library of books with statue busts

Writing Playlist: Dark Academia

Prestigious, exclusive universities. Quads and old gothic buildings scattered with autumn’s first fallen leaves. Dimly lit libraries filled with hidden corners, studying or sleeping students, perhaps an unknown special collections room. Secret societies, strange restrictions…murder. This is dark academia.

Dark academia as a genre has enjoyed a boost in popularity these last few years. I recently finished Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas, and it captured everything I love about the genre. If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio is next on my reading list. I tried to think of why I’m drawn to this genre the way so many others are, and I think it comes down to a recapture or idealized version of the college experience, whether you’ve personally experienced it or not.

I attended WIU for a year right out of high school, and although it was not a good year for me mentally, I still have fond memories of living in the dorms and wandering the old buildings that housed my courses. It was a very isolated university in a superbly small town, so it easily felt like you were cut off from the rest of the world, and the only world you had was the university. When I switched to a community college after moving back home, I spent weekends at U of I Champaign, where my best friend attended, and walked all over campus with her. I completed my undergrad as a commuter and crammed all of my classes into two days a week, where I’d either stay all day or all evening, reading in the library between classes and having study sessions with my English lit classmates. Those last two years of my English literature concentration were the first years of my life where I felt most like myself, around people who loved books as much as I did. It was empowering, and although I exhausted myself every semester with my course loads, I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

I understand the desire to romanticize and mystify the university experience, especially at the more “unattainable” level of Ivy League or boarding schools. Since so many students were not able to enjoy that aspect of the college experience during the pandemic, turning to dark academia to capture some of that in fiction makes perfect sense. Even if murder, mystery, and mayhem are also found within those pages.

Allow me to help enrich the dark academia experience for you. Whether you’re immersing yourself in a book, or writing your own dark academia novel, give this playlist a listen to really put you on that campus, walking those hallowed halls, pulling an all nighter at the library, and discovering secret parts of the university where students aren’t meant to go.