Nuzo Onoh is an award-winning Nigerian-British writer of speculative fiction. She is a pioneer of the African horror literary subgenre. Hailed as the “Queen of African Horror”, Nuzo’s writing showcases both the beautiful and horrific in the African culture within fictitious narratives. Nuzo holds a Law degree and Masters degree in Writing, both from Warwick University, England. She is a certified Civil Funeral Celebrant, licensed to conduct non-religious burial services. An avid musician, Nuzo plays both the guitar and piano, and holds an NVQ in Digital Music Production. She lives in The West Midlands, United Kingdom.
Obinna Emelike brings you the excerpt.
Congratulations on the Bram Stoker Awards. What does the award mean to you?
Thank you for your kind wishes. I have been truly blessed by my ancestors. It is not a coincidence that the date I was awarded The Bram Stoker Lifetime Achievement Award happened to be the same date my mother died in 2016— 17th June. That date used to be a day of sorrow for me, but now, my late mother has made it a day of celebration by blessing me with that prestigious award. The award is not just a validation of my writing, but also an overdue recognition of African horror in the global genre-stage and I am humbled to have played a role in it.
Do you think you can now take your rightful place among notable names in horror writing?
Needless to say, the Bram Stoker Lifetime Award is the ultimate dream of every horror writer. To receive any Bram Stoker Award for one book is a great honour for any horror writer, so you can imagine what it means to have The Bram Stoker Lifetime Achievement Award, which honours every work I have written, not just one book. Being listed with such horror icons like Stephen King, Christopher Lee, Koji Suzuki and Anne Rice, to mention but a few horror greats, is something I never envisioned when I started writing my African horror stories honouring our great traditions, culture and beliefs within a fictitious context. So, with total humility, I claim my rightful place in the genre-pool amongst these horror icons and give gratitude to my ancestors for the immense blessing. These days, I light even more candles at my mother’s shrine to honour and thank her for her incessant blessings since she entered the light.
How has it been writing African horror fiction for global audiences, are they widely appreciated and what is the level of appreciation by African diasporas?
First and foremost, I write my stories for the characters that tell me their stories and ask me to share them. As I have said in numerous interviews, most fiction writers are conduits who simply write the stories dictated to them by their characters. When a character comes to you with their story, it is like a tsunami inside your head and you can write non-stop for days till you have poured it out on the pages of your laptop. They will give you no rest otherwise. This is why I rarely remember my stories once I have written them and always need to refresh myself for interviews by re-reading bits of them. So, it is only when I am doing final edits before publishing that I remember to add some English words for the African expressions or names in the story, to accommodate the global audiences. In my last book, A Dance for The Dead, I added a glossary of Igbo words for the benefit of my global readers.
I can say with total confidence that African horror is truly appreciated by horror fans globally. I always say that true horror has no boundaries and a good horror story will find a home in every nation regardless of differences. Sadly, I cannot say that I have received much support from our Africans in diaspora. We are a very religious people and most of my stories, alas, do not glorify the foreign religions we received from our former colonists. Rather, I focus on our old religions, customs and beliefs prior to colonisation, together with the good, the bad and the ugly of our present culture within fictitious narratives. As a result, I have been told by many of my diaspora friends and acquaintances that they do not like horror or that they think my African horror writing which sometimes glorifies the works of our medicine-men and medicine-women, is sinful and not something they think they would enjoy reading. However, I am grateful that readers worldwide absolutely enjoy and support my works and my gratitude to them is boundless. They have embraced African horror with open arms and hearts and made my award possible.
Can you give an insight on your most recent book; A Dance for the Dead and what makes it a must-read for horror fiction lovers?
A Dance for the Dead, which is my latest book, imitates my other books by trying to highlight a negative aspect of our culture, while explaining to the reader the rationale and beliefs behind it. After all, it can be mundane to write horror focusing only on the nice and positive aspects of any culture. So, this time, I highlighted the awful Osu caste system, as well as the discrimination against people with albinism still practiced in many communities in Igbo-land and many parts of the world till date. I set the story in the early days of colonialism when cannibalism, domestic slavery and human sacrifices to the gods were still the norm, and like all my fiction works, it is also a ghost story about vengeful ghosts with unfinished business. In a nutshell, a powerful prince and warrior-leader wakes up inside the forbidden shrine of the village deity as a result of a terrible treachery and overnight, becomes an outcast in the community he once ruled. Now, he must make a dangerous trip to the realm of the ancestors to free himself from the Osu curse and regain his former exalted status. His only ally is the vengeful ghost of a slave girl wrongly sacrificed to the gods based on the false prophecy of a lecherous witchdoctor whose advances she rebuffed.
I hope horror fiction lovers will appreciate my morally-grey characters and the complex culture that drives their actions. As Grimdark Magazine wrote in their review, “Nuzo Onoh, lives up to her title of “Queen of African horror” with her latest novel, A Dance for The Dead. Stitched with powerful imageries of dark magics and secret rites, Onoh weaves a macabre tale of revenge…A Dance for the Dead is a celebration of nightmarish imagination. It is African-horror triumphant.”
I hope this gracious review will entice horror fiction lovers to delve into the book and discover what makes African horror unique and chillingly exciting.
Looking at your books from; A Dance for the Dead 2022, The Unclean 2020, Dead Corpse 2017, The Sleepless 2016, Unhallowed Graves 2015, and The Reluctant Dead 2014, which is the most horrifying?
As a horror writer, I hope all my works, including my novellas and short stories featured in numerous anthologies and magazines, are all terrifying to my readers. I think what each reader finds horrifying is subjective to them and so, they might not agree with my choice. However, in terms of my favourite work, Dead Corpse, featuring the vengeance of a powerful medicine-woman after her daughter, a young girl living with albinism, is murdered by a politician for ritual purposes, ranks as my all-time favourite. This story is one where the main character, the powerful medicine-woman Ọwa, unexpectedly invaded my head and totally possessed my mind till I had written everything she narrated to me. I wrote that book in a feverish frenzy that left me drained for several weeks after I completed it. When I had to do the edits before publishing, I was shocked by some of the things I wrote and the in-depth knowledge of dark rituals I described in the story, something I had no business knowing as I did absolutely no research for the book. I rarely do any research for much of my writing anyway, but this book, Dead Corpse, took me to places beyond anywhere I had ever visited in my works. I hope my readers will find it as dark as I do.
Considering your consistency in releasing new books within a short period after the last one, when are you launching another best-seller?
My next book, The Thaumaturge, a collection of 9 African-horror stories, will be released on October 2nd 2023 by Interstellar Flight Press, while my Novella collection, The Ghosts in the Moon, will be released by Titan Books in autumn 2024. I hope my readers make a date with those two books.
Your storylines are good, relatable and horrifying, despite being fiction. Are there plans to adapt some of your books in movies like some writers are doing now?
Without mentioning the three big production companies involved till everything is finalised, I can confidently say that one of my short stories, Ọja-Ale – Night Market, will definitely be adapted into a movie. My daughter, Candice Onyeama, who is both a script writer and film director, is currently working with me on a project we are both very excited about. So, yes; hopefully, my fans will get to see some of my works on the screen some day in the not-too-distant future.
What is the future of horror writing?
Everything is always fluid, including the horror industry. There are ups and downs in the genre, periods when they flourish and periods when there is a slump in demand. But one thing I can say with confidence is that Horror is no longer the exclusive domain of the quintessential white male writers as in the past. Horror has opened its doors now to different cultures and writers. Women, especially black women, are now making their impact in the genre and readers are enjoying something excitingly different from the-same-of-the-same as in the past. With more diverse writers now writing horror, we see a long overdue positive change in narratives, where past negative stereotypes of blacks and other marginalised communities are no longer the norm. Through horror fiction, we are rewriting our own stories and portraying ourselves in our own authentic voices which is a trend I believe will continue into the distant future. Otherwise, for the present time, we can sit back and enjoy the current wonderful explosion of the horror industry and all its diverse works on the global stage. Long may horror reign!