Black Heritage in Horror Month 2024: An Interview With Erin E. Adams
What inspired you to start writing?
I’ve been writing since my childhood. There are still boxes of my old notebooks in my mother’s house. So writing has been a part of my life at nearly every step of the way. I think it started out of a need to make things and to engage with my imagination. I’ve also been a lifelong reader and for as long as I can remember, I always wanted to write stories of my own.
What was it about the horror genre that drew you to it?
I love all things dark and hidden. So often horror is about bringing the dark to light and speaking about the unspeakable. Horror also demands sitting uncomfortably in a way that is so exciting to me as a reader and writer. Because of this, horror gets to engage with topics very few other genres can with ease. Also, I’m convinced, horror owns the element of surprise. (Where else do you get jump scares?) To be delightfully, genuinely, and horrifically surprised is one of my absolute favorite things.
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?
Absolutely. Because of my background as a dramatist, all of my work is rooted in character. Thus, I strive to portray Black characters with all of their humanity, especially their flaws. I find that Black characters, Black women, are portrayed as either sacrificial lambs or superheroes. I want to write humans, not tropes. My characters have weaknesses, complicated family relationships, selfish tendencies, softness, silly moments—everything that makes us human. My work celebrates all of that.
What has writing horror taught you about the world and yourself?
Horror has taught me how visceral writing can be. Words on a page can feel so intellectual, but writing and reading should be a bodily experience and horror both teaches and reminds me of that. When it comes to the world, horror has taught me that even though we run from fear, there is something about harnessing it that can be nothing short of revolutionary.
How have you seen the horror genre change over the years? And how do you think it will continue to evolve?
I’ve witnessed the horror genre become so delightfully inclusive. And enthusiastically so. I think this will extend to not just the subject matter but in how stories are structured. There have been so many beautiful examples of this already, and I think artists will only continue to expand and explore.
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 history of Black folks in horror hasn’t been the best. For a long time, we were the “monstrous other” or a sacrifice needed to deepen the usually white protagonist’s character development. It’s to the point where it’s become a comedic reference. These tropes come out of binary, black and white, storytelling. They are an oversimplification of very complicated issues that need to be explored and discussed. I hope, going forward when it comes to representation, that there are more shades of gray. That the full truth of a character or a theme is explored and expanded, not reduced.
Who are some of your favorite Black characters in horror?
Beloved from Beloved is up there. Her creation is this terrifying reversal of a birth and how she evolves and overtakes the family is just so disturbing and stunning. The first time I read it, I couldn’t look away from the text, it was so beautiful and grotesque all at the same time. Also Ben in Night of the Living Dead. He’s so recognizable to me. The other characters around him drift into melodrama and I love how he’s so present. It’s brilliant. A perfect merging of actor and role.
Who are some African diaspora horror authors you recommend to our audience check out?
I highly recommend anything by Helen Oyeyemi, Tananarive Due, and Johnny Compton.
What is one piece of advice you would give horror authors today?
Stay curious. It’s easy to get caught up in… *gestures to everything*. Our curiosity is a muscle and it needs to stay strong. Don’t forget it.
And to the Black writers out there who are just getting started, what advice would you give them?
Finish the things you start. Even if they are bad. There is something about getting to the end of an idea or fully executing a story that will teach you something. Also, most of the time you don’t know what you have until you finish it.
Bio: Erin E. Adams is a first-generation Haitian-American writer and theatre artist. Her debut novel, JACKAL, was named one of the best of the year by Esquire, Vulture, PopSugar, Paste, and Publishers Weekly, and a best horror novel of all time by Cosmopolitan. JACKAL was also a finalist for the Edgar® Award, the Bram Stoker® Award, and the Shirley Jackson Award. Her work was featured in OUT THERE SCREAMING, edited by Jordan Peele. Adams has called New York City home for the last decade. Her sophomore novel ONE OF YOU will be published by Penguin Random House in 2025.