Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Searching for Sycorax: Black Women's Hauntings of Contemporary Horror


It tends to begin with a novel, or a comic book, someone on a screen. In the most extreme of circumstances or prosthetics, one character makes an indelible impression on our soft, youthful sensibilities. That one in horror is the pinnacle of overstimulation. Our imaginations run rampant; distorting truth and creating a reality that shakes our sense of safety to its very core. Yet, through terror, we are still here. Physically unscathed by what the screen makes possible. And for a little black girl in Louisiana, solving the equation of Grace Jones' alluring presence in 1986's Vamp was the spark that gives us "the first sustained critical examination of black women in contemporary horror," ever.

Beginning with her enthrallment of everything Jones' performance represents, Dr. Kinitra D. Brooks' years of research is the adrenline shot for pop culture scholarship in Searching for Sycorax: Black Women's Hauntings of Contemporary Horror. Even with an awareness of presence, behind many of the character portrayals of Black women in horror is a connotation their absence. A lack of agency, autonomy, and the ever persistent nature of their labor, energy, and effort to further complicate and humanize their non-Black or non-female co-players.

Dr. Brooks turns problematic discourse into an epistemic solution by developing a journey of clarity into the ways in which Black women create horror texts to expand horror and Black feminist theory, centralize Black women characters in ways that are true to their fully dimensional, human experience, and create a movement in the evolving nature of the horror industry. Simply put, Searching For Sycorax is a deep exploration how Black women create horror that spawns a new knowledge of the genre that worries the intersections of race and gender to gain a better understanding, and continue the ongoing conversation as well as activity in the Black Women's Horror Renaissance.

Dr. Brooks makes "visible the black woman's significance, relevance, and subversion to conventional horror theories and narratives" by examining comic books, film, short fiction and novels broken down in four ways:

         1. Black women's characterizations in horror.
         2. Black women's literature and black feminist literary theory: the history of horror within.
         3. Fluid fiction: Black women genre writers challenging literary tradition.
         4. Black woman's horror aesthetic: Black women creators breaking through contemporary mainstream horror.   

For the rest of this month, there will be an ongoing Horror Blackademics series with Searching For Sycorax, creating a study guide for understanding the rich extension of Black women in horror in four parts and conclusion. I cannot express my excitement about this work enough and overjoyed by the small imprint Graveyard Shift Sisters was able to make in this book. Dr. Brooks is leading the charge for Black women in horror as serious inquiry in both mass media and academia. Searching For Sycorax is only a part of the beginning.


Searching for Sycorax highlights the unique position of Black women in horror as both characters and creators. Kinitra D. Brooks creates a racially gendered critical analysis of African diasporic women, challenging the horror genre’s historic themes and interrogating forms of literature that have often been ignored by Black feminist theory. Brooks examines the works of women across the African diaspora, from Haiti, Trinidad, and Jamaica, to England and the United States, looking at new and canonized horror texts by Nalo Hopkinson, NK Jemisin, Gloria Naylor, and Chesya Burke. These Black women fiction writers take advantage of horror’s ability to highlight U.S. white dominant cultural anxieties by using Africana folklore to revise horror’s semiotics within their own imaginary. Ultimately, Brooks compares the legacy of Shakespeare’s Sycorax (of The Tempest) to Black women writers themselves, who, deprived of mainstream access to self-articulation, nevertheless influence the trajectory of horror criticism by forcing the genre to de-centralize whiteness and maleness.


Kinitra Brooks is an associate professor of English at the University of Texas, San Antonio.

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