Professor Maisha Wester - 'Who's the Real Monster Here?: BLM Gothic and the Problem of Monstrosity' (Black History Lecture)

Tuesday 21 November 2023, 7:30pm to 8:30pm


The Lecture Theatre, The Storey, Lancaster, United Kingdom, LA11TH

Open to

All Lancaster University (non-partner) students, Alumni, Applicants, External Organisations, Families and young people, Postgraduates, Prospective International Students, Prospective Postgraduate Students, Prospective Undergraduate Students, Public, Staff, Undergraduates


Free to attend - registration required

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Event Details

Maisha Wester, British Academy Global Professor at the University of Sheffield and Associate Professor at Indiana University, reflects on the relationship between monstrosity and Blackness in gothic literature and horror film.

What is a monster? How does one become a monster? What does it mean to be a monster? These are questions which Black American Gothic fiction have posed since pro-slavery advocates marked any struggle for Black liberation as a nightmare, and which Black films have posed since DW Griffith first positioned African Americans as grotesque, country-destroying, homewrecking, raping creatures in Birth of a Nation (1915). Black Gothic literature and Horror film within the last decade remind us that the genre’s meditations on monstrosity are more than philosophical or aesthetic. In a country governed by a document declaring men’s equality and right to freedom amongst an enslaved Black population, Black Horror’s meditations assume profound ramifications as Blacks were and continue to be defined as not-men, abhuman, other…. monster.

This talk will explore the ways Black Lives Matter Gothic Literature and Horror films contemplate turns to monstrosity by overly human(e) Black protagonists, positing these embraces as inevitable though horrifying. A form of what Dawn Keetley identifies as “progressive horror” these texts also sit beyond the limits of what Natalie Wilson terms “willful monstrosity”. Already positioned as monster, the embrace is a literal, logical response to being consistently ignored and disenfranchised for generations by a country that refuses to recognize you as human much less citizen. Yet the turns to monstrosity are mourned, even as they are inevitable. The literature and films ultimately ask what does it mean or matter if you’re called a creature by a truly horrifying society in the business of creating monsters?


Dr Maisha Wester is a British Academy Global Professor at the University of Sheffield in the School of English. She is also an associate professor of American Studies, and African Diaspora Studies. Her research focuses on racial depictions in Gothic literature and Horror Film, and on the ways Horror tropes are used in social and political discussions to dehumanize people of color. Her current project explores the long, contradictory and horrifying history of anti-Blackness. She is author of African American Gothic: Screams from Shadowed Places as well as numerous essays and articles including "The Gothic Origins of Anti-Blackness: Genre Tropes in Nineteenth-Century Moral Panics and (Abject) Folk Devils" published in the journal Gothic Studies; “Learning How to Read: Lovecraft Country’s Literary and Historical Interventions” published in Post45; and “The Gothic in and as Race Theory” in The Gothic and Theory: An Edinburgh Companion. She has also written and directed a short film titled Hegira. She has provided a number of interviews for film and television, including Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched released by Severin Films and Wonderland: Gothic debuting on SkyArts November 21.

Wester is currently finishing a minigraph on Black Lives Matter Gothic Fiction. She is also at work building a computer game which will reveal the contradictory ideologies of anti-Blackness, their history, and the horrors they produce. The game will be publicly available for free in 2025. Lastly, she is organizing a Summer Institute called Gothic Futures to be hosted at the University of Sheffield. The week-long Summer school aims to explore scholarship on socioeconomic and racial diversity in the Gothic, and will feature a variety of seminars and keynotes on the topic, including a creative seminar on the Art of Horror Poetry as well as a seminar on Indian Gothic, and Keynotes on Disability in/ and the Gothic, and Decolonizing the Gothic. The Summer Institute runs from July 8-12, 2024.


Professor Maisha Wester

University of Sheffield


Contact Details

Name Catherine Spooner