The Ignyte Ember Award celebrates the unsung contributions of people in the speculative fiction community. Nominated in this year’s Ignytes, Tananarive Due is an award-winning author who teaches Black Horror and Afrofuturism at UCLA. She is an executive producer on Shudder’s groundbreaking documentary Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror. A leading voice in black speculative fiction for more than 20 years, Due has won an American Book Award, an NAACP Image Award, and a British Fantasy Award, and her writing has been included in best-of-the-year anthologies. Her books include Ghost Summer: Stories, My Soul to Keep, and The Good House. We are honored to count him among our finalists and have interviewed her here about her endeavors.
I read that you developed a UCLA course inspired by “Get Out.” What prompted you to develop “The Sunken Place: Racism, Survival, and Black Horror Aesthetic?” Can you speak to some of the topics or themes it explores and the impact it is having?
My UCLA Black Horror course has been so popular that I co-teach an online version available to the public at www.sunkenplaceclass.com. As soon as I saw GET OUT, I knew I had an opportunity to create a course to teach not only the genius of Jordan Peele, but the history of Black Horror. The course begins with the white supremacist imagery i 1915’s The Birth of a Nation and covers everything from my novel The Good House to 90’s horror classics like Tales from the Hood, Eve’s Bayou and Candyman. I also teach some of the unfortunate tropes seen in horror: The Magical Negro, The Sacrificial Negro, First to Die, Spiritual Guide, etc. My favorite part is when students make short horror films for their final projects.
Do you feel Black Horror is a uniquely different genre from general Horror in its exploration of topics, themes, and characters?
Since horror’s primary intent is to create dread and horror, there are of course similarities in Black Horror and mainstream horror: characters we care about (hopefully) put in peril who must test themselves to their limits to survive. The difference in Black Horror is that creators often bring a social and historical sensibility to horror (although not always), racism is sometimes the monster (as in Get Out and Tales from the Hood), the ritual and magic is more African-based rather than European-based, and we see more honoring of ancestors. But of course Black Horror only usually means the creator and/or protagonist are Black, so any story with a Black lead automatically carries an air of revolution because it is still so rare to see Black-centered horror.
What’s your definition of Afrofuturism?
Definitions vary, but I define Afrofuturism as the Black Speculative Arts: the fantasy, science fiction, futurism and horror of the African Diaspora.
Do you think exploring real world triumphs and struggles through a speculative lens gives you more freedom or breadth of scope to explore racial, class, and gender identities and struggles or less?
I call it the “Funhouse Mirror” effect: it enables the audience, be they Black or non-Black, to take a step back from reality and see real world problems through a speculative lens that gives us a bit of emotional distance and more freedom to interpret the events in a “pure” way outside of the politics of the moment or pain so deep that it can’t be stared at directly.
What’s your favorite speculative author or speculative work?
Ha! That’s really too tough for me to answer even in a Top 10, but I would have to say that Octavia E. Butler’s work has had a tremendous impact on me.
Speculative storytelling has done some great things in the past, and it continues to do some phenomenal things in the current like with “Get Out.” Is there something you’d like to particularly see from the genre that hasn’t been done before or is there something old you’d like to see new life breathed into?
We’re only getting started! Frankly, I NEED to see more stories about Black people in space. So often in Hollywood sci fi, Black bodies and life were erased in what I call a kind of “cinematic genocide.” Where did we go? It’s crucial, I think, for us to imagine ourselves not only thriving in the future, but exploring new frontiers in science…and space travel is such an exciting depiction of human achievement.
What was your inspiration to write “The African Immortals” series?
When I started MY SOUL TO KEEP, I didn’t know it would be a series. I was a single young reporter for The Miami Herald, and my dating life was pretty much a nightmare: that’s the TRUE genesis. I kept projecting what I wanted in a mate on people who could not fulfill those expectations, so I felt betrayed, as if I didn’t “know” them. The truth was, I didn’t know myself. As the series evolved, it became more about the Bush era and me asking myself what Octavia might have written to address the times.
What does it mean to you to be considered for the Ember Award?
This is a huge honor for me to be even considered for this award because it’s not about one sole work, but contributions to the genre in general–which is so meaningful because I felt alone for many years as a Black horror writer. Only Linda Addison was out there when I first started publishing, and it was sometimes a battle for people leading reading groups to suggest my work because of a fear of the actual horror writing, as if it might open a doorway to Evil. And some of my book covers didn’t help! I’ve been publishing long enough to see more Black readers embrace my work, new Black writers like Kai Ashante Wilson emerge in the field, and the renaissance in Black Horror FILMS I was not sure I would ever see…so I feel truly personally fulfilled as an artist. But I do feel, in a sense, I have been toiling in the shadows all this time, so it’s incredibly meaningful to be in the company of my peers in this category as someone who has made a difference.