, Guignard has been nominated for 8 Bram Stoker Awards as both an author and editor, taking home two haunted house statues.
A World of Horror
Dark Moon Books
Horror is a universal genre, precisely because it is driven by the primal emotion of fear, but unfortunately, the vast majority of Horror published in America does not reflect this fact. Western-based, English language Horror has dominated the publishing landscape. But editors like Guignard are working to fix that. This anthology was one of the first to seek out the best Horror from across the globe and collect it all into one place, for American readers to find fresh voices and new ways to be terrified. Representing 22 countries, each entry explores monsters and myths from the authors’ homelands, from Ukraine to Uganda and from Indonesia to Brazil. And it was extremely well done as this volume was nominated for the 2018 Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in an Anthology.
Professor Charlatan Bardot's Travel Anthology to the Most (Fictional) Haunted Buildings in the Weird, Wild World
Dark Moon Books
Guignard outdid himself with this imaginative, eerily realistic, and fun anthology showcasing 63 Horror authors from all over the world. Featuring an elaborate frame, including the creation of an alter ego—the fictional, international paranormal expert Dr. Charlatan Bardot—numerous illustrations, a stunning cover, and an index, Guignard’s meticulously constructed volume mimics an actual travel guide to haunted places across the globe. Organized by continent, the 27 stories and 36 flash fiction pieces are annotated by “Bardot.” Readers could take the included GPS coordinates and explore these places for themselves, except none of it, save the well-executed scares, is real, and that may be the creepiest part of all.
Similar to Guignard, Ryan is an up-and-coming anthologist who plies her trade with original concepts to frame her books. She founded her own small press, Black Spot Books, which gives her the autonomy to put out the content she wants to see in the world, which in this case as the press’s mission states is to amplify the voices of women in Horror. With women still lagging behind the 50% market share they should have in publishing, Ryan’s editorial vision is sorely needed. Her unique experience as an author, editor, short film director, and professor is serving her well as she begins to become a force to be reckoned with in the Horror anthology landscape. While she has not yet received recognition at the level of Guignard, I believe her time will be coming very soon. In fact, I would not be surprised if Under Her Skin (below) from Spring 2022 and the upcoming Into the Forest: Tales of the Baba Yaga coming Fall 2022 yield award season mentions.
Dead of Winter
Black Spot Books
Winter has always been a time for creepy stories, especially in the times before electricity when winter meant unyielding darkness, bitter cold, and fear of survival. This anthology of eight new stories harkens back to that time, when winter and terror were synonymous. A wide range of stories from terrifying to atmospheric are represented here, a group of emerging voices that is worth curling up by the fire with, as long as you keep the lights blaring. Read this during wintertime to double down on the theme or bring it out on a hot summer day to induce chills from the scares and the setting. Your choice. It works well any time of year.
Under Her Skin
Black Spot Books
Enter this thought-provoking, poetry anthology featuring seventy different women—cis, trans, and nonbinary femmes—with poems that focus their terrifying gaze on body horror, in particular, and being a woman, in general. These are powerful poems, their range in subject matter, style, level of fear, and gore, all of it as wide and varied as the range of how women experience the horrific truth of their lives. Poetry is an excellent format for probing the dark emotions that define Horror, and this anthology stands as its shining testament. The emotional gut punch of the individual entries each holds a beauty, truth, and lyricism that cannot be denied, a message carried with even more strength when they are placed together.
Murano is slowly becoming one of the biggest names in Horror anthologies, attracting the most talented names with his themed volumes that are as popular with readers as they are with critics. His vision both in the creative themes he uses to frame his books, such as the wonders of oddities to the grotesque beauty at the heart of darkness to horror set at a legendary music venue, and his expertise as an editor attracting top talent as his attention to every detail of the process, from editing the stories to ordering them in a way that keeps the reader turning the pages, make him one of the top practitioners in antholgolies today. And now he is taking the next step in his carrer, launching his own small press in June of 2022, Bad Hand Books. Of course, his first release was an anthology (see below). He has already garnered three Bram Stoker nominations and one win (2017) as an editor for other presses. It is time to see where he goes as he drives himself into the future.
Miscreations: Gods, Monstrosities & Other Horrors
Humans have long been fascinated by monsters, and it is from that complicated entanglement, ruled by emotions like curiosity, revenge, and of course, fear, that Murano and Bailey unleashed a talented and diverse list of authors to explore the monsters surrounding us all. Featuring 19 new stories and four poems, the works here contemplate monsters, both real and imagined, through compelling, unique, and unsettling stories. This multifaceted anthology not only honors the breadth of possibilities inherent in “a monster story,” but also allows the blinding creativity and skill of its authors to shine. It was a 2020 Bram Stoker Award Nominee for Superior Achievement in an Anthology and the included story by Josh Malerman received the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a Short Story, earning the popular Malerman his first ever haunted house statue.
The Hideous Book of Hidden Horrors
Bad Hand Books
We end our journey through Horror’s need-to-know anthologists with the newest volume of the lot, a themed anthology that not only takes its title seriously but also adds a level of enjoyment for the reader as they are treated to 16 original and unsettling stories where the authors not only embrace the idea of “hiding” something awful in each story, but they have made the hunt to uncover it fun as well.
This outstanding anthology features a wide range of scares from mere unease and paranoia to monsters and gore, with a diverse table of contents featuring household Horror names to emerging voices. This first volume for Murano’s new independent press may claim to be hiding its terrors, but in reality, the horrors are on full, nightmarish display, and satisfied readers will wonder where Murano has been hiding. I predict a nomination for this anthology at next year’s Bram Stoker Awards as well as multiple accolades for the deliciously dark and unnerving tales hiding between the covers.