Writing While Black June 2020: Black literary artists thriving despite global pandemic

Black talent sweeps the 2020 Bram Stoker Awards in horror, Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes write an episode for Jordan Peele’s Twilight Zone.

Bram Stoker Awards online

by Sumiko Saulson

The essentials of writing and publishing have not changed under COVID-19, just the promotions aspects such as in-person appearances. Book signings, conventions and readings are postponed, online or done via the mail. Yet the work of writing continues.

Despite the cancellation of in-person events, I find myself busier than ever. My current projects include a script for an indie film called “Despoina” with James Leon, writer and co-director of the 2017 underground horror film “Dropping Like Flies.” Depoina, a Black lady vampire, and Jamal Nelson, a Black lawyer and community activist, are two of the powerful and central Black characters in this project.

I am also working on a still hush-hush film project I have signed an option contract for. It is a Tales from the Hood/Twilight Zone type anthology movie with some names attached. That’s all I can tell you. And I am hard at work editing an erotica anthology called “Scry of Lust 2,” which benefits the charity AIDSWalk San Francisco through the team SFGoth.

Catching up with Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes

Talented authors Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes are a horror writing power couple
who epitomize Black love.

Speaking of the Twilight Zone, did you know that Tananarive Due and her husband Steven Barnes wrote the screenplay for Episode #2.8, “A Small Town,” for the current Twilight Zone series. Damon Wayans Jr., Paula Newsome, David Krumholtz and Natalie Martinez star in the episode. The season debuts June 25, so the episode will air in early August.

“It’s kind of interesting because it is my all-time favorite show. I watched the original series with my family,” said Steven Barnes. “In the ‘80s I worked on the Twilight Zone series with Philip DeGuere. Because I worked on it previously, Tananarive and I are now able to share that world, and it is interesting to go back to that world, and to work with Jordan Peele regarding the great respect both of us have for him.”

Steven Barnes wrote two vignettes for the ‘80s series, “To See the Invisible Man” in 1986 and “Teacher’s Aide” in 1985. He has also written for the series Stargate SG-1, Andromeda, The Outer Limits, BayWatch, The Real Ghost Busters and more.

“I don’t have the credits that Steve does, my only IMBD credit was for Danger Word, a project Steve and I did together, and a script for a Tennyson and Hardwick mini-series, “From Cape Town with Love,” which Steve and I co-authored. We worked in conjunction with director Blair Underwood,” said Tananarive Due.

“Danger Word,” a compelling short horror film about a 13-year-old girl and her grandfather during a zombie-type plague, was screened during the 2020 Bay Area Black Film Festival. Due had nothing but praise for its talented young star, Saoirse Scott.

“It has been very difficult to get Black projects on the screen in the past, but it is getting better. I invited Jordan Peele to my class at www.funkenplaceclass.com and he did my classroom at UCLA and my Skype class,” Tananarive explained.

“We were invited to pitch for Twilight Zone last year and we landed on a story that everyone was excited about. For me, it wasn’t even a childhood dream. I can’t talk about the story but it is Afrofuturism,” she added.

“One thing I can say is that as an author of color there are more ways to get into film and video than there have ever been before,” said Steve Barnes, sounding a hopeful note.

Barnes went on to describe the numerous new avenues in video production and distribution, given the advances in consumer production equipment and avenues of internet and other avenues for showing movies and creating audiences. Hear more about this, Danger Word and The Twilight Zone episode by listening to the audio interview with Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due on Soundcloud, at https://soundcloud.com/sumiko-saulson/interview-with-tananarive-due-and-steven-barnes.

Horror Writer’s Association Stoker Awards online, convention postponed until August

Stoker Award winner Victor LaValle at Worldcon 75 in Helsinki, before the Hugo Awards – Photo: Henry Söderlund

The Bram Stoker Awards online is now on YouTube. Although the 2020 Stoker Awards have already been announced, StokerCon UK is still happening in UK in August. It was originally to be held in April but was postponed to Thursday through Sunday, Aug. 6-9. The 2020 StokerCon Awards Online allowed for the awards ceremony to continue at the regularly scheduled time. Meanwhile, workshops, book readings and other parts of the event can still take place in August.

“I was deeply impressed with the way HWA designed a way to celebrate the Bram Stoker Awards finalists and recipients with the announcement of the final ballots by categories and winners online, heightened by the wonderful voice of Shannon Hodson as announcer. The HWA’s YouTube channel contains interviews with the finalists. Life with the virus has meant adjustments for us all, as we continue to pay tribute to the good things,” said the First Black Stoker Award winner, Linda D. Addison.

More Black writers were added to the list of lifetime winners this year. “Up from Slavery” by Victor LaValle from Weird Tales #363 won in the long fiction category. Nzondi (Ace Antonio Hall) won for the Young Adult novel “Oware Mosai.” Jordan Peele won his second Stoker Award in the Screenplay category for “Us,” beating out “The Lighthouse,” “Midsommar” and a Stranger Things episode, “The Battle of Starcourt.”

An ebullient Linda D. Addison and Nzondi at StokerCon 2017 – Photo: Robin Reed

Linda Addison picked up another Stoker for “The Place of Broken Things” with Alessandro Manzetti. So Black talent swept the 2020 Stoker Awards!

This year Native-American author Owl Goingback won in the coveted Novel category for “Coyote Rage.” Goingback lost a 1996 bid for the Novel award with his book “Crota.” Stephen King won for “Green Mile” that year.

Goingback also won a Lifetime Achievement Award this year, along with Thomas Ligotti. It seems that after four decades of Stoker Novel Awards dominated by Stephen King and Peter Straub, racial equity is coming to the Bram Stoker Awards in full force.

The HWA is also starting to break pattern of only nominating horror-branded authors, by nominating authors who write horror but are associated with other, related genres. Ligotti is a dark fantasy and weird fiction author.

SecondLife’s Literary Arts World

Speculative fiction author LH Moore is one of the many talent voices who will read at the SecondLife anniversary in June.

SecondLife’s 17th Anniversary Festival kicks off June 19-20, 2020. We are fortunate enough to have a virtual space at the event for Iconoclast Productions, the non-profit that produced 100 Black Women in Horror, Scry of Lust, and Wickedly Abled. We will have authors reading short stories and poetry at our booth at the event. For more information contact me or Miki Bizet in SecondLife. So far, our readers include Nisi Shawl, LH Moore, Sumiko Saulson, Stacy Schonhardt, Tristissima Et Alia, Darius Rudominer and Suzi Madron.

Anyone interested in reading should friend request and chat with me. We have lessons on how to navigate SecondLife and open mike practice every Monday from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. during shelter-in-place.

Afrofuturists conference online

“The event will feature several writers including superstar horror writer Sumiko Saulson, writer-graphic artist Alan Clark, nonfiction writer Tara Christina, filmmaker-writer Kelechi Ubozoh, and memoirist-fiction writer and AfroSurreal Writers co-director Dera R.Williams. We may be able to reach out to Arthur Flowers and John Keene, who are advisers for our virtual Afrofuturism conference.

“The event will be live-streamed by AfroSurreal Writers co-director Audrey T. Williams, who with Jasmine H. Wade has organized several successful readings through Ancestral Futures Press,” said Rochelle Spencer of AfroSurrealist Writers.

The event takes place on June 28, 2020, over Zoom. For more information, email rochelle@rochellespencer.com.

Bestselling author 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, (he)r monthly series Writing While Black follows the struggles of Black writers in the literary arts and other segments of arts and entertainment. (S)he is gender non-binary. Support (he)r on Patreon and follow (he)r on Twitter and Facebook.