The Romance Writers of America have awarded this year's academic research grant to both Conseula Francis and Pamela Regis. I asked them if they could share a few details about the projects for which they'd been awarded the grants and they very kindly agreed. Conseula is
working on female pleasure and sexual agency in contemporary African American romance and erotica. In African American literary criticism there's a great deal of attention paid to the ways that black female sexuality has been historically pathologized and commodified. We lament the lack of counternarratives to that image of black womanhood. Lisa Gail Collins praises one contemporary poet for opening a "space for the public celebration of black girlhood and womanhood. By sharing with black girls and women our own beauty, desire, and style, Morris gives pleasure: the uncommon pleasure for black women of knowing that it's all about you." I would argue that this pleasure Collins speaks of is not, in fact, uncommon. Critics regularly bemoan the dearth of cultural spaces where black women are celebrated and lament the paucity of opportunity for black women to speak themselves. In truth, though, contemporary African American romance and erotica regularly and consistently provide such a space, even if it is a largely critically ignored one. Contemporary African American romance and erotica is always all about black women, about their pleasure and beauty and desire. I find that fact fascinating, powerful, and liberating.Pam is working on
I'm working on two specific articles, one on black female pleasure (in all its manifestations) as a means to and marker of freedom in Beverly Jenkins' historicals and the other on Zane's war on black respectability in her Dr. Marcella Spenser novels.
The American Romance Novel, 1742 to the Present, a book-length history of romance novels written by American authors. In this volume I will approach the romance novel as a literary historian and genre critic, guided by the definition established in my Natural History of the Romance Novel (2003), namely, “A romance novel is a work of prose fiction that tells the story of the courtship and betrothal of one or more heroines” (14). In my presentation at the Princeton conference, Romance as the Practice of Freedom?, I deleted the too-narrow “heroine” in this definition and inserted in its stead the gender-neutral “protagonist” in recognition of the deployment of the form by authors depicting m/m, f/f, and ménage courtships. This inclusive language does not change the fact that the majority of romance novels, past and present, do indeed have a heroine courted by and eventually betrothed to a hero, and that the relationship between them is the focus of most works in the genre since its beginnings in the eighteenth century.I'd like to congratulate Conseula and Pam, and I'm very much looking forward to reading the finished products of their research.
My approach to the study of romance, which stems from this definition, looks beyond the much-discussed business of publishing and marketing romances and beyond ethnographic considerations of romance readers, to focus on the novels as literature. I deploy traditional tools of literary analysis not only to understand individual romance novels, but also to arrive at generalizations about the genre as a whole. . . .My career-long project, which began with A Natural History of the Romance Novel, is to define, analyze, and write the history of the genre based on as synoptic a knowledge of the entire history of the novel as I can muster. The romance is a world-wide phenomenon, but I would argue that American romance holds a place near the center of the genre’s concerns, and its history deserves a separate treatment. I wish to write that history.
The proposed project will involve first identifying the novels of American authors that contain the eight elements of the romance novel laid out in my earlier book. From this will emerge the first identification of America’s national canon of romance. Analysis of these novels with an eye to identifying the essential components of an American romance, which is to say, those characteristics that the author’s nationality and its attendant culture imbue it with, will define our romance tradition.