#StokersSoWhite: 2016 Horror Writers’ Association boycott
Written by jm on 09/16/2019
Brian Keene’s boycott
and the end of tokenism at the HWA, Part 1
Writing While Black, September 2019 edition
by Sumiko Saulson
Allegations of rape,
sexual harassment and white supremacy scandalized the Horror Writers’
Association in 2016. By 2018, there was a Black sweep of the awards and the scandals
had been swept under the rug. With no names given, the rape and sexual
harassment stories disappeared.
A. Riley scandal promoted allegations of racial bias in the selections
process. The awards had long been white dominated. David A. Riley, a juror on
one of the Stoker Award panels, was a member of and political candidate with
the far-right, fascist National Front Party in the UK from 1973 to 1983.
The party has a well known history of racism and was associated with
neo-Nazi skinheads. Riley said it was a youthful indiscretion and that he
was unaware the party was racist at the time and voluntarily stepped down from
the juror position. Brian Keene and Simon Bestwick’s blogs on the subjects have
since been deleted, but you can still find a
thread accusing the boycotters of McCarthyism.
“Definitions belong to the definers, not the defined,” wrote
Toni Morrison in “Beloved.”
Toni Morrison’s words certainly ring true here, as while
many Black writers outside of the Horror Writers’ Association took Mr. Keene’s
blog seriously, he was soundly ridiculed within the organization. Eventually,
he rejoined the fold and took down the post. Simon Bestwick also took down his
post defending Riley but part of it read:
“If DAR harassed or abused people at cons or used his
position in fan organizations, I’d be the first to call for his
expulsion/banning. But he hasn’t. If his fiction spewed racial hatred – well, I
doubt most editors would handle it anyway. There comes a point where a kid has
to be allowed to play in the sandpit, whatever you think of him. No one’s saying
you have to play with him,” Simon Bestwick said.
My name is Sumiko Saulson. I was the first winner of the Horror Writers’ Association’s StokerCon Scholarship from Hell, an award
consisting of an all-expenses-paid trip to StokerCon and unlimited access to
special educational workshops in 2016. I sat in the
back of the room during the HWA’s Stoker Awards that year, aghast as they
roasted Brian Keene for choosing to boycott the HWA.
I am Black and the condemnation of David A. Riley resonated
with many people of color. Brian Keene’s friend Jeff Strand was doing the
roast, which included barbed comments directed at Simon Bestwick and was
dismissive of the entire scandal.
“It’s not my place to say who’s wrong, but I think it’s
appropriate to observe that there was inconsistent outrage. By which I mean
there were people at their computers saying ‘How dare HWA not remove this
person immediately? ‘How dare HWA remove this person without a thorough
analysis of the situation?’ ‘We demand a knee-jerk reaction,’” Jeff Strand said
in his 2016 HWA Awards Brian Keene roast.
“This person” was David A. Riley. The handling of the Riley scandal is indicative of the overall apologist tone in the horror writing community. The HWA’s official statement and many others defended Riley’s political views as freedom of speech. The Teleread article on it defends him but is very tongue-in-cheek in its view of his claim not to have known that the National Front were racists.
“I think the most charitable interpretation that can be put
on this is that Riley must have been exceptionally naive to conclude that the
NF wasn’t racist or fascistic in its tendencies from the start. I certainly had
no such illusions growing up in the UK in the 1970s,” wrote Paul
St. John Mackintosh in Teleread.
All of this misses the more essential question: Why is it
that the Horror Writers’ Association’s entire awards history up until after the
scandal was so white-centered? It certainly wasn’t just Riley. Part of the
reason only white authors win is a confirmation bias that tells voters only
white male horror writers are valid.
I am a Black author of Afrosurrealist,
and Multicultural Horror and Fantasy. My defining work, however, is non-fiction.
My 2013 lists of “Black
Women in Horror,” compiled as an ambassador for Women in Horror Month
2013 during Black History Month. I am also known for writing essays on subjects
such as why confirmation biases lead to racial and gender biases in genre
categorization that tends to exclude Black folks from consideration in horror
For example, “’Beloved’ would have been considered gothic horror if it had been written from a white character’s point of view by a white author. … The nature of the protagonist informs genre categorization,” I observed in “Horror Elements in Toni Morrison’s Magical Surrealism” (2016).
If one believes all horror writers are old white men, then
Clive Barker looks like a horror writer, and Toni Morrison does not. Therefore
Clive Barker and Bernard Rose’s 1992 film “Candyman” is horror and Toni
Morrison’s 1997 novel and 1998 film “Beloved” is not. This can only be changed
if the marginalized take ownership of the narrative and define ourselves in our
own terms, as in Jordan Peele’s films “Get Out” and “Us.”
“Change is in the air. I finally stopped being the only Black
with a Bram
Stoker in 2018, when the Jordan Peele script for ‘Get Out!’ and the Damian
Duffy comic adaptation for Octavia Butler’s ‘Kindred’ won Stokers. In 2019
Victor LaValle received the Bram Stoker in the Graphic Novel category for his
fantastic book ‘Destroyer,’” said Linda Addison, first Black Bram Stoker Award winner.
Can you imagine if, way back in 1997, Toni Morrison’s
Pultizer Prize and Nobel Prize winning novel “Beloved” had been considered for
a Stoker Award? It was not, but perhaps not coincidentally, the first and last
novel by a Black author was nominated the same year. The first Black person was
a Black woman, Tananarive Due, nominated in 1997 for the prestigious novel
category. Her novel, “My Soul to Keep,” remains the first and last nominated in
that category to this day.
“A few years before I won, Tananarive Due was on the final
ballot for a 1997 HWA Bram Stoker® award in the Novel category for ‘My Soul to
Keep.’ I was sure she was going to win, but it didn’t happen,” said Linda
Due did not win, and Linda Addison’s win in the Poetry
category took place several years later in 2001. She remained the only Black to
win a Stoker until 2018. In 2018, 14 years after the release of “Kindred,” and 12
years after the death of Hugo Award Winning sci-fi author Octavia Butler, the Damian
Duffy graphic novelization of ‘Kindred’ won Octavia Butler a posthumous
Stoker Award, making her the second Black woman to win one.
“When your rage is choking you, it is best to say nothing,” writes Octavia E. Butler in “Fledgling.”
This officially ended Linda Addision’s 17-year reign as the
only Black winner of a Stoker Award. Linda Addison
was the first African American to win a Bram Stoker
Award back in 2001 when she received the Stoker
Award for Poetry for her collection “Consumed,
Reduced to Beautiful Grey Ashes.” She later won three additional Stoker
poetry awards in 2007 for “Being Full of Light, Insubstantial”; and 2011 for “How
to Recognize a Demon Has Become Your Friend.” Her fourth win was in 2013 for “Four
Elements” with fellow horror authors and poets Marge Simon, Charlee Jacob and
Rain Graves. Charlee Jacob, who passed away recently on July 14, 2019, also won
a Stoker Award for her novel “Dread” in 2005.
“I didn’t actually know I was the first Black to win until
days later when someone mentioned it to me,” Addison said. “I went through the
award history and discovered it was true. I was surprised but not shocked
because even now, 18 years later, there are firsts happening in different
fields, not just writing.”
Four awards is a lot to receive without anyone else of your
complexion winning any. As a result, Linda Addison made it her job to end her
reign as the only Black Stoker winner, taking on mentorship roles over the
years. Toni Morrison, the
first Black woman to win a Nobel Prize, surely would have both understood and
approved. Morrison passed away on Aug. 5, shortly after the June 21 release of “Toni Morrison: The Pieces That I Am,”
a documentary about her life that relays the experience.
“I tell my students,” said Toni Morrison, “When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game.”
Addison would surely blush at any comparison to Octavia
Butler and Toni Morrison, but, like Morrison, Addison is now an editor. Book
editing is part of how she assists other Black women in horror to achieve. And
so her 2001 Stoker win started her on the path that would eventually lead to
her role in “Sycorax’s
Daughters,” an anthology of horror writing by women from the African
Diaspora that Linda Addison put together with Kinitra Brooks, PhD, and Susana
The book was one of several Black authored works to appear
on the 2018 Stoker ballot, along with “Searching
for Sycorax: Black Women’s Hauntings of Contemporary Horror,” a non-fiction
work by Dr. Brooks on Black women in the genre. The anthology I edited, “Black
Magic Women: Terrifying Tales by Scary Sisters,” was on the Recommend Reads
list that year, although it never got any further. Both of these anthologies
were inspired by the Sheree Renée Thomas “Dark Matter” anthologies, “Dark
Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora” (2000)
Matter: Reading the Bones” (2005).
“Winning the award started me thinking about how to bring
more others into the bigger genre field, not just the HWA, since I also wrote
science-fiction. I wasn’t sure how to do this but several things happened. I
sold a story to Sheree Renée Thomas’ “Dark Matter” anthology in 2000 and
through the first anthology of African-Americans writing speculative fiction
discovered a lot of new Black writers in the genre. I never forgot what she did
to introduce the world to Black authors.,” said Addison.
I was introduced to Linda Addison by local author Rain Graves,
herself a groundbreaking horror writer, breaking many ceilings for women in
horror since the early to mid ‘90s. Rain no longer lives in the Bay Area but
back in 2013, when I first started blogging about Women in Horror Month, Rain
still lived here. She was part of San Francisco’s local Goth community and
local literary world. Although she was already a multiple Stoker winner, Graves
was down to Earth enough to participate in events with me and our friends
Emerian Rich and Serena Toxicat. Serena is my best friend of some 25 years.
“Winning was surreal,” recalled Addison. “One of my best
memories is having my mother at the banquet, who was my first writing
inspiration because, even though she didn’t finish high school, she was a
natural story teller and filled my childhood with original fables. It is an
unforgettable memory. Years later she developed Alzheimer’s and couldn’t
remember my wins after that, but the first one stayed with her a long time.”
So how is it that it took 17 years for someone other than
Linda Addison to win? Why were the awards around 14 years before Linda won? HWA
diversity issues date back to the founding of the lauded organization. The HWA
or Horror Writers’ Association is the predominant international association of
horror, and is also the group that gives out the most renowned of all horror
awards, the Stoker Award.
The coveted Stoker Award for Novel Writing went to two
novelists the first year the association was established back in 1987. One of
them was Stephen King – for “Misery.” He went on to win awards for “The Green
Mile” (1996), “Bag of Bones” (1998), “Lisey’s Story” (2006), “Duma Key” (2008)
and “Doctor Sleep” (2013).
Another massive repeat novel category winner is Peter
Straub, who won in 1993, 1999, 2003, 2004 and 2010. Peter Straub and Stephen
King have five novel Stokers each, which is 10 in the 31-year history of the
award. That means that King and Straub combined have about a third of the
When I won the Scholarship from Hell, I was excited and
posted on Facebook that I felt like a Goblin Princess going to the Monster Ball.
But I wasn’t without trepidation. The Horror Writers’ Association was in the
middle of a boycott by Brian Keene, who had been blogging about numerous issues
with the HWA, including racism.
“At the time, there were allegations of expressed racism and
misogyny, sexual harassment and even assault regarding several members of the
field – some of whom were HWA members.” Said Brian Keene. “I felt, at the time,
that the organization’s leadership hadn’t done enough to address these
allegations. Publicly, they represent our corner of the industry, and I felt
they needed to be a part of the conversations that were taking place,
particularly since some of those allegations involved their members.”
Several Black authors concurred and some spoke to me about
the appearance of tokenism. The 2015 WorldCon diversity scandals in the
adjacent world of sci-fi were still fresh in everyone’s minds. But it was a
wonderful opportunity for me, and I took it.
The Scholarship from Hell doesn’t include a ticket to the
Awards Dinner, which costs $75. I couldn’t afford one, so I didn’t go. I am
eternally grateful for that. Because I didn’t go, and was admitted later with a
group of volunteers who wait to be called in to the back tables after the
eating part of things, I had a moment with one of the many famous authors Linda
Addison introduced me to while I was walking the halls of the Flamingo Hotel in
Dallas William Mayr, better known as Jack Ketchum, died Jan.
24, 2018, but back in 2016, he was one of the dozens of famous people I met
while I was down there signing books in the dealer’s room. He was laid back,
exuded James Dean eternal cool and was mildly amused that I had no idea how
famous he was. He issued a very quiet note of protest against the HWA’s (lack
of) response to the scandals by intentionally refusing to buy a $75 dinner
ticket. He subsequently walked as slowly as possible, dragging his feet
intentionally to make sure that his absence was felt.
“There are a number of top creators, like Brian Keene and
Jack (aka Dallas) Ketchum, who have been and continue to support change in the
genre. Brian and I have been friends for a long time; he’s always been
passionate about fairness and inclusivity. Dallas was an early supporter of my
work before anyone had heard of me and was well known for supporting, respecting
and acknowledging work by others, regardless of their status,” observed Addison,
the first Black Stoker Award winner.
Dallas told his companion they would let him in right away
the minute they saw him. Instead of going in, he held back and listened to the
two young men who volunteered at the convention play old horror movie themes
from The Munsters and The Addams Family while I danced around in my 8 inch tall
Demonia platforms while clutching my cartoon bat Skelanimals purse, a Goblin
Princess at the Monster’s Ball with all those famous authors.
When I came back in 2017, Tananarive Due was a guest of honor
along with George RR Martin and there was a Latino Scholarship from Hell
winner. In 2018 there was another Black female Scholarship from Hell winner, three
Black Stoker winners out of five nominees, and my anthology was on the
Recommended Reads list. It would be exceedingly naïve to believe that this had
nothing at all to do with the Keene boycott.
Stay tuned for the October issue next month for Part II: The
End of Tokenism at the HWA, all about the 2018 awards sweep on
Sumiko Saulson writes award-winning multicultural sci-fi, fantasy, horror and
Afrosurrealism. Winner of the 2017 Afrosurrealist Writer’s Award, 2016 HWA
Scholarship from Hell, and 2016 BCC Voice Reframing the Other Award, her
monthly series Writing While Black follows the struggles of Black writers in
the literary arts and other segments of arts and entertainment. Support her
on Patreon and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
Source: San Francisco Bay View