Horror Writers Association

Black Heritage in Horror: Interview with Eugen Bacon


Eugen Bacon MA, MSc, PhD is an African Australian author of several novels and fiction collections. She’s a 2022 World Fantasy Award finalist, and was announced in the honor list of the 2022 Otherwise Fellowships for ‘doing exciting work in gender and speculative fiction’. Recent books: Mage of Fools (novel), Chasing Whispers (collection), and An Earnest Blackness (essays). Eugen has two novels, a novella, and two anthologies (ed) out in 2023, and the US release of Danged Black Thing. Visit her website at eugenbacon.com and Twitter feed at @EugenBacon

What inspired you to start writing?

I have always been enthralled with stories—my imagination is hyper. My father was well-traveled and well-read, and he encouraged my own reading of works by African writers counting Camara Laye, Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Margaret Ogola, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o… He understood that books transported me to an otherworldly place, wholly immersive.

As a water person who feels deeply, and internalizes things, I knew early that I was more animated in text—it perfectly encapsulated what I meant to say, than when I said it out loud. So I journaled and wrote letters, then stories.

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

As a child, I watched the TV miniseries Roots, and keenly recall how the slave catchers captured Kunta Kinte after yet another escape, and his choice of castration or losing a foot. They tied him to a stake and hacked off his foot.

Still young, I remember watching the film Mandingo with my mother, and it stayed with me how the white man intended to boil Mede alive.

Terror fills one with foreboding and at the same time releases a fight or flight response. I think horror makes me want to fight it back with familiarization, perhaps tooling me, the protagonist, and the reader with the valor to face it. Sometimes horror is about curiosities—we want to read and write that which baffles us, disturbs us. Think of that morbid curiosity we have about death, true crime, serial killers, and the undead.

Toni Morrison wrote black horror, but people don’t generally think of her as a horror writer. In chapter one of Home, the story reads, ‘We shouldn’t have been anywhere near that place.’ And it fills the reader with instant foreboding of what’s coming:

‘…we saw them pull a body from a wheelbarrow and throw it into a hole already waiting. One foot stuck up over the edge and quivered, as though it could get out, as though with a little effort it could break through the dirt being shoveled in.’ (p.4)

And the scene in Sula:

‘She rolled up to the window and it was then she saw Hannah burning. The flames from the yard fire were licking the blue cotton dress, making her dance.’ (p.75)

The writing is quietly beautiful, vivid. Horrific.

It’s this kind of morbid curiosity that draws me to the horror genre.

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 am more particular about the cast in my stories now than when I started writing, and they’re predominantly black. I see more of me in my text, in characters I identify with, and in themes of otherness, hybridity, belonging, social justice/injustice… that speak to me. In my writing, I don’t seek to portray, but rather to find immersion that might reach the reader in curiosity, empathy, warning…I guess a part of me hopes that the text might perhaps speak to them on how it feels to be other, hybrid, unbelonging, hopeless, and hopeful.

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

Writing horror reminds me there’s real evil and inequity. Fear of what we don’t know brings out monsters in us. I capture this in my Other Terrors story ‘The Devil Don’t Come With Horns’.

I have deep empathy and feel as a mother, as a woman, as a daughter, as a sister, as a lover. I explore these in curiosities entombed in dark themes—as in my Afrofuturistic dystopian novel Mage of Fools by Meerkat Press, set in a socialist country:

At first, the crowd was curious. Nobody knew how the machine shaped like a human worked. When guards put defiant Baba Gambo into it, his cries told them. The king’s guards fitted the condemned person into the machine. Then it pulped the person limb by limb. The pulping started in Baba Gambo’s hands. You don’t want to hear again that sound from a grown man. Not that there are more men left in Mafinga, except for King Magu and his sorcerer Atari. Baba Gambo went silent after the right leg was done. (p.22)

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

I’m pleased to see the evolution of the horror genre from slasher movies with stupid girls getting themselves killed by rushing upstairs where there’s no way out.

I am encouraged that zombies are ever more intelligent, not just drooling crawlers ravenous for flesh. The best horror is the psychological kind that drives our ill-fated protagonist to psychosis.

I’m enamored with black speculative poetry that continues to capture horror in a new kind of way, in pastoral poetry and the power of the Word that quietly shouts, shouts, shouts how sick our world is.

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?

We’re not there yet. The big five publishers are still white pepo country. We need more black representation in editors, publishers (like MV Media), and agents who are not pressured to make commercial choices, but rather to seek quality in its uniqueness.

Who are some of your favorite Black characters in horror?

Mostly in movies: Blade, Blade, and Blade. Black Panther (T’Challa). Storm in X-Men.

I confess to a deep affection for the protagonist Baba in my Other Terrors story, ‘The Devil Don’t Come With Horns’.

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

Definitely Toni Morrison—read Beloved. Nuzo Onoh, a British-Nigerian ‘Queen of African Horror’. While not specifically identifying as horror writers, their writing is dark: Mame Bougouma Diene, Woppa Diallo, Chinaza Eziaghighala. Black speculative poets are strong on my mind right now. I’m thinking Linda D. Addison, Akua Lezli Hope, Donyae Coles, Jamal Hodge, Cecilia Caballero, Miguel O’Mitchell. And you, Sumiko.

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

Our world is broken. You, me, we are broken. Be an agent of change. As Njeri Damali Sojourn says in the Onyx Pages: write with purpose.

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

There’s increasing interest in black people stories. Don’t be discouraged by the publishers and editors who want to whitewash your writing. Resist them. Don’t sell your soul.

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