We had the good fortune of connecting with Rhonda Jackson Garcia and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Rhonda, where are your from? We’d love to hear about how your background has played a role in who you are today?
I was raised in Third Ward in Houston. I grew up in a reading household so we had books everywhere, all the time. But when I was a child and teenager, Black horror writers didn’t have a lot of visibility and I rarely saw Black people in horror movies. I devoured the books and movies, anyway, despite hardly ever seeing people who looked like me. I’ve always been drawn to the dark and my childhood was a juxtaposition between finding happiness with my mother and my siblings and still understanding that outside our family unit, real monsters existed. I used this knowledge and my love of the genre to build a writing career that examines the intersections of the horror genre with race and gender. Whether the piece is a short story or an academic essay, I always center the viewpoints of Black women so readers know our stories and concerns are valid and deserve a spot in horror.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I’m very proud to be a Black, female horror writer. Although our numbers have always been greater than reported, we don’t always get the accolades or attention we deserve in helping to promote and grow the horror genre. Every story, poem, and essay I write centers the experiences of Black women. Unapologetically. Sometimes, this means my stories don’t gain a wide audience because so many mainstream readers of horror have been given one type of story to consume. Other times, this means readers who are open to reading the experiences of others are exposed to horror through my lens. I’m so proud to have had several stories published in various venues, including two anthologies of horror written by black female writers, Sycorax’s Daughters and Black Magic Women as well as in Road Kill: Texas Horror from Texas Writers, Vol. 2, a volume of horror by Texas horror writers. My academic essays have also appeared in applauded collections, such as the Stoker award finalist Uncovering Stranger Things: Essays on Eighties Nostalgia, Cynicism and Innocence in the Series. My most recent essay appears in the collection The Streaming of Hill House: Essays on the Haunting Netflix Series. October’s Halloween issue of Southwest Review included a short story of mine and I also have a poem scheduled to be included in the upcoming HWA Poetry Showcase VII. It hasn’t always been easy working as a Black, female horror writer. There have been several times throughout the years where I promised myself I would just quit trying to bring the stories of Black women to the forefront of the genre. I do get tired of the lip service being paid to inclusivity and diversity, only to have publishers and editors revert back to the same old same. I get frustrated by the refusal of some within the genre to embrace the horrors of Black women as legitimate horrors that should be included within the horror genre. Then I realize I don’t know how to quit. I’ve literally been a writer and storyteller my whole life. It’s my calling and the gift I was given to use and not waste. My path may not be easy and I may never see complete and honest inclusion of Black women’s stories in the genre. But those writers who come after me will have their paths made easier because of my struggles and perseverance. My own journey hasn’t been nearly as hard as that of my predecessors and I thank them for fighting for all of us. As it stands, I’m continuing the fight. I’m here and I’m not going anywhere. I will continue to tell stories and research topics that center Black women. The biggest lessons I’ve learned in my career are to find your people, pay it forward, and never quit. Finding my own group of like-minded horror professionals has been critical in my development as an industry professional and to my mental health. These are kind and insightful people who want our genre to be a more inclusive place and when I work with them, I can maintain my sense of hope that this will come to pass. The pros I most admire are those who take every chance they can to pay their successes forward, to help those of us coming behind them to gain access to the opportunities that will help propel our careers forward. As an English professor, I aim to pay it forward in giving my students the agency they need to express themselves in the written form. I also help up and coming writers whenever I can, whether through just chatting or by pointing them to resources. We have to help each other. Nothing can be accomplished by quitting, so I’m glad I learned the biggest lesson early: you can change a path you’re following but you can’t change a path you haven’t even started.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
It probably goes without saying that if there were any type of literary or arts festivals or signing events happening, we’d be there, first. One of the next things I’d want to do is visit College Park Cemetery in Fourth Ward. I love cemeteries and the older, the better. Cemeteries are places where I can meditate and connect with the energies of Black pioneers who navigated this life before we did. Next, I’d go on a food tour through Third Ward, hitting up The Breakfast Klub and Reggae Hut for food. Because…food. I’d take a day to tour the Rice University campus, which has some of the most beautiful architecture in the city. Three days would be reserved for a museum crawl through the Museum District, starting with the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, the Holocaust Museum, and the Houston Museum of African American Culture. Our Saturday night spot would be Gloria’s Latin Cuisine. Not only is the food delicious but the restaurant turns into one of the best salsa spots in town on the weekends. I guess I’m all about the arts, the afterlife, and food.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I give all the shoutouts to my lifelong supporters, my mother, sister, and husband. They’ve always, unfailingly, supported me and my writing. My mother instilled a wealth of self-esteem in me and told me I could always be whatever I wanted to be. My sister is my biggest cheerleader, shouting my successes from the rooftops. My husband is my best sounding board and even when the stories sound really weird to him, he listens, and encourages me to put the darkness onto the pages.