African American Folklore, Magical Realism and Horror in Toni Morrison novels


2018 WiHM Black Women in Horror

This article is a part of a series of the Fifth Annual Black Women in Horror Month celebration, an annual February presentation of blog articles highlighting black women in horror for Women in Horror Month and Black History Month.  The series will include new lists of black women who write horror, interviews, articles, and book reviews. We are very excited to be presenting the Black Women in Horror project for the fifth year. Iconoclast Productions is the sponsor of the Black Women in Horror project.

This is a reprint of an article written by Sumiko Saulson for for Black History Month in 2017.


Toni Morrison goodreads photo
Toni Morrison photo from Goodreads

Born Chloe Ardelia Wofford in 1931, eight-four year old Toni Morrison is one of the most prominent voices in African American literature. The bestselling author has won the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize, and earned such an enduring place in in American hearts and minds that she’s already a staple of many college English literature course curriculum in her own lifetime. Although her works often defy genre classification, the vagaries of genre politics have her firmly associated with the high-classed literary fiction genre. Literary fiction is the darling of critics and the academia alike.

Speculative fiction, and especially horror and the supernatural, are considered low-classed, tawdry genres. We sit in a dirty little niche corner, along with romance and erotica, as those genres that are just not prestigious enough for the so-called serious writers. Genre prejudice is so deeply ingrained that many do not recognize a horror story for what it is even when its nature is vastly apparent.

In essence, Toni Morrison’s Beloved is a gothic horror story. It is a ghost story set against a backdrop of slavery and the post-Civil War restoration. It takes on the tone of gothic horror immediately at the outset of the story with the line “124 was spiteful. Full of a baby’s venom,” referring to 124 Bluestone Road, the address of the protagonist Sethe’s home. The use of a building, most commonly a house, is a trope commonly associated with the gothic fiction genre.

The story also utilizes many elements of the subgenre American Gothic. English gothic Image result for beloved toni morrisonhorror took place in the Victorian era, the same period of time that the Civil War and the post war Restoration took place in the United States. The dark histories involving the African slave trade and the genocide of New World’s indigenous peoples were primary features of a guilt-ridden American conscience. Wronged native peoples and oppressed African slaves were some of the ghosts and bogeymen of American gothic. That is clearly the case in Beloved, which is about the petulant spirit of Sethe’s murdered two year old daughter, Beloved. Sethe killed her own child to protect her from slavery, and has been haunted ever since.

While Toni Morrison’s overall literary genre is American or African American literary fiction, Beloved is widely categorized as Magical Realism. Magical realism is a genre that involves the insertion of folklore and supernatural elements into otherwise realistic narratives. Beloved is not Toni Morrison’s only venture into magical realism. Song of Solomon, Sula, Jazz, and The Bluest Eye all use elements of the genre.

Image result for sula toni morrisonIf it weren’t for the fact that Sula won a Nobel Prize for American literature, we might think of it as magical realism, as it certainly utilizes many elements of the genre. Many supernatural elements are used to illustrate the town of Bottom’s discomfort with and rejection of the unconventional protagonist Sula Peace. These magical elements are illustrations of the town’s scapegoating behavior. They clearly symbolize the tendency to demonize women for liberal and sexually unrepressed behavior. However, there is a more than superficial resemblance between Sula’s connection to the paranormal occurrences and witchcraft. Sula seems like a witch, and the town seems to be on a witch hunt.

In magical realism, these things are seen as symbolic, not necessarily to be taken literally, as in horror. There is an additional layer of psychological complexity in magical realism, as it is often unclear whether the supernatural is at play, or characters are just superstitious. That mystery is part of what keeps magical realism psychologically terrifying.

The strange appearance of a swarm of agitated birds in Sula is a great example of this. They arrive when she returns to town, and they occur in such unmanageable numbers that some townspeople are driven to sadism in an effort to get rid of them. They are so populous that the birds create a danger to themselves and others. However, the book never explains their mysterious arrival and disappearance. That is where magical realism differs from traditional horror: in horror, a cause, usually a diabolical one is assigned. In Sula, people superstitiously connect the appearance to the protagonist and her sexually loose moral behavior, which includes interracial relationships and sleeping with married men.

Image result for song of solomon toni morrisonToni Morrison’s Song of Solomon opens up with some of the most horrifying scenes I’ve ever read. One involves the hunting of a runaway slave by a pack of dogs, and the other involves an extended analogy about leaping to suicide while attempting to fly away from enslavement. Song of Solomon uses several elements of magical realism. Many of these are directly or indirectly connected with a character named Pilate, a woman who was born without a belly button.  She is guardian angel/earth mother figure in the life of the protagonist, Milkman.

Her lack of a navel suggests a supernatural origin, because bellybuttons are a sign of earthly birth. Created creatures, like angels or golem, wouldn’t need navels. Pilate shows other signs of supernatural knowledge or power, as does the ancient former slave Circe. Circe tells the protagonist Milkman of his great grandfather Solomon, who is the title character. Solomon was said to have literally flown to escape slavery. However, throughout the story, various attempts at flight are ambiguous and often seem more like suicide and less like escape.

Image result for the bluest eye toni morrisonThere is the further complication of determining whether or not supernatural occurrences are real in magical realism. In Toni Morrison’s controversial debut novel The Bluest Eye, Pecola Breedlove, a sexually molested young black girl, retreats into a fantasy world where she feels beautiful because she imagines she has blue eyes. The book has been banned multiple times because it deals with tough subjects like incest and child molestation. However, at the core of it is a deeper truth: our most terrifying monsters are the ones that are real.

Horror as a genre allows its readers to confront subjects that are too hard to look at directly. Like a filter that allows us to look at the sun without going blind, horror softens the impact of unimaginable subjects by replacing horrific human monsters with supernatural creatures. They are less upsetting than the idea that the real monsters are us.

There is a close synergy between magical realism and gothic horror. They are flip sides of the same coin. Magical realism is a genre label usually ascribed to people of color talking about ourselves, and integrating our own folklore, history, legends and mythology into stories that contain both realistic and fantastic elements. Gothic horror, especially American gothic, is written from a white person’s point of view and has to do with outsider fear and suspicion of the same folklore, history, legends and myths.

A novel like Beloved might have been considered gothic horror if it had been written from a white person’s perspective by a white author. A story like Bernard Rose and Clive Barker’s Candyman might have been mystical realism if it were written by a black author and from Candyman’s point of view. Both stories are about a tragic character that died unnecessarily as a result of racism and slavery who returns as an avenging spirit. The change in the point of view character is also key to the genre categorization here: Candyman is about how slavery impacted white people. Beloved is about how it impacted African Americans.

Toni Morrison’s forays into magical realism may not be universally considered horror for the same reason that not everyone considers Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein horror: the monster is so sympathetic that from time to time, human beings seem the real monsters. The monster is the one who has been wronged here. If we feel more sympathy for the monster than it persecutors, then we lose a lot of the fear we associate with the horror genre.

Ten Black Women in Horror List #1

2018 WiHM Black Women in HorrorThis Part One of the 2018 series on Black Women in Horror, a continuation of the Black Women in Horror project that started in 2013 as a part of Women in Horror Month, and lead to the publication of 60 Black Women in Horror in 2014. 20 more women were added to the list in 2017. This year, we have an exciting new 30 Black Women in Horror to add to the list. The new women were discovered largely due to Eden Royce’s 2017 blog series Black Women in Horror on the Dark Geisha, Colors in Darkness and their 2017 anthology Forever Vacancy, Graveyard Sisters,  Kintra Brooks, Linda Addison and Susana M. Morris’ anthology Sycorax’s Daughters, and my project with Nicole Kurtz, Black Magic Women on Mocha Memoirs. Iconoclast Productions will be releasing 100 Black Women in Horror on February 15, the same day Black Magic Women comes out.

  1. R.J. Joseph

R. J. JosephR.J. Joseph has had three horror short stories published in anthologies: “A Woman’s Work” in Transitions and Awakenings by Sanguine Press, “To Give Her Whatsoever She May Ask” in Sycorax’s Daughters, and “Mama’s Babies” in Road Kill: Texas Horror by Texas Writers, Volume 2.  She writes creatively and academically in and about the horror genre. In May 2017 she presented her paper, “Where My Girls At: The Absence of Black Femininity from Vampire Culture” at the International Vampire Film and Arts Festival in Transylvania.

  1. Violette L. Meier

Violette MeierViolette L. Meier is an Atlanta-based speculative fiction writer, poet, folk artist and published author of eight books. Tales of a Numinous Nature is a spine tingling collection of her short horror stories. She writes horror-tinged paranormal tales like Ruah the Immortal, The First Chronicle of Zayashariya: Out of Night, Angel Crush, and Son of the Rock. Her other titles include: Violette Ardor: A Volume of Poetry, This Sickness We Call Love: Poems  of Love, Lust, & Lamentation, and Loving and Living Life.

  1. Chanel Harry

Chanel HarryChanel Harry is a horror novelist who combines psychological horror with paranormal terrors in her novel, The Other Child, about a child psychologist who has to separate a vengeful spirit from the traumatized children it inhabits at Black Hallow School for Blind and Disabled Girls. Other horror titles include Heebie Jeebies: Tales of Terror, a macabre and terrifying ten story collection; Skin Witch: Tales of Soucouyants; and The Restless: Evil Has Come Home. She hails from the Bronx, New York. Her mother is from Trinidad and Tobago, which she visits annually. She is immersed in her mother’s culture, and her book Skin Witch is about the Soucouyant vampire folklore from Trinidad.

  1. Cinsearae Santiago

cinsearae santiago

Cinsearae Santiago writes under Cinsearae  S. She is a dark paranormal romance and horror writer, the creator of the dark paranormal romance/horror series, ‘Abraxas’ and ‘Boleyn, Tudor Vampire,’ Editor/Publisher of the award-winning magazine, Dark Gothic Resurrected. She received the Author’s Site of Excellence Award in December 2007 from Preditors and Editors, the Golden Horror Award from, and is a Cover Artist for Damnation Books.

  1. Tiara Jante

Tiara Janté 2A speculative fiction author, her short story, L’innocent is in the horror genre and was published originally in Black Girl Magic Literary Magazine and later self-published on Amazon. It was reviewed on the Grave Yard Shift Sisters web site. She writes horror, sci-fi, fantasy, urban romance, traditional romance, paranormal romance, African American fiction, and general fiction. Her bylines can be found on Amazon and at, Black Girl Magic Literary Magazine and xoNecole. Tiara is also a ghostwriter with Gotham Ghostwriters, one of the leading ghostwriting agencies in the country.

  1. Tabitha Thompson

tabitha-thompson1.jpgTabitha Thompson is an African American horror writer from Florida. Her first short story Heading West, was picked up by Sirens Call Publications in 2013 for their online magazine issue #12 Dead And Dying. West Nile was released in 2014 also with Sirens Call Publications for their issue #16 Apocalyptic Fiction. She has released several horror short stories and flash fiction. Her latest release, Decency Defiled, a workplace based horror short story, was released through J Ellington Ashton Press as part of the anthology titled Rejected For Content 6: Workplace Relations.

  1. Kai Leakes

Kai LeakesSt. Louis native and vampire lover, author Kai Leakes began her obsession with all things fantasy, romance, and the dark as a teen. Kai is the creator of the popular dark fantasy/horror series ‘Sin Eaters: Devotion Books & Sin Eater Chronicles’ novellas. She has short stories in several Afrocentric speculative fiction anthologies Taste the Taint: A Cursed Story in Sycorax’s Daughters, Sisters in Black Magic Women, Free Your Mind in The City: A Cyberfunk Anthology and Traveler’s Song, a Pulse Prelude in Rococoa. She cowrote Christmas Kind of Love with Nikki Michelle.

  1. Kamika Aziza

kamika_azizaKamika Aziza is the writer of a childrens’ book series and a comic book series both based in Jamaica. She studied Radio and Television broadcasting at Trident Technical college where she also graduated with a certificate in Radio Production. She works on a comic book series titled “League of Maroons” based on Caribbean folk lore, and a children’s book series titled “The Adventures of Kam Kam”, both currently available for Amazon Kindle, as well as the poetry chapbook “Random Poems from a Desperate Mind,”

  1. Tiffany Austin

Tiffany AustinTiffany Austin is a poet who contributed “Toward a Peacock Poem” to the horror anthology Sycorax’s Daughters, she also wrote essay “The Gendered Bias in Sonia Sanchez’ Haiku,” which is a part of the anthology “Sonia Sanchez’ Poetic Spirit through Haiku.”  Tiffany Austin presently lives in Nassau, Bahamas, where she teaches.

  1. Tracey Baptiste

Tracey BaptisteContributor to Sycorax’s Daughters, she wrote the short story “Ma Laja,” and is the author of the horror-tinged midgrade dark fantasy series “The Jumbies and Rise of the Jumbies,” the contemporary young adult novel Angel’s Grace and nine non-fiction books for kids in elementary through high school. She’s a former elementary school teacher, currently on the faculty at Lesley University’s Creative Writing MFA program.

Stay tuned for the next two lists on February 7th and February 14th!

Iconoclast Newsletter

Sumiko Saulson has been writing for the as an Oakland Art Scene reporter, covering Bay Area art and community events since 2013. We are happy to announce that since the closure of the, Sumiko’s rights to her articles have returned to her. These valuable insights into local art and community will be appearing here where relevant, and additionally, on our new newsletter site here:

Iconoclast Newsletter



Keeping Up with Iconoclast (September 2013 Newsletter)

Catching Up with Iconoclast Productions

African American Media Arts Association at City College of San Francisco

Carolyn Saulson and Andres Wemiz at CCSF Multimedia Arts Gallery
Carolyn Saulson and Andres Wemiz at CCSF Multimedia Arts Gallery

City College of San Francisco is home to the African American Media Arts Association, which is supported by Iconoclast Productions. As many of you already know, City College of San Francisco has been in danger of losing its accreditation over the past couple of years. According to the San Francisco Examiner, CCSF may have another opportunity to save its accreditation.

Despite its woes, City College of San Francisco has managed to teach and graduate students from many different backgrounds, and it especially offers opportunity to low income students. Iconoclast Productions supports CCSF and acknowledges its valuable media arts programs, and its wonderful broadcast arts programs. We hope to see the accreditation of CCSF restored so that it can continue to provide affordable arts and media arts courses to the public.

Iconoclast Productions would also like to acknowledge two of our former AAMAA members who have graduated from CCSF and gone on to state colleges: Deeann Mathews, who went on to San Francisco State three years ago, and Andres Wemiz, who started at San Jose State this fall.

Art at Courtland Creek Park in Oakland

Since our last newsletter, we have been excited by the progress that has been made regarding Courtland Creek Park. Roberto Costa and his crew of mosaic tile artists have completed three sides to the trash can at the corner of San Carlos and Courtland, and Sumiko Saulson of Iconoclast Productions has painted the fourth side. Consulting with the newly reactivated Friend of Courtland Creek Park organization and with representatives from Iconoclast, and from the NCPC 27x Beat Melrose High Hopes, Mr. Costa decided to create a work that would honor the Key System Streetcars that once went down Courtland.

Saturday, September 21, 2013 is Creek to Bay Day.

Iconoclast Productions is looking for volunteers to meet at 1 pm at the corner of Courtland and San Carlos, to repaint the sculpture created by Walter Hood nearly 20 years ago on that corner. The tall, gray sculpture has carvings in the side that represent the various maps for the street car lines. Over the years, graffiti on the statue has been repaired with gray paint that is a darker color than the monument itself. The goal is to paint it all a uniform shade of gray.

Iconoclast Adopts at Spot in Oakland

The Courtland Creek Mural by Kristi Holohan and Rock Scissors Paper Collective provides inspiration for the proposed mosaic design.
The Courtland Creek Mural by Kristi Holohan and Rock Scissors Paper Collective provides inspiration for the proposed mosaic design.

Sumiko Saulson and Iconoclast Productions filed “Adopt a Spot” paperwork with the City of Oakland’s Park and Recreation for the trashcan and the monument to the old cable car line that used to go down to Courtland. This little spot is at the corner of Courtland and San Carlos.

Roberto Costa, who is one of the forces behind all of the Mosaic Trashcans you see popping up around Oakland, is going to create a mosaic for the trashcan based upon the design of the Courtland Creek Mural, which was created by Kristi Holohan of Rock, Scissors, Paper Collective.

Four images from the mural and the surrounding signs created by Holohan with her group of youth volunteers have been selected as the basis for the designs on the four different sides of the trashcan at San Carlos and Courtland in Oakland’s Fairfax District (NCPC 27x Beat).

Artist’s rendering of what the finished can might look like.

The design will also compliment a dragonfly shaped hopscotch drawing and frog shaped foursquare drawing at the children’s play area between the Fairfax and Congress on Courtland stretch of the park.

It is hoped that the consistency in designs at various parts of the park will help visitors connect the park.

Another fixture is a structure next to the trashcan that commemorates the street car line that used to go down Courtland. the structure consists of a miniature version of a street car station, with a station map depicted on the side of it. Iconoclast Productions is seeking paint donations for matching paint color for the structure, and help to fix patches of darker color where graffiti has been painted over with a darker shade of gray.


May 2012 Iconoclast Newsletter

Keeping up with the African American Media Arts Association!

Students and visitors enjoying the Juneteenth at City College

I bet a bunch of you remember the Juneteenth Festival over at City College of San Francisco a while back.  That was one of the projects Iconoclast Productions worked with the African American Media Arts Association, an ICC club, to produce. We are happy to say we are still activelyt involved with the AAMAA and the ICC. One of the activities the AAMAA is involved with at this time is video taping and photography for other students and for on-campus clubs. We are working new on campus programming come Spring 2012, which will be a multimedia conference.  You can catch up with the AAMAA on Facebook here:


VOLUNTEER OF THE MONTH: Jazz “Lil  4-Tay” Forte of B.I.G.

lil 4Tay
lil 4Tay

The backbone of any non-profit organization is its staff: Iconoclast Productions relies on our volunteer staff members, such as Jazz “Lil 4-Tay” Forte, also ½ of the local hip-hop duo B.I.G. along with Roach Gigz, they are well known for the innovative way they launched not one, but several singles on the internet using nothing but MySpace, YouTube, and an Apple MacBook computer to gain national attention and airplay for their music.

We are currently recruiting volunteers like Jazz, who will help us with videotaping/filming events, organizing and promoting these events, taking notes at meetings, learn how to raise money with fundraisers, and to write grants.  Not all of the volunteers who work for Iconoclast Productions are skilled – we take many of our volunteers around with us and train them on how to use video production equipment, how to research and to write grants, and in some cases even basic computer and note-taking skills, providing an excellent training and learning opportunity for them, while they help us to keep up our day to day operations.

Another type of volunteer we work with are Project Volunteers, who volunteer to help with a specific event, such as the African American Multimedia Conference, or the San Francisco Black Independent/Iconoclast Film Festival.


TWO TALES OF A CITY: Two New San Francisco Based Novels

Carolyn Saulson Anne Rice
PICTURED ABOVE: Carolyn Saulson hands Anne Rice a copy of her daughter Sumiko Saulson’s novel “Solitude” while Anne Rice signs a copy of her latest gothic horror novel “The Wolf Gift”.

Local horror novelist Sumiko Saulson was very excited when she learned that on February 24, 2012 one of her heroes in the genre, Anne Rice, would be in town for a signing at Books, Inc. “The first time I walked into Marcus Bookstore and asked Karen Johnson about carrying ‘Solitude’,” Sumiko explained, “she explained to me that women in horror – especially black women such as myself – were still almost unheard of.  Practically the same thing was repeated to me everywhere I went – Laurel Bookstore in Oakland, Bookshop Benicia. The more I heard this, the more Anne’s words of encouragement over Facebook to me, and other fledgling ladies in the genre meant. She is very mindful of her role as groundbreaker.” The local writer was even more excited when she learned that Anne Rice’s “The Wolf Gift” – the famous writer’s return to the Gothic Horror genre after writing two books on the life of Christ – took place in the San Francisco Bay Area. Ms. Rice’s story is about a young man who struggles with the life-changing aftermath of a werewolf bite. Ms. Saulson’s “Solitude” is a suspenseful sci-fi/horror story that takes place almost entirely in San Francisco, and features a multicultural cast reacting to a strange supernatural event of unknown origin that causes most of the population to disappear. Each of these well-written novels gives the reader different takes on the City by the Bay, but both revolve largely around the internal life of their characters.

Volunteers Wanted!



Do you enjoy media arts such as music and film? Would you like to give back to the community? Are you looking to improve your portfolio or resume? Get good job references. We have associates who hire our volunteers. Learn how to write grants. Learn about music and video recording. For More Information call (415) 573-7728 and ask for Carolyn, or email or

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