Romance Fiction Open Forum: Thursday 6:00– 8:30pm
The program said, "The Romance Fiction Area Chairs, Eric Selinger and Darcy Martin, invite conference attendees to an open forum on romance fiction. We have in attendance a fascinating and eclectic group of romance writers writing in every genre of romance fiction, publishers of romance, romance scholars, and others interested in the genre participating in the panels. This Special Session affords attendees the opportunity to participate in an informal discussion of a variety of topics of interest to the attendees. Please join us."
We had a wonderful time. We got together in a circle rather than in "typical" panel format of a front table and audience chairs. We went around the circle, introducing ourselves, our interests in romance, our research/writing, and then we discussed what we thought the field of romance scholarship might need in the future to remain a thriving concern.
One highlight for me personally was meeting Lynn Coddington. Years ago, as a baby graduate student, I read Foucault's The History of Sexuality in a graduate seminar my first year of graduate school, and I wrote a paper on how his formulation of confession spoke to why popular romance fiction is so popular. Then in my second year of graduate school, I decided to write a paper on heroes who breast-feed from their heroines during the course of the novel. I wrote/posted to RRA-L and to AAR and asked all the readers and writers there to recommend books that have this scene in them and their response to the scene. I got many responses back, which was wonderful, and the paper, combined with my use of Foucault's theories, went on to be published as "'Expressing' Herself: Romance Novels and the Feminine Will to Power" in Scorned Literature. But one of the responses was an email each from Lynn and Jenny Crusie saying words to the effect of, "You're not alone, even though you feel like you might be. There are more academics who study romances out there than you might think. Keep at it." Lynn told me privately that they also emailed each other, speculating as to whether I was serious about studying romances positively. So it was doubly great to meet her, so that I could thank her for that long-ago encouragement and prove to her that I was serious about what I was doing and that I'm still doing it.
More generally, it was wonderful to see so many diverse interests coming together under the hat of academic criticism of popular romance fiction. We had writers and editors, graduate students and professors, librarians, teachers, and readers there. We discussed how to raise the reputation of romance novels, from trying to get librarians not to rely solely on donations for their romance collection, but to buy them outright, to going into libraries and book clubs and presenting on individual romances, as well as volunteering ourselves for high school teacher inservice days to talk about romances. We also speculated as to what the field of romance criticism needs, including more books (general introductions to the romance, books on individual authors, and on major issues like colonialism and race), awards (still slightly confused by that one), a journal dedicated to popular romance fiction, and more conferences, both within the US and internationally. People offered their services for contacts with authors, publishers, readers, and RWA. Finally, we discussed mentoring of graduate students, and Eric and I (Sarah) would both love to have it known that we would be very happy to be outside dissertation readers for US-based graduate students. Neither of us are (yet) at schools that have Ph.D. programs of their own, but we'd love to help as much as we can from the outside. In fact, another need that was discussed was the need for a graduate program that was "the place" for graduate students to go who were interested in doing Ph.D. work on romance novels, but that's mostly out of our hands.
Plans were made and reputations were ruined….no, no, we wouldn't do that. It was an affirming, fascinating conversation that continued through dinner at a fabulous Indian restaurant within walking distance of the hotel. I don't think anyone could have come out of that thinking that romance scholarship wasn't vibrant and exciting and set to take over the world!
- Frantz, Sarah S. G. "'Expressing' Herself: The Romance Novel and the Feminine Will to Power." Scorned Literature: Essays on the History and Criticism of Popular Mass-Produced Fiction in America. Eds. Lydia Cushman Schurman and Deidre Johnson. Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2002: 17-36.