Getting Her Due
Tananarive Due (J87) combines the African American experience with gripping, horrific tales in her books.
A drawer brimming with rejection slips reminds Tananarive Due (J87) that her journey to literary fame was far from easy. For years she wrote features and a nationally syndicated dating column for the Miami Herald, generating short stories in her free time. Yet she never felt fully satisfied until she began writing horror fiction full-time.
Since then her most famous book, My Soul to Keep (HarperCollins, 1997), was named one of Publisher's Weekly's "Best Novels of the Year" and is being made into an independent film directed by City of Angels star Blair Underwood. Other acclaimed novels include The Living Blood (Pocket Books, 2001), The Black Rose (Ballantine Books, 2001) and The Between: A Novel (HarperCollins, 1996). Due has twice been nominated for awards from the Horror Writers Association, was nominated for the NAACP Image Award and was profiled in a "Women and Horror" segment on the SciFi Channel.
Raised in Miami, Due made her literary debut at the age of 4 with a picture book carrying the amusingly misspelled title Babby Bobby. "I already thought of myself as an author-to-be," she says. Ten years later, she completed what she considers her most important piece of writing "I Want to Live," a poetic essay inspired by the Miami police killing of Arthur McDuffie. Her mother, a civil rights activist, is one of Due's role models.
After attending Northwestern's summer Cherub program in 1982, Due chose the University for her undergraduate studies. "It was at Northwestern that I began to gel," she says. "In the end Medill was a great asset."
Many of her fondest memories took place in the Communications Residential College, where she lived all four years. Within its walls she helped start a dorm radio station and wrote several short stories, including one that later inspired My Soul to Keep.
After graduation Due attended the University of Leeds in England as a Rotary Foundation Scholar and studied Nigerian literature. She then returned to Miami and became a staffer at the Herald, where she wrote an article that was part of a Pulitzer Prizewinning series on Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
In the wake of such death and devastation, Due needed to vent and found that writing about the supernatural helped her relax. "[It] allows me to process my own fears about the unknown and what is going to happen tomorrow," she says. But entering this genre produced a new set of concerns as she noticed the lack of respect horror writers face. "I had always loved the supernatural, but I was much more interested in being respected than in being popular," Due says.
Nonetheless, these worries did not deter her, and she eventually sold The Between. After meeting and marrying writer Steven Barnes, Due moved to Longview, Wash., in 1998 and started writing full-time.
"Due is part of a new crop of African American writers of speculative fiction," says Alex Weheliye, an assistant professor of English at Northwestern. "She fuses traditional topics of the supernatural horror genre with specific references to African American and African culture and history."
Ultimately Due attributes her success to perseverance. "There's no magic formula for success where somebody picks a number and it happens to be you. If you want to be chosen, you have to put your number in and keep it there," she says.
Jennifer Su (J03)