February is Women in Horror Month and while most of the focus will be on directors, screenwriters, and actresses, it’s important to remember that some of the most influential women in the genre have spent their days writing novels, short stories, and even poetry that terrified their readers.
Some of these names may be familiar to you, but I hope that each person who reads this list will discover an author they’ve never read who can open up brand new worlds to them.
1. Mary Shelley
Mary Shelley set the world’s imagination on fire on January 1, 1818, when Frankenstein: or, the Modern Prometheus was first published. The tale of a man who takes the power of creation into his own hands has inspired multiple plays, films, and even musicals in its time while also inspiring other women to set pen to paper to create scary stories of their own.
2. Ann Radcliffe
Born in 1764 Radcliffe, who helped legitimize Gothic storytelling, was a proponent of terror over horror. She believed that horror closed the reader off through fear while terror used that same fear to open the imagination to the same emotion.
Little is known of the author’s personal life, but it did not stop her work from inspiring the work of Poe, Dostoevsky, and so many more. She broke new ground in creating female characters who were equals to the men in her stories and inspired an entire generation of women to seek that same equality.
3. Shirley Jackson
Few 20th Century authors were as adept at psychologically effective horror as Shirley Jackson. Her stories and novels delved deep into the minds of her characters and they were more raw and real than anything her numerous devotees would ever attempt to produce.
One need only read “The Lottery” or The Haunting of Hill House, two of her most famous works, to realize that the mind behind the stories was just as honest and truthful as the characters between her covers.
4. Octavia E. Butler
Though many consider Octavia E. Butler a science fiction author, her work often blurred genre lines. This was especially apparent in her final novel, Fledgling, which depicted a clan of vampires living in a symbiotic relationship with humans and the young woman who discovers she, herself, is a vampire.
If you’ve never read Butler’s work, I urge you to pick up her Patternist series. I cannot tell you how amazing they are. You just have to read them for yourself.
5. Daphne Du Maurier
Daphne Du Maurier’s work would inspire some of the greatest films of the 20th Century, perhaps because there was an almost cinematic quality to her prose.
Hitchcock loved her work so much that he adapted three of her stories for the big screen. Jamaica Inn, Rebecca, and The Birds were all the fruit of Du Maurier’s imagination.
The author, herself, adapted Rebecca as a stage play, and Allan Scott and Chris Bryant adapted her story “Not After Midnight” into the screenplay for 1973’s chilling Don’t Look Now.
6. Anne Rice
Anne Rice re-invigorated the vampire genre with her debut novel Interview with the Vampire which centered on the vampire Louis and the tale of how he became the companion of the vampire Lestat. In the time since, she has published numerous novels with a host of creatures, immortal and otherwise.
Rice’s prose is some of the most beautiful I’ve ever read and her characters are decadent, vibrant beings that leap from the page.
7. Chesya Burke
Burke’s work has been compared to that of Octavia Butler, but her style is definitely her own. She wrote her Master’s Thesis on the character Storm from The X-Men and she has published over 100 short stories, essays, etc. in various publications.
Her work can be described as speculative urban fiction with horror and fantasy elements. Hers is a younger voice than many on this list, but that comes with the promise of more amazing fiction to come.
For that, we should all be excited.
8. Joyce Carol Oates
Multi-award winning Joyce Carol Oates is one of those authors whose work you didn’t know you needed to read until it was right in front of you. There is a reality to her work that draws the unwitting reader into her world…which also happens to be a trap.
Don’t believe me? Try out The Gravedigger’s Daughter.
9. Lisa Morton
She is president of the Horror Writer’s Association, has won six Stoker awards in multiple categories, and is a bona fide expert on Halloween. Her name is Lisa Morton and she is incredible.
With short stories like “Tested” and novels like The Lucid Dreaming among an impressive catalog of fiction and non-fiction, she is a role model to women in the horror writing business and her place on this list is well-deserved.
10. Tanith Lee
Tanith Lee, a British author, created worlds that were dynamic, wondrous, and harrowing. She was the first woman to win the British Fantasy Award, and her legacy lives on in some 90 novels and hundreds of short stories.
She filled her books with strong female characters and tackled themes like homophobia, misogyny, and racism with an unflinching eye. Read The Blood Opera Sequence or The Birthgrave Series and I guarantee you’ll be a fan.
Tragically, Lee died of breast cancer in 2015 at 68 years old.
11. Linda Addison
Linda Addison was the first African American author to win the the prestigious Bram Stoker Award presented by the Horror Writer’s Association. She is a poet and writer who has worked almost solely within the science fiction and horror genres.
If words are power, then Addison is certainly one of the most powerful women on the planet. Her work moves you to the core.
12. Laurell K. Hamilton
Laurell K. Hamilton created two of the most badass female protagonists of the last century: Anita Blake and Meredith “Merry” Gentry.
Anita Blake is a necromancer as well as a vampire hunter who later became a U.S. Marshal. Vampires and various were-animals walk among humans in the series of books that cross genre lines as she builds a world that is all too real.
Meredith Gentry is a private detective who also happens to be a Faerie princess, and that’s a winning combination you have to read to believe.
Aside from these two series, Hamilton has also written numerous short stories and comics, and spends a great deal of her time working with rescue animal charities and wolf preservation making her just as big a badass as her characters.
13. Tananarive Due
Tananarive Due began her career as a journalist in Miami where she eventually wrote her first novel, The Between, which went on to be nominated for the Bram Stoker Award in 1996.
She has gone on to write several more novels, several of which fall into her African Immortals series. The novels have won her deserving praise over the years as one of the greatest voices in the genre.