In continuing its commitment to increasing diversity and inclusion within the organization and the romance industry, Romance Writers of America will hold its second Diversity Summit at the 2018 RWA Conference in Denver on Friday, July 20. The Summit is a meeting that gathers high-level publishing professionals, key contacts at major retailers, members of the RWA staff and Board, and selected committee and chapter leaders who are registered for the conference. A summary of the Summit will be provided to membership by August 6, 2018.Key speeches given during the conference were also indicative of the depth of the Board's commitment to "increasing diversity and inclusion".
The Diversity Summit will once again be moderated by 2016’s Librarian of the Year recipient Robin Bradford. We'll be discussing the results of a survey RWA commissioned from NPD Book focusing on the buying habits of readers across ethnicity, age, and sexual orientation, as well as revealing initiatives within RWA to promote inclusiveness within our own organization and the industry. We will be inviting publishers to share their ideas, in-house initiatives, and ways in which RWA can be a resource for them.
The 2018 Librarians Day Luncheon Keynote Speech from award-winning author Sonali Dev (this is an audio file) called for librarians to think about the voices which have been silenced and pledge to help them to be heard, because librarians have power when they make decisions about which books to order for their libraries.
This is really important. We hope our library and archives colleagues take the time to sit and listen and then use our enormous power to take action. https://t.co/07YqewLXPj— Browne Pop Culture Library @ BGSU (@BGSU_PopCultLib) 26 July 2018
LIBRARIANS!!!!! This amazing speech is for you. #CollectionDevelopment librarians, this is ESPECIALLY for you. https://t.co/En8EEoPnXL— Robin ⚾️🍹🎼📚 (@Tuphlos) 26 July 2018
From something Dev says in the speech, I think it was given after Suzanne Brockmann's Lifetime Achievement Award Speech (link to a transcript on Brockmann's website) in which Brockmann recounted how, at the very beginning of her career, she was asked by an editor to make a gay secondary character straight. She acquiesced, but vowed that in future she 'would not write books set in a world where gay people [...] were rendered invisible, [...] erased “because that’s just the way it was.”' Brockmann also referred to current US politics.
The video below is of the entire awards ceremony. The section relating to Brockmann begins at 45:35 minutes (Brockmann herself appears just after the 56 minute mark).
Lisa Lin relates that "During her speech, I saw some who did not appear to react well, and I have seen some negative reactions on social media". Lin is among the many authors who have responded online in support of Brockmann's speech. Nicki Salcedo's response includes examples of how her writing has been marginalised:
Much of the feedback on my books was related to race. There weren’t comments on plot or pacing. No issues with dialogue or themes. The feedback was:
“We don’t have an African-American imprint at this time…”
“Your manuscript might find a better home with [insert publisher of Black books in completely unrelated genre]…”
“Are your main characters Black?” [I pondered this for a long time before responding and decided to say yes. I did not get another response.]
“I find your main character completely unbelievable…” [She was Black from an affluent family]
“We don’t know where to shelve your book in the store…” [With fiction? Or maybe romance? Just a guess…Or somewhere near the Colored People’s water fountain?] [...]
and then there's this, about the different ways the same novel was treated when Salcedo
removed all references to race in the novel. I did not revise or alter my manuscript in any other substantive way. All I did was make the main character “not Black.”In 2012, that same manuscript became a Golden Heart Finalist. I wish I could say I was surprised. But I wasn’t.I submitted my manuscript for the final round of judging and included my characters as I intended. Black, brown, and white. At the RWA National Conference, I sat in an appointment with an editor from a Big 5 publisher. She was a final round judge for the Golden Heart Contest. “I read your manuscript,” she said. “I hated it.” This is a direct quote.
Individual contest judges who are biased would seem to be an ongoing problem. This year, for example, Alana Albertson reported that her inter-racial romance received a very low score for the ending:
Received my RITA scores. 1 "judge" gave my interracial romance, Invaluable, 2.9 out of 10, and checked no to the question— Alana Albertson (@AlanaAlbertson) 2 August 2018
Is the resolution of the romance emotionally satisfying and optimistic? The book ends with him proposing to her. Hmm #Rita #ritassowhite pic.twitter.com/hRpzWwSzMX
The RWA Board had already made changes to the rules governing the judging of the RITAs but these will only come into force next year:
RWA responded swiftly to concerns about this year's judging process with the following post:OK, this is the new RITA judging rules for next year. It contains a warning that judges can be asked to explain their scoring, and possible consequences of up to lifetime disqualification from the RITAs (and, one hopes, from judging as a PAN member also). pic.twitter.com/He36DNbqiU— KJ Charles (@kj_charles) 2 August 2018
RITA scores went out to entrants last night and we have heard the concerns of those who believe their entries were subject to biased judging. This year, one of the major focuses of the RWA Board has been to evaluate procedures for the RITA Contest in light of the existence of bias among some judges. This bias results in an unfair scoring of books representative of marginalized populations, and harms the integrity of the award. At the July board meeting, the Board passed a new policy that we hope will allow patterns of biased judging to be identified and for actions to be taken against those judges if deemed necessary. [...]
While these policies only apply to the 2019 contest and beyond, we can begin documenting judging patterns this year. If an entrant feels their submission was judged unfairly due to invidious discrimination against content, characters or authors, we ask that the entrant reply directly to the scoring email with this information. Deputy Executive Director Carol Ritter will review the complaint and will make a record of possible biased judging. These files will be carried over each year and if a pattern is identified, action can be taken as set out in policy.
It is the Board's goal to create a RITA Contest that allows for fair and equitable judging of all entries, and we hope the changes made put us on a path to that reality.