These authors of color are revolutionizing horror—listen if you dare!In a genre once rife with tired tropes, diverse authors are turning out some of the smartest—and scariest—horror audiobooks we’ve ever heard.
October 17, 2023
Every genre has its stereotypes, but even fellow fright fans might recognize horror’s as some of the worst. From violence against women to racial stereotypes to transphobia, horror’s history alone has put many marginalized people off the genre altogether.
Fortunately, authors of color have revolutionized horror, enriching it with their voices and gifts of great storytelling while using the conventions of the genre to unpack the traumas of racism, sexism, classism, and more. The writers collected here are game changers, their mastery of the craft extraordinary. So much so that whether you’re listening at home or on the go, you might want to make sure the area is brightly lit...and that there’s nothing lurking in the shadows. Check out the best horror authors of color and some of their most terrifying tales below.
If you're going to make a list of the best horror authors, Victor LaValle better be at the top. He is one of the foremost Black horror authors writing today. LaValle is an expert at exploring staples of the genre and picking them apart to see what makes them tick: he covered asylums in The Devil in Silver, changelings in The Changeling, and even H.P. Lovecraft's racist legacy in The Ballad of Black Tom, which won the 2016 Shirley Jackson Award for best novella. Seasoned audiobook narrator Kevin R. Free brings the scary up a notch as his narration adds even more chills to the final product.
Lending fresh, Indigenous perspective to a genre that often relies upon characters to trust their intuition, debut author Jessica Johns illuminates the wisdom that thrives where dreams begin and reality (supposedly) ends. Bad Cree opens on a chilling scene as Mackenzie finds the crow’s skull from her nightmares staring back at her and knows it can only mean one thing: She must return to the family she left behind because in their culture, “you aren’t ravens, you are crows,” meaning “you travel together everywhere.” Still, as narrator Tanis Parenteau (of Plains Cree descent) reveals in a tender performance, the realities of processing grief are rarely so straightforward.
Alma Katsu has lent her writing talents to multiple genres, penning spy novels like Red Widow and paranormal adventures like The Taker. Even her horror entries tend to blur the lines between historical fiction and horror—in her modern horror classic The Hunger, Katsu reimagines the wagon train known as the Donner Party with mystical prose and a supernatural atmosphere. Even better, Kristen Potter's narration will drop you deep into the California mountains, where hunger and evil lie in wait.
There's no understating how much Octavia Butler completely changed the horror and science fiction genres—we'll be studying her works for decades to come. From the dystopian Parable of the Sower to the historical epic Kindred, Butler showed the publishing world that African American authors could sell to and influence audiences in a new way. In her horror novel Dawn, Butler begins a series about aliens who make contact with humanity. But these aren't the nice green men humanity has been picturing—they're absolutely terrifying, and they want something from Lilith that will change the future of the human race.
As this best-selling South Korean author's work has taught us, horror translates well. A master of haunting and grotesque imagery, Hye-young Pyun tells stories of often ordinary people in situations you soon realize won't end well at all. For example, everything starts off relatively normal in Pyun's Shirley Jackson Award-winning novel The Hole, where Oghi, now paralyzed and widowed after a terrible accident, is under the care of his mother-in-law as he recovers. But why is she digging a hole in their yard? Narrator Tim Campbell expertly eases the listener into this quiet, claustrophobic journey about neglect and grief.
Stephen Graham Jones has been in the horror scene for quite a while, having published 22 books so far. Some of his past hits include Mongrels and Mapping the Interior, both excellent examples of his very character-focused, inwardly terrifying novels. But the best one to start with is certainly The Only Good Indians, a skillful exploration of revenge, identity, and horror as four Native American protagonists reckon with their past. Native American actor Shaun Taylor-Corbett (who, like Jones, belongs to the Blackfeet Tribe) provides a haunting atmosphere through his arresting narration.
Another long-time horror writer, Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a master of both short and long fiction, having published three collections of short stories and seven novels since 2013. If you’re not familiar with any of her award-winning works, I'd suggest starting with her most popular. The gorgeous cover of Moreno-Garcia's Mexican Gothic accurately reflects the enchanting beauty within—Moreno-Garcia's spellbinding prose brings you deep into the Mexican countryside as main character Noemí navigates the eerie and mysterious High Place.
A perfect choice if you're looking for a short, scary listen, Cassandra Khaw has written several deliciously creepy works of short fiction. One of her best is a recent release entitled Nothing but Blackened Teeth, which follows a group of estranged friends who reunite for a wedding. Unfortunately, they decide to stay the night in an old mansion, which brings nothing but trouble and chaos to those inside.
In her fiction, Tananarive Due, a scholar of Black horror, effortlessly puts Black characters in situations in which we rarely get to see them represented. In her African Immortals series, she invites listeners to discover a new type of vampire and the costs of such a life. In the absolute masterpiece The Good House, Due writes about a Black family that moves into a haunted house. It's an unrelenting experience, and one you won't forget for years after, especially with legendary narrator Robin Miles bringing every character to life.
In so many horror classics, we've sadly seen Native American characters and concepts watered down or completely disrespected in the name of the genre. Thankfully, Owl Goingback works to disrupt those familiar narratives, drawing from real Native American mythology and heritage to create suspense and scares without exploitation. His Darker than Night is a retelling of the haunted house plotline, and his Bram Stoker award-winning Crota invokes a mythical beast that terrorizes a small town.
Just because a book is for young adults doesn't mean it isn't incredibly spooky—just ask any of Rin Chupeco's fans. Chupeco always features strong women, making sure sexist horror tropes never make it into their work. There's the creeping, suffocating suspense of The Girl From the Well, or the mystical, magic-centered story of The Bone Witch. The start of a series, this novel involves a sister accidentally resurrecting her brother from the dead. Necromancy, anyone?
Jewelle Gomez is so many things—a playwright, a scholar, a poet, a critic, and of course, an author. She's also considered one of the foremothers of "Afrofuturism," a speculative genre that specifically centers Black stories in science fiction. Her foray into horror resulted in The Gilda Stories, a cult classic novel that made waves for its portrayal of its Black and lesbian protagonist (who just so happen to be a vampire as well). Narrator Adenrele Ojo brings her extensive theatre expertise to this audiobook, infusing rhythm and life in every line.
Best-selling writer Carmen Maria Machado represents a very different type of horror author from the others on this list. Her work is incredibly unique and strange; it also draws heavily on metaphor, often creating entirely new worlds and rules. Take, for example, "The Husband Stitch," one of the award-winning stories in Her Body and Other Parties, which took the world by storm. In this story's universe, every woman has a ribbon around their necks, which is a very private part of their body. Absurd and completely mystifying, this is just one of the entries in her collection of horror unlike anything we've seen or heard before.
The scariest things in life don't even need to be invented, as British novelist and Fellow of the American Academy in Berlin Hari Kunzru knows very well. Consider his latest work, Red Pill, which traps the listener in the nihilistic mind of a blocked writer at a German think tank, or his most straightforwardly scary title, White Tears. Performed by three different narrators, this audiobook about music, cultural appropriation, and revenge will have you deep in the dark world of the music underground.
New York Times best-selling author Justina Ireland has not only changed the landscape of the young adult genre by being a fierce advocate for diversity and authentic representation; she's also reinvigorated of one of the most overly saturated horror tropes: zombies. Even diehard fans of the undead were getting a bit tired—then came Ireland, with a spin unlike any other. In her Dread Nation, an alternate history unfolds: the Civil War ended in this story because the undead started rising from their graves. And it's up to girls like Jane to train and protect the wealthy elite from those zombie clutches. Refreshing and jam-packed with action, that audiobook veteran Bahni Turpin tells Jane's story makes this a must-have-listen.