This month, we’ve been celebrating Women’s History Month, and of course, that means we’re celebrating the LOHF way: it’s time to stack up your TBR! This list is all about a Women’s History of Horror, highlighting books written by (and books that feature) women who pioneered the horror, sci-fi, and other speculative genres.
If you’re interested in learning more about women in horror throughout the ages, check out our previous post outlining the history of the genre and the women who created it here.
Now on to the books! Happy reading!
You can also view this list on our Bookshop.org page. If you purchase any book through our Bookshop, we do make a small commission. All funds go toward keeping the lights on at LOHF so we can continue to promote women in horror!
by Lisa Kroger and Melanie R. Anderson
If you’re looking for a book to get you started on the history of women and the horror genre, this is it! Get ready for your TBR to explode. The speculative genres would not exist without the innovative women who built it. This book explores these women and their works, a fascinating deep-dive into the horror genre. Also be sure to check out Valancourt’s “Monster, She Wrote” series, featuring some books discussed in these pages!
by Ann Radcliffe
One of the first and most well-remembered Gothic writers is Ann Radcliffe. This Gothic romance was a huge inspiration to writers such as Edgar Allen Poe. And don’t let the word “romance” fool you: this atmospheric work about a woman imprisoned in a dark castle by her evil guardian delves deep into psychological terror.
by Mary Shelley
OK, so you probably expected Frankenstein to be on this list, and there’s no doubt that Mary Shelley is a pioneer of horror. But did you know that she also wrote a post-apocalyptic tale about a plague that wipes out humans? Yep, she was before her time in so many ways.
by Elizabeth Gaskell
Victorian writer Elizabeth Gaskell is most widely known for her novels of social realism, but her mastery of the Gothic is on full display in these short stories. She mixes realistic and supernatural elements for surprisingly chilling tales and they range from fairytale retellings to an account of the Salem witch trials.
edited by Melissa Edmundson
If you like to try a little bit of everything, like the (pre-pandemic) sample stations at Costco, an anthology is the way to go. These stories illustrate women who transcended the Gothic and paved the way for Weird fiction and dark fantasy. For another collection of classic spec fic by women, check out Weird Women: Classic Supernatural Fiction by Groundbreaking Female Writers, 1852–1923.
by Vernon Lee
Violet Paget (whose pen name was Vernon Lee) is best remembered for her supernatural fiction and in her writing often explored lesbian relationships—quite a feat in the Victorian era.
by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Gilman was a proponent of social reform, but what tends to be swept under the rug today were her strongly held racist and xenophobist views. Though she isn’t necessarily known for horror, the title story of this collection is a shocking indictment of the “rest-cure” that was frequently prescribed for postpartum depression.
by Pauline Hopkins
I couldn’t be more excited about this new edition of Pauline Hopkins’s uncanny tale! Hopkins in many ways laid the groundwork for other Black women writing speculative fiction with her combination of the supernatural with hard truths about reality and racism.
by Dion Fortune
Published the same year as Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu, Fortune’s tale focuses on ritual magic and cultish secret societies. She not only wrote fiction about the occult but was also a pioneer of esoteric thought, eventually founding The Society of the Inner Light.
by Edith Wharton
A master of the ghost story, Wharton’s supernatural stylings are not to be missed. She was also the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
by Dorothy Macardle
The basis for the 1944 movie of the same title, this little-known debut novel is without a doubt spookier on the page, and it should really be a classic of the haunted house genre.
by Shirley Jackson
There is no question that Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House laid the groundwork for the modern haunted house novel. But lesser known are her non-Gothic works, such as this tale of a woman’s terrifying downward spiral as she splits into four distinct and self-destructive personalities. Jackson’s quick wit and blend of humor and darkness are on full display in this character-driven novel.
by Lois Duncan
Lois Duncan is a pioneering figure in YA horror and suspense thrillers. She is perhaps most well-known for I Know What You Did Last Summer (yes, the movie is based on it), but this tale of kids taking on a strict English teacher is worth a read.
by Octavia E. Butler
Butler is a sci-fi queen, but her books have dark edges. This story of a Black woman who uncontrollably time travels from the 1970s to the antebellum South is a classic, inviting discussion of difficult but important topics like racism, slavery, privilege, and how our past threads through to the present in ways visible and invisible. If it strikes your fancy, there is also an excellent graphic novel adaptation of this book.
by V. C. Andrews
We would be remiss to leave off V.C. Andrews, the writer who may have been many a reader’s introduction to horror in their teen years. This was her debut novel.
by Angela Carter
A true “storytelling sorceress,” Angela Carter paved the way for many purveyors of the modern supernatural. This collection of de- and reconstructed fairy tales offers dark, subversive, feminist retellings of familiar tales like Bluebeard, Red Riding Hood, and more.
by Mariko Koike
Originally published in 1986, this book by one of Japan’s most popular modern writers has only been available in English for 5 years. A disquieting tale about a young family who moves into an apartment building overlooking a graveyard—it’s a good deal, until you realize what might be in the basement.
by Toni Morrison
This Pulitzer Prize winner has experienced a bit of a renaissance for genre fans happily claiming it as horror. After all, it is a story with a haunted house and ghosts—though the terror extends far beyond that.
by Anne Rice
Anne Rice is best known for her series of (sexy) vampire novels, but she has also written about ghosts, werewolves, and witches.
by Caroline B. Cooney
Caroline B. Cooney is one of the many Point Horror authors, a series of YA horror novels from the late 80s and 90s. Many of these books are out of print now, but look for Cooney along with Diane Hoh, L.J. Smith, Carol Ellis, and more in used bookstores.
by Jewelle Gomez
Described as “a very lesbian American odyssey,” this is an oft-overlooked vampire classic from activist and author Jewelle Gomez. It chronicles Gilda’s 200-year journey after she escapes from slavery and looks for a community to call her own.
by Tananarive Due
Though you can only do right by reading any of Tananarive Due’s work, this novel in particular transcends the genre. Due takes the very human fear about death and creates a world of “what if.” What if near-death is really just escape through another door, another reality? A UCLA professor and executive producer of Horror Noire, Due also offers an online course called The Sunken Place, all about the history and power of Black horror.
by Tanith Lee
A true legend, with over 90 books and 300 short stories, it is difficult to just pick one Tanith Lee book. From dark fairytales to romantic vampires, Lee often showcased LGBTQ+ characters in her novels. Find her short story collections if you can!
edited by Alison Peirse
BONUS READ: If you also love horror movies, this is the book for you! With essays from women filmmakers, critics, and academics, this collection looks at everything from experimental to mainstream film all over the world, asking us to turn a critical eye on our perception of women filmmakers and genre.
Audra and her horror hound, Ouija, help manage the Ladies of Horror Fiction Instagram page. When not ghost hunting or rollerskating, she also contributes articles and helps maintain the website.