Tuesday, March 25, 2008

PCA 2008: Romance III

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.


  1. Thank you so, so much for posting about the conference--I am still working my way through, and every paper sounds fascinating.

  2. I find all the academic discussion very exciting and encouraging. Keep it up!

  3. Thank you so much for posting these summaries, Sarah! It's a great way to relive the conference and remember all the papers :-) While I enjoyed all the panels, I must say the Open Forum was a particularly nice one. It was great to informally meet and hear what everybody is doing and where the field as a whole is at. So Eric and Darcy (or whoever had the idea originally), well done! I hope this is going to be part of our area every year :-)

  4. It was Darcy, An, and I completely agree: this was a highlight of the conference, and should certainly be a recurring feature. It also seems to have spread the word about us as a group--I noticed a lot of new faces attending the subsequent panels, and although part of that may have been the sexy topics, I suspect that part was also just the sense that this was a field in which exciting things were happening. Several people who'd given papers for other areas said to me that they wished they'd submitted their work to us. A lovely change from just two years ago!

  5. Wow, the summaries made me wish I had known about it, and I would be able to go! It's so exciting to read all the different work being done and how passionate everyone sounds. Thank you so much for summarizing that for us.