Black Heritage in Horror: Interview with Wi-Moto Nyoka
WI-MOTO NYOKA is a horror and sci-fi writer. She is the founder of Dusky Projects, creating and producing horror & sci-fi projects for young adult and adult audiences.
Awards and honors include: Stowe Story Labs selected project, Puffin Foundation grant recipient, Awesome Foundation grant recipient, Velocity Fund grant recipient, Scribe Video Finishing Grant recipient, Nightmares Film Festival Best Short Screenplay Award Winner, 13 Horror Screenplay Award Winner, Oregon Short Film Festival Best Horror Teleplay Award Winner and more. Published works can be found in Midnight & Indigo’s Speculative Fiction collection, Terror Unleashed: Volume 2, The Seelie Crow and The Last Girls Club. IG: @duskyprojects, wi-motonyoka.com
What inspired you to start writing?
My imagination was way more fun than regular life. I looked for any excuse to escape into it and I haven’t been able to kick the habit. From dealing with bullies, folks getting after me about my culture(s), and just the overall drama of being a spooky black girl who grew up to be a spooky black chick, my imagination has always been a place where I can practice/perform/feel freedom and liberation.
What was it about the horror genre that drew you to it?
It’s outsider art for outsider folks. It’s fun and scary and wonderful and gross. Plus, being Black, Mexican, and female is scary. I have to process or I’ll always be having a panic attack.
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?
Yes, and I always portray complex characters interacting with other complex characters, typically within BIPOC diasporas to move away from a black vs. white binary. Having said that, the stories are often NOT political. You can always pull that from the text, underlying themes, and whatnot, but it’s important to me that I have a place to just play. I need to think about worlds where I’m not defined by biases or my struggle against them, and I invite folks to step into the worlds with me. It’s both a thought experiment (who would we be or who are we without these forces?) and a vacation (let’s take a break from this s#!$ and fight monsters).
What has writing horror taught you about the world and yourself?
When you write in a genre that’s about what people do when everything falls apart and goes wrong your threshold for that gets pretty high. This will make you seem like a weirdo to folks that don’t practice that as much as you do.
I forget all the time that most things are organized to avoid this, not to daydream about what it would be like. Then someone looks at me crazy when I say/do a thing and I remember, “Oh yeah, seeking out what scares you is not common. You are weird.” Then I laugh.
How have you seen the horror genre change over the years? And how do you think it will continue to evolve?
More cultural perspectives are finding ways to enter the mainstream conversation in the U.S. We also have more access to international horror makers which in turn influences what happens here. A big change I’ve noticed is that horror is all year around now. People have an appetite for it and want more of it. I think we all want to practice disaster as a means of preparation for…well, everything. As this continues to grow I think we’ll see more genre mashups, more elements of horror in other genres and vice versa.
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?
There was no representation unless you sought out black creators. It was niche, other, outsider (again, that word). I’m not counting the films where we die in the first five minutes or give vague information about “voodoo rituals” or “Native American burial grounds”. This is not representation. Now, we are seeing nuanced characters work through a variety of conflicts: ghosts, possession, aliens, monsters, body horror, etc. I think you can’t un-ring this bell and we’ll continue to see more of this. I’m excited.
Who are some of your favorite Black characters in horror?
Hmm, this is tough as most of them are in novels. I love Octavia Butler’s Fledgling and Toni Morrison’s Beloved (yes, that’s a horror novel). In film, I’d like to shout out Blade for giving me a Black immortal body with great one-liners and a sword (bless him). In TV, Gina Torres playing a benevolent hell god from another dimension was my favorite part of season 4 of Angel (yes, I know, Joss Whedon is problematic. But when she flashed in she was the last person I expected and it brought me so much joy to watch the world worship her while she ate people, politely. Plus, Gina Torres is a gift).
Who are some African diaspora horror authors you recommend our audience check out?
Right now I’m reading Nuzo Onoh’s novel Dance for The Dead. I had the pleasure of producing one of her short stories for our podcast Black Women Are Scary and I’ve been a fan ever since. I’d also recommend Tracy Cross and her new novel Rootwork, Valjeanne Jeffers, Michele Tracy Berger, Tananarive Due, and following indie publishers like Mocha Memoirs Press, Midnight & Indigo to get to know more authors. There’s no shortage, there’s plenty to choose from, you’ll never run outta stories to read.
What is one piece of advice you would give horror authors today?
Make a list of the things you are most afraid of, pick the scariest thing, write about what things would be like if that happened. Write past that and see where your imagination takes you.
And to the Black writers out there who are just getting started, what advice would you give them?