Mark Twain was fond of ghost stories and the Gothic. His fiction is sprinkled with haunted houses, creepy cemeteries, curses, blood-oaths, and, above all, corpses. As with many other authors in the Southern Gothic tradition, Twain uses the genres of horror, terror, mystery, and the grotesque to depict the life and afterlife of American slavery. On one such occasion, in “Jim’s Ghost Story,” he even lets “the fears of an enslaved black man imagine and construct what’s monstrous,” as Ann Ryan puts it in her wonderful 2015 essay, “(Not) Wanted Dead or Alive.”
But Twain chose to leave “Jim’s Ghost Story” on the cutting room floor, remaining firmly within a tradition oriented around white fear and depicting black bodies as either terrifying or easily victimized, a tradition which thrived throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Only recently has a Gothic tradition with black protagonists emerged. Notable examples include Jordan Peele’s film, Get Out (2017) and Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s story collection, Friday Black (2018). These black creators, like Jim, are imagining and constructing what’s monstrous.
My guest today, Sheri-Marie Harrison, has given this emergent literary aesthetic a name, “The New Black Gothic.” I was eager to talk to her about a recent addition to its canon, the HBO series run by Misha Green, Lovecraft Country, based upon Matt Ruff’s 2016 novel.
Dr. Harrison is Associate Professor of English at University of Missouri. Her first book, Difficult Subjects: Negotiating Sovereignty in Postcolonial Jamaican Literature was published in 2014. It features extensive treatment Marlon James, who is one of the novelists central to her framing of the New Black Gothic.