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Black Heritage in Horror: Interview with Donyae Coles


Donyae Coles is a horror author who has been published in a variety of short fiction venues. She devotes her free time to her other great love, art. Her debut, Midnight Rooms, is forthcoming from Amistad. You can find more of her work on her website, www.donyaecoles.com and follow her on Twitter @okokno.

What inspired you to start writing?

Writing was always something that I’ve wanted to do, that have been doing, for a long time. Forever, maybe. There’s no moment outside of me where it was like, oh, I can do that? It’s always been, I wanna tell stories and this is how.

What was it about the horror genre that drew you to it?

I’ve always loved spooky stories even though they scare me! I’m a baby! I’ve always been attracted to the strange. I just think it’s neat!

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?

I almost exclusively write about Black girls and women. I can count the number of stories I’ve written with non-Black protagonists on one hand. So yes, I very consciously write Black characters.

As for themes, mine are always like, motherhood, and poverty sucks, and being a girl is hard. And those are pretty universal but when I’m writing, spinning out the story, I am conscious of how Blackness impacts those things, how it changes the story, even if the story isn’t about that.

I am always trying to portray an authentic character. Messy or weak or just doing their best but human.

What has writing horror taught you about the world and yourself?

Mostly it’s taught me I have a lot of issues with my parents 😊. No but really it’s taught me to really lean into what my gut is telling me. Not to be so concerned with, “Will people think this is weird?” in all parts of my life because the truth is, yeah, some people are going to think it is weird but so what? It’s not the end of the world.

How have you seen the horror genre change over the years? And how do you think it will continue to evolve?

It has definitely gotten more openly diverse which might just be a consequence of living in the future where information is easier to find.  Which is great! I love it! We’re seeing so many types of stories now and a wide range of what is horror. When I was younger, the really taboo stuff was like, the splatter, how gross can we make this? And now, not that the gore isn’t still pushing the edges, but we’re getting stories that really expand the genre and what it means to be horror.

I think it’s just going to continue to get more and more weird. I don’t see that going back.

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?

I think historically we were more represented in film than we were in books so I’m loving the rise of Black horror literature. But in general that representation has been a mixed bag because for every solid piece of representation, there’s like ten other stories where the Black person dies first.  Or is some amalgamation of vaguely African based spiritual practice that’s going to give the hero the exact piece of information they need to win. Also a lot of the time we only see Black characters in stereotypically Black places. So things like, Urban based horror, you see Black people.

I really hope that we continue to move away from those stereotypes. More stories told about Black characters in different spaces, different walks of life. Let us be soft and neurotic or all in on this hero gig. Whatever. Black people are everywhere doing everything.

Who are some of your favorite Black characters in horror?

Rochelle from Cirque Berserk by Jessica Guess was great.

Everything Angela Basset does on American Horror Story.

Darla from BTTM FDRS by Ezra Clayton Daniels was just so done with all of it and I love that.

Vivica Fox in Idle Hands, she was so funny.

Who are some African diaspora horror authors you recommend our audience check out?

RJ Jackson, Paula Ashe, Zin E. Rocklyn, Johnny Compton. Can’t go wrong with any of them.

What is one piece of advice you would give horror authors today?

Write everything down, all the silly little ideas. Horror is in the little everyday moments, you don’t want to forget them.

And to the Black writers out there who are just getting started, what advice would you give them?

Write whatever you want. Don’t think you have to write any certain type of story or character. Tell whatever story you want, any kind of way you want. Make it weird, make people uncomfortable. Spit in the eyes of the white gaze. Do what you want, it’s your story and people will dig you for it.

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