Happy Women in Horror Month!
Needless to say, this is truly one of my favorite times of year, as we celebrate all the fantastic achievements of the countless women working in the genre. While this monthlong celebration rightfully tends to focus on living horror writers, there’s something to be said for making sure we don’t forget our roots. In particular, there have been far too many female horror writers over the years who simply never got their due and whose work never developed the cult following their male contemporaries had.
So here are five classic female horror authors to add to your reading list. As always, there will certainly be some of you out there who are already familiar with these amazing authors, but just in case you haven’t come across their work before now, please seek them out as soon as possible. In particular, since it’s Women in Horror Month, there truly isn’t a better time than right now.
Greye La Spina
During the twentieth century, the magazine Weird Tales was a major outlet for strange and fearsome stories, publishing the illustrious likes of Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, and Tennessee Williams, among others. What people often forget, however, is that there were also many incredibly women featured in the pages of Weird Tales. Yet over the years, many of these female authors have fallen by the wayside, their work rarely reprinted and their names not mentioned among their male counterparts.
On a positive note, a 2020 anthology aptly called The Women of Weird Tales from Valancourt Books—and with a foreword from the award-winning Melanie R. Anderson of Monster, She Wrote fame—has collected several of these female authors’ stories, including five from Greye La Spina. La Spina was known for her werewolf book, Invaders from the Dark, as well as her short stories, including “Great Pan Is Here” and “The Dead-Wagon.” Though she’s sadly far from a household name, her horror fiction is most certainly worth a read.
The Women of Weird Tales
Pauline Hopkins is likely one of the most recognizable names on this list. She was a widely published writer and editor in the early twentieth century and one of the first authors of Afrofuturism. Her contributions to the horror genre, however, are not discussed nearly enough. In particular, her novel, Of One Blood: Or, the Hidden Self, is typically classified as literary, which—while an accurate description—unfortunately denies the book its underlying horror elements. Suffice it to say, Of One Blood has a decidedly gothic vibe, dealing with murder, mysticism, and spirituality.
Fortunately, the Horror Writers Association and Poisoned Pen Press recently reissued the book under their Haunted Library of Horror Classics titles with an introduction from Nisi Shawl, which gives genre fans a chance to experience the book for themselves. A very worthy addition to your TBR list for Women in Horror Month—or any month of the year.
Of One Blood
Another one of the female authors highlighted in The Women of Weird Tales, Everil Worrell is an author you should most definitely check out. She published well over a dozen stories in the magazine, and she had at least two dozen tales appear in print overall; there were possibly more than that, but since she often used a pseudonym, it’s difficult to know for sure how many works of short fiction were penned by her. A long lasting mystery for an author who deserves our long-lasting attention.
Although she died in 1969, her horror story, “The Canal,” was adapted for Rod Serling’s Night Gallery in 1973, so look up both the story and the episode if you’re eager for a fright.
The Canal and Other Weird Stories
The most modern of the featured writers, Yumiko Kurahashi was a Japanese writer and translator. Her most famous book is arguably The Woman with the Flying Head and Other Stories, but you really can’t go wrong with anything she’s written.
Like many of the authors on this list, her work was not strictly horror or even belonging to any one particular genre. Instead, she blended elements of the surreal with magic realism and the gothic along with a healthy dose of social commentary to create something wholly strange and new. Though she passed away in 2005, you can still pick up her work, although much of it is sadly out of print or still in need of translation.
The Woman with the Flying Head and Other Stories
Olivia Howard Dunbar
An accomplished short fiction author and journalist, Olivia Howard Dunbar was particularly famous for her ghost stories. When she wasn’t writing, she was well known for her involvement in the suffrage movement, making good on the feminist themes woven into her work. And what a unique body of work it was. Case in point: her story, “The Dream-Baby,” was published in 1904 by Harper’s Bazaar, and features a lesbian couple who are eager to have a child.
Sometimes, it’s easy to believe that progress marches forward in a direct line, but as Dunbar’s work—and the writing of all of the women mentioned above—proves, we often have incredibly broad-minded writing from years ago hiding in plain sight. But let’s not let it hide anymore; seek out these fiercely talented women and their incredible horror fiction. Just like the female authors of today, we need to hear their voices.