Black Heritage in Horror: Interview with Beatrice Winifred Iker
Beatrice Winifred Iker is an author and poet whose work can/will be found in FIYAH Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction, Anathema Magazine, Nightmare Magazine, the Death in the Mouth horror anthology, and others. Iker is a Voodoonauts Fellowship alum, co-host on the Afronauts Podcast, and a member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA).
Originally from East Tennessee, Iker lives in New England with a wonderful husband, many cats, and a robust tarot deck collection. You can find Iker on Twitter (@BeatriceIker), Instagram (@beatricewinifrediker), or through the website beatriceiker.com.
What inspired you to start writing?
I was a reader then a writer, which was an important transition for me. Since early childhood (age 6 or 7), I’ve always been a reader. My great-aunt used to visit every summer, and she’d bring a giant tote full of books just for me. I’d spend all summer reading and imagining and dreaming. Eventually, I started coming up with my own worlds and characters. Ever since then, my mind has been full of stories, eager for me to give them attention.
What was it about the horror genre that drew you to it?
I grew up in Southern Appalachia with a rich sociocultural history to draw from. The horrors and allure of the South are genuinely neverending, fostering my interest in the genre, specifically in the subgenre of southern gothic.
Aside from that, I’m fascinated with the darker tendencies and desires of the human mind. We spend so much time assimilating and confining ourselves to social norms, but I’m more interested in examining people and histories who choose not to or don’t have a choice.
Do you make a conscious effort to include African diaspora characters and themes in your writing and if so, what do you want to portray?
It’s not conscious; rather, I’m writing the world as I see it through my lens. However, I do want to portray the character and themes in my stories as authentically as possible.
What has writing horror taught you about the world and yourself?
I’ve learned that “good” and “bad” are more subjective than I ever would’ve thought. Most people don’t think of themselves as villains (usually the opposite) and yet are villains from someone else’s perspective.
Regarding myself, I’ve learned not to subdue my “darker” thoughts because they often make for interesting stories. Additionally, I enjoy playing inside my imagination through storytelling. The concept of using storytelling to examine one’s fears, hopes, prejudices, etc., is exciting and made possible by my horror artistry.
How have you seen the horror genre change over the years? And how do you think it will continue to evolve?
The big change I’ve seen in the genre is the increased presence of diversity. Black horror has been around for a long time, but there’s definitely been a boom over the past five or so years. This is especially in short fiction. With an increase in diversity comes varied types of characters, mythology, religion, and so much more. The evolution of horror is a broadening of experience, so new fears can be shown to readers in new ways.
How do you feel the Black community has been represented thus far in the genre and what hopes do you have for representation in the genre going forward?
The best book I’ve ever read is Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, and I thoroughly enjoyed Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler. A newer book I enjoyed is The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaVelle, which is a revisiting of H. P. Lovecraft’s story “The Horror at Red Hook” from the viewpoint of a Black man. These novels alone have represented the Black community beautifully and were visceral stories, though there are many others I could also name!
I also want to mention short fiction markets such as FIYAH Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction and Anathema Magazine, which champion diverse storytelling and artwork. It is incalculable how much these and similar markets have aided the community and literature overall.
My hope for representation in the genre is that Black people are given fair compensation and marketing pushes. There are many (more than you think!) Black horror authors, but with little pay and support, the world won’t benefit from their stories, and this is a disservice to the genre and to storytelling at large.
Who are some of your favorite Black characters in horror?
Aunt Mozelle in the southern gothic film Eve’s Bayou. She’s clairvoyant and yet cannot foresee the gruesome deaths of her husbands. Her story is tragic, and yet she is beloved and represents a kind of knowing wisdom for the main character. She’s probably my favorite character in any horror media ever.
Janie Crawford is the main character in Their Eyes Were Watching God. It was devastating to watch her make mistakes on her journey of identity, but it was also captivating. I distinctly remember finishing the book, then sitting on the floor weeping. I was equally filled with sorrow and hope. Hurston was an absolutely wonderful storyteller, as well as an important anthropologist.
Who are some African diaspora horror authors you recommend our audience check out?
Aside from the aforementioned, I recommend Alexis Henderson (House of Hunger), Helen Oyeyemi (White is for Witching), and I’m very excited about upcoming releases from Liselle Sambury (Delicious Monsters), and Johnny Compton’s The Spite House.
What is one piece of advice you would give horror authors today?
Decide why it’s important that you tell your stories and engrave it on your mind. Make it part of yourself so no one can take it away from you.
And to the Black writers out there who are just getting started, what advice would you give them?
Find a community where you feel comfortable. Please, please, please find a writing community. It can be in person or online, whichever you prefer.
Writing can be such an isolating process, but it needn’t be. You have to put yourself out there for your writing, but also for yourself. You deserve to feel seen and appreciated by your peers, but that isn’t going to happen if you don’t actively look for a community. Bet on yourself. You’re worth knowing.