WiHM 2023: The Top 10 Women in Horror: A List of Pioneers and Innovators in the Genre

The Top 10 Women in Horror: A List of Pioneers and Innovators in the Genre

By Megan Taylor


Before we begin, a disclaimer – clearly, lists like this are subjective, and as you’ll see, my definition of Horror includes literary takes on ghosts and Gothic fiction in addition to celebrating more traditional monsters. I’m excited by writing that blurs genre boundaries and that expands Horror’s bloody beating heart to make readers think as well as shudder (though the shuddering’s also vital).


Narrowing this list down to just 10 women has been tough – there’s so much incredible talent out there – and I’d like to apologise too. I’ll undoubtedly be privately wrangling for days over the amazing authors I’ve missed out, particularly when it comes to the contemporary writers who kick off my list. With more space, I’d have added Catriona Ward, who has been entertaining and innovating since her novel, Rawblood, was first published in 2015, and Alison Moore for her elegant and devastating uncanny short stories. In fact, there are so many great women playing with different types of Horror right now (Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Chelsea G. Summers, Daisy Johnson, Tananarive Due, Tracy Fahey, Kirsty Logan, Lucie McKnight Hardy, Ally Wilkes and.. and…and…) that I probably can’t say sorry enough – except this list isn’t about my guilt but your dark reading pleasure. So, without any further apologies or excuses…


1. Mariana Enriquez

With her collections, The Things We Lost in the Fire and The Dangers of Smoking in Bed, Enriquez offers a unique insight into a shadowy Argentinian underworld of undead houses and political atrocities and frightened and frightening teenage girls. Her short stories are genuinely terrifying, and I’m currently a third of the way into her novel, Our Share of the Night, which I came to with high expectations, and so far, it hasn’t disappointed.


2. Julia Armfield

After falling for Armfield’s unsettling Wendigo in Best British Short Stories 2021, edited by Nicholas Royle, I very much enjoyed her superbly strange collection, Salt Slow, before being totally blown away by her debut novel, Our Wives Under the Sea, in which love and loss are perceptively, painstakingly dissected alongside some very creepy body horror and unfathomable dark depths.


3. Joyce Carol Oates

An unstoppable genius, Joyce Carol Oates is a writer unafraid to break through genre barriers. Heaped with literary awards, she’s also adept when it comes to thrillers, Gothic and Horror. I’d especially recommend her novel, Zombie, and her collection, Small Avalanches, which, though marketed as YA, contains some of the most disturbing short stories I’ve ever read.


4. Kelly Link

The excitement I felt discovering Link’s stories reminded me of my reaction when I first read Angela Carter’s dark feminist twists on fairy tales in The Bloody Chamber, though Link’s voice, of course, is wholly her own – truly weird and truly wonderful. If you haven’t read Link before, it might be good to start with another supposedly YA collection, Pretty Monsters, which includes The Wrong Grave, Monster, and the spectacular The Specialist’s Hat.


5. Sarah Waters

Waters amazed everyone with her rollicking lesbian take on The Woman in White, The Fingersmith, but I’m including her here for her spooky novel, Affinity, and especially for the incredible haunted house that forms the heart of The Little Stranger. An expert example of unsettling ambiguity, The Little Stranger explores the lingering shadows of an antiquated class system. Class, like grand old buildings, festers and corrupts.


6. Anne Rice

When Anne Rice died in 2021, the horror community mourned. I’ll never forget reading Interview with the Vampire as a teenager, and then rushing on to The Vampire Lestat and Queen of the Damned. With her Chronicles, Rice honed and remade a classic monster. Seducing mainstream readers, no vampires had been that irresistible since Dracula swept off the boat.


7. Toni Morrison

Perhaps more than Oates, you might not expect to find Morrison on a list like this, but her haunting, harrowing depiction of slavery and its terrible inheritance, Beloved, is such a perfect example of Twentieth Century Gothic. A Pulitzer Prize winner, it’s one of the most powerful ghost stories I’ve read, and it’s also (obviously) beautifully written.


8. Shirley Jackson

Along with so many others, I have a loyalty to Jackson that verges on true love. Her unnerving short stories are always layered and often slyly laced with wit, and when I read The Haunting of Hill House for the first time, it felt like a revelation. While I was immersed in Eleanor’s head, I found myself repeatedly checking for strange shapes over my shoulder and in the corners of my room.


9. Daphne du Maurier

Like Jackson’s Hill House, Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca is a novel I’ve returned to again and again. Some readers may argue that it’s not a true ghost story, but it’s definitely about being haunted, and its atmospheric spell is difficult to beat. Du Maurier’s short stories also provide their own particular shivers. As fabulous as Don’t Look Now and The Birds are on screen, it’s well worth seeking out their origins, along with other gems like The Blue Lenses and The Apple Tree.


10. Mary Shelley

What is there to say about the woman who gave birth to Frankenstein and his monster that hasn’t already been said? Like Ann Radcliffe*, Shelley’s a true pioneer. Groundbreakingly imaginative and including so many unforgettable scenes, Frankenstein will never age. It’s always a joy to reread.


*Actually Shelley’s writing is obviously very different from Radcliffe’s prose with its brooding villains and castles, but I’d reached number 10, and like Angela Carter, I had to sneak her in – how could I not when Radcliffe helped to define Gothic as a genre?

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