A month of sci-fi, fantasy, gothic, and horror begins with two stories from W.E.B. Du Bois’s 1920 collection Darkwater: Voices from within the Veil. Du Bois (1868–1963) is one of the outstanding figures of American literature in the first half of the 20th century, and a prominent voice on African American issues. Du Bois was also an advocate for feminism, and believed that capitalism contributed to the perpetuation of racism. (Listeners are advised that this episode contains the repeated use of a racial epithet as it appears in Du Bois’s stories.)
Du Bois’s race allegory “The Princess of the Hither Isles” is narrated by Heather Perry, with Frank Buczolich as the King and Berklea Going as the Princess.
Lauren Robert reads “The Comet,” an unusual early example of African American sci fi. The story is introduced by actual news reports from the New York Times, May 1910, about fears preceding Halley’s Comet. Du Bois seems to have been influenced by how white mainstream news media portrayed white women and the black community as reacting to the comet. Doug Storm is the reporter for “Southern Negroes in a Comet Frenzy,” with Joe Crawford as the reporter for “Chicago Is Terrified: Women Are Stopping Up Doors and Windows to Keep Out Cyanogen,” featuring Maria McKinley as the housewife and Jack Hanek as the psychiatrist.
The post-apocalyptic setting of “The Comet” allows Du Bois to explore a world without racial barriers in which a black man and white woman might be the last two people on earth. Music for “The Comet” comes from William Grant Still’s Suite for Violin and Piano performed by Lynn Chang and Vivian Taylor on the album Works of William Grant Still (Videmus, 1990). The music of African American composer Still (1898–1978) was admired by Du Bois. Special thanks to Community Access Television Services for production support on “The Comet.”
In a web extra, Berklea Going reads “One Girl of Many” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, whose views on feminism were cited by Du Bois in his Darkwater essay “The Damnation of Women.” A story by Gilman, best known as the author of the gothic feminist classic “The Yellow Wallpaper,” will be featured in the second part of the series. Gilman’s poem is about the social cruelties and hypocrisies surrounding—in Du Bois’s phrase—“the white wraith of the prostitute.” The sexual double standard for men and women was especially intense in interracial relations, and Du Bois’s vision of interracial love as expressing hope for the future is in part a reaction to the 19th-century horror of miscegenation found often in American gothic.
“American Girls Horror Stories” is produced, written and edited by Cynthia Wolfe. Production assistant is Heather Perry. Guest host and announcer for the month are Joan Hawkins and Frank Buczolich. Special music for the series is from the album Saxophone con Forza (Phono Suecia, 1999), by Jörgen Pettersson and guests. Break music for this episode comes from Ethel Waters, “I’ve Found a New Baby” (1926), and Mamie Smith, “Crazy Blues” (1920).
Executive producer: Joe Crawford
Theme music: The Impossible Shapes.