5 Hauntingly Brilliant Women You Need to Read
February is Women in Horror Month (WiHM), and while we should be celebrating women in the horror industry all year long, this is a time of extra visibility and encouragement, and as such, I want to share some of my favorite contemporary authors with you, as well as tell you a little story about my own journey working and reading in the horror industry.
In 2019, Lisa Kroger and Melanie R. Anderson published a nonfiction book titled Monster, She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction. I was so excited about the book that I devoured it once I got my hands on it, and as someone who usually prides themselves on reading a heavy amount of female horror writers, a lot of the names in that book were new to me, which on one level was really exciting but, on another level, had me pondering why these women weren’t getting more attention for stories and novels that made up a large portion of the genre’s foundation. Needless to say, I realized I had a lot of work to do—more so than I originally even realized—and so I set out with a goal to try to read even more women in horror, particularly BIPOC and LGBTQ+ authors as well as translated works.
Some books I’m particularly looking forward to reading soon are: Nightmare Flower by Elizabeth Engstrom, Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Wonderland by Zoje Stage, The Best of C.L. Moore edited by Lester Del Rey, White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi, and The Women of Weird Tales: Stories by Everil Worrell, Eli Colter, Mary Elizabeth Counselman, and Greye La Spina. But in terms of authors I’ve recently read and who have absolutely terrified me—some even as recent as last week—I have to tip my hat to: Carmen Maria Machado, Agustina Bazterrica, Mariana Enriquez, Mona Awad, and Oyinkan Braithwaite.
1. Carmen Maria Machado
For me, it started with her short story, “The Husband Stitch.” What I love most about Machado’s writing is how she defies genre while also being one of the most honest, vulnerable, and horrifying writers I’ve had the pleasure of reading. I quickly moved on to her short story collection, Her Body and Other Parties, and her comic series, The Low, Low Woods, and her work continued to be both unique and refreshing. Hers is a new perspective and voice in the genre that showcases pain and trauma and authenticity in a way I don’t think I’ve read in quite some time. I don’t think there is a wrong place to start with her work, but some of my favorite stories of hers are: “Horror Story,” “Eight Bites,” “Real Women Have Bodies,” and “Inventory.”
2. Agustina Bazterrica
I recently finished Bazterrica’s novella, Tender is the Flesh, and not only was it one of the darkest books I’ve ever read—so much so, that I often found myself needing breaks from it, the images too ghastly, too grotesque—but it was also a near-perfect horror novel, one that I have no doubt I’ll be thinking about far into the year. This read specifically isn’t for the faint of heart: cannibalism is legal, consent and bodily autonomy have all but disappeared, and class, gender, and race are issues that are dealt with bluntly and graphically throughout. However, with that said, oftentimes it’s good to push ourselves out of our comfort zone, and while it takes a lot to shake me as a reader, this book damn near destroyed me, and I say that as a form of highest praise.
3. Mariana Enriquez
Another recent read for me was The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Mariana Enriquez. I had seen her work compared to Shirley Jackson’s, so I knew she was an author who needed to be on my radar, and I’m happy to say she didn’t disappoint—far from it, in fact. Enriquez is now an automatic buy for me, her writing haunting, bewitched. Her short stories “The Well,” “Where Are You, Dear Heart,” “Meat,” and “Angelita Unearthed” sat with me like beautiful shadows, settled in like fine poisons, each one more potent than the last. I have my eyes on her other short story collection: Things We Lost in the Fire. I hope to get to it soon.
4. Mona Awad
I picked up Bunny by Mona Awad later on in 2020, and honestly, it was one of my favorite reads last year. This book—this experience, really—is a wild journey, and even that doesn’t seem hyperbolic enough to describe the psychosexual, Frankenstein-like MFA students who are at the heart of the story exploring what creativity means to them. It’s almost like a bizarro-Lovecraftian version of You by Caroline Kepnes and the movie Mean Girls…. just you know, with lots of body horror and bunnies. Take my word for it—this isn’t a book you want to sleep on.
5. Oyinkan Braithwaite
I read Braithwaite’s novel My Sister, the Serial Killer in one day and I honestly couldn’t get it inside my head fast enough. This book was the perfect balance of suspense and horror, and the dynamic between the two sisters and how their relationship ebbed and flowed was really something to admire in terms of characterization. If you’re looking for a fun, fast-paced read with lots of blood, this is your calling. You won’t regret it. And if you want to check out my full review of the novel, you can do so here.
What brilliant women would you recommend we read this Women in Horror Month?
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