In horror anthology ‘Never Whistle at Night,’ Indigenous authors explore the unsettling

two authors
Editors Shane Hawk and Ted Van Alst compiled an Indigenous horror anthology, “Never Whistle at Night.” (Photos courtesy of Shane Hawk and Ted Van Alst)

It started with a tweet asking when the world would get a collection of horror stories by Indigenous writers.

Authors Ted Van Alst and Shane Hawk answered the call — and soon found themselves with over a hundred submissions from new and established writers.

Van Alst and Hawk are the Indigenous editors of “Never Whistle at Night,” published in September by Penguin Random House. KTOO’s Yvonne Krumrey spoke with them about the instability at the heart of the horror genre, and how Indigenous authors have used that to tell their stories.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Shane Hawk: I mean, at first, it was merely a tweet. And they basically said, “Hey, when are we going to get an Indigenous horror anthology? You know, it’s time.” And so we were just kind of going back and forth. I think Ted came across it first. And we’re kind of like mulling it over — who’s going to step up and make this cool, new thing? 

I don’t think either of us thought it was really going to be us at first, we’re just kind of looking around. And slowly, but surely, it kind of came together by just asking other Indigenous writers if they’d be interested in the idea — behind the scenes, in DMs and emails — and just everyone kept saying yes.

Yvonne Krumrey: What does horror mean in the Indigenous context?

Ted Van Alst: I did an interview talking about horror and why horror and what. Because I think, because the foundations of horror are inherently unstable, and I think the lives of folks post-contact — if that’s what we want to call it — have a lot of instability. There’s a lot of, you know, on the other side of settling, there’s a lot of unsettling and how people respond to that. 

So, this sort of post-apocalypse that we’re living in lends itself to those ideas, and how do you express those? And they’re horrific, right? But how do you deal with them? Do you deal with them in humorous ways? Do you deal with them in really graphic ways? And I think that this collection reflects a real broad spectrum of how folks deal with horror, how folks project horror, or what that looks like.  

Shane Hawk: The basis of horror is kind of like being able to peek in vicariously into this kind of safe playground of, okay, these people are going to be placed into an awful situation, and we’re going to see how it plays out. And speaking about the post-apocalyptic part, I think what’s somewhat different about Indigenous horror is that the people aren’t necessarily placed into horrible situations. The horror is kind of already sinking in, intergenerationally.

I don’t know, it’s been very interesting reading all these stories and seeing how we all, in some ways, we have shared histories, we have shared experiences. But then there’s just a beautiful diversity to how we handle it. You can make something really beautiful, that really engages with the reader, whether they’re Native or non-Native.

Yvonne Krumrey: Can I ask a little bit about how the process of this anthology and gathering these stories happened? Were these all stories that were not published before this anthology?

Shane Hawk: They’re all original. That was one of our major stipulations for contracts that we sent out to people. There are 12 established names in here and 12 new voices. And then there’s Ted and me. And so it was a nice, even split between the two. It was very important for us. Our main mission was to increase the number of people writing Indigenous horror. And I think our open call kind of sparked that. 

It was July 27, 2021, and we gave people until November 1, 2021. And basically, it was just Ted and I sharing out the link on all the social platforms saying, “Hey, if you’re an Indigenous writer — maybe if you’re not a writer, and you want to try — send us your best story.” And it was a really fun process, really hard to really break it down because we had to say no to so many terrific stories. That’s why we’re hoping that there’s a volume two, volume three, volume 27. Keep it going forever.

Yvonne Krumrey: How many stories did you get from the open call?

Shane Hawk: We got over 100. I think it was like 105 or so.

Yvonne Krumrey: I even noticed in the first ones I got to read, the interesting blend of so many different ways to tell stories and ways to tell horror from more historical, you know, mid-19th century Alaska as it’s being actively colonized by industries. And then stories that are set now in modern Texas suburbia. And I’m wondering, what themes did you not expect to see that rose out of these stories?

Ted Van Alst: There’s everything you know, haunted people, haunted houses. There’s monsters and monstrous people. And there are themes and concepts throughout. But I think it’s important to remember, it’s not an ethnography, you know. It says Indigenous dark fiction.

KTOO is our partner public media station in Juneau. Alaska Public Media collaborates with partners statewide to cover Alaska news.

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