Vivian Stephens Helped Turn Romance Writing Into a Billion-Dollar Industry. Then She Got Pushed Out. https://t.co/SI9xxoVbbQ— mimi swartz (@mimiswartz) August 19, 2020
There's a fascinating article in the Texas Monthly, by Mimi Swartz, about Vivian Stephens, a ground-breaking romance editor.
Candlelight Ecstasies are obviously, genuinely, radically different than other category romances of the period. So seeing her talk about why that was, and the fact that it was a deliberate choice, is fascinating. Even now, 40 years later, it's impossible to miss the shift.— Elisabeth Lane (@elisabethjlane) August 19, 2020
Stephens was also one of the founders of the RWA and the article discusses the differing visions for the RWA which led to a parting of the ways. A few years ago, the RWA leadership apparently again failed to listen to her; if they had, they might have avoided the 2020 racism implosion. And now the RWA is naming their main award after her.
A horrifying detail which emerged as a result of the publication of this article is that the account given by staff to Courtney Milan of a conversation they had with Stephens is diametrically opposed to what Stephens herself told Swartz. The conversation took place
in March 2016. She is at lunch at a white-tablecloth restaurant in Houston’s Museum District with three white women: two members of the RWA’s executive staff and the then president of the organization, Diane Kelly. Everyone has their hands in their laps, and some kind of ice cream and pastry dessert sits in front of each of them. Despite their smiles, the party looks a little stressed.
At that time, the racism roiling within the organization had not yet burst into public view. Stephens, who had mostly lived the life of a retiree since moving back to town, usually met with the RWA executive staff once a year or so, and the meetings were typically friendly, full of small talk. But during this lunch, Stephens told the women that she could see trouble was coming, and she had brought along the RWA magazine that featured photos of all the RITA winners, none of whom were Black, as a visual aid.
“Well, what do they want?” Stephens recalled one of the women asking.
“The same as you,” was her retort.
My aside: I was on the Board when this conversation happened, and was told about it afterwards. This is absolutely not what was conveyed to me by the white participants in the conversation.
I was told that Vivian Stephens did not think I should be speaking up about racism. [...] I know they often heard...different things than what was said, which then had to be resaid along with assurances that no, I didn’t think they were racist, but... Just to be clear: they conveyed to me that Vivian Stephens thought I was white. They said Vivian Stephens specifically referenced this blogpost and thought I should not be speaking.
Allison Kelley is the person who told me this. Carol Ritter was also at that meeting. Those are the two unnamed staff not mentioned, but I’m thinking we could already guess that.
And Alyssa Cole's response sums up my response too:
I'm so sorry. I thought I couldn't be shocked anymore and maybe I shouldn't be, but this is extra evil.— Alyssa!!! Cole (@AlyssaColeLit) August 19, 2020