Because I’m a woman who loves horror, people always ask me who my favourite women horror writers are, and I’m a little ashamed to admit I don’t always have the best response. Beyond the obvious choices like Mary Shelley or Shirley Jackson, sometimes it’s hard to come up with a comprehensive list when your bookshelf is made up of 90% white men.
Today, the nominees for the 2018 Shirley Jackson Awards, rewarding ‘outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic’ were announced. The awards will be presented on Sunday July 14th, voted upon by a jury of professional writers, editors, critics, and academics.
In the summer of 1948, more than three hundred letters arrived at the offices of The New Yorker in response to a short story, “the most mail the magazine that ever received in response to a work of fiction” (Ruth Franklin, “‘The Lottery’ Letters,” The New Yorker June 25, 2013). At a time when the post-World War II boom of the United States was about to decline into the paranoia and conformity of the Cold War, the story in question could not be more appropriate, nor terrifying for the American imagination.
Think of the term “haunted house” and it is likely to conjure up a variety of images, including decaying Victorian mansions or Gothic manor houses from rural England. However, mention the town of Bennington, Vermont and it is not likely to strike fear in the heart of the Western imagination the same way “Transylvania” would. Yet, it is a locale responsible for generating one of the greatest modern haunted house stories in the English literature.
Scholars, academics, learned people of all kinds, often crop up in fiction. Horror is no exception and ghost stories from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, in particular, featured academics in lead roles. Sometimes this is as the result of ‘write what you know’ more than any other reason; M. R. James, coming up later (because of course he is) being a case in point. But, much more significantly, academics represent rational, empirical, and “modern” thought, in contrast to the superstitions of an older, darker age. The academic represents progress; sometimes as a means of rebutting the supernatural, but sometimes the supernatural could show that perhaps our progress had gone too far. Thank you to Sarah Burton on Twitter for prompting the idea for this reading list and thank you to those who offered suggestions (@cath_fletcher, @marccold, & @ssmithwc1n).