Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Conference Cancellations, a new RWA Board in a time of crisis, and Some Secondary Reading

The RWA has a new board (details archived here).

All the upcoming romance conferences have now been postponed (links to details on the conference page).

Below is a list of items I would have added to the Romance Wiki's bibliography of romance scholarship except it's no longer online. If you can read Greek, Portuguese and/or Turkish, you'll be able to understand much more of some of these than I could:

Al Thobaiti, Fatmah, 2019. "Afterlife of the Romance Hero: Readers’ Reproduction of Romance." Journal of Popular Romance Studies 8.

Chen, Eva, 2019. ‘“The Hate that Changed”: Cycling Romance and the Aestheticization of Women Cyclists’, Victorian Periodicals Review 52.3, pp. 489-517.

Choyke, Kelly, 2019. "The Power of Popular Romance Culture: Community, Fandom, and Sexual Politics ." PhD Thesis. Ohio University, 2019. [Not available in full until January 2021 but the abstract's here.]

Day, Sara K., 2020. "Reimagining Forever...: The Marriage Plot in Recent Young Adult Literature." Beyond the Blockbusters: Themes and Trends in Contemporary Young Adult Fiction. Ed. Rebekah Fitzsimmons and Casey Alane Wilson. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. 156-170.

Erekli, Arzu, 2006. Medeni ya da müslüman: popüler aşk romanlarında Feyza olmak, Yayınlanmamış Yüksek Lisans Tezi, Bilkent University, Ankara.

Fletcher, Lisa, Jodi McAlister, Kurt Temple and Kathleen Williams, 2019. “#loveyourshelfie: Mills & Boon books and how to find them.” Mémoires du livre / Studies in Book Culture 11.1. https://doi.org/10.7202/1066945ar

Fresno-Calleja, Paloma, 2020. "Chick-Lit Pasifika-Style or How to B(l)end the Formula: Lani Young’s Scarlet Series." Contemporary Women's Writing. https://doi.org/10.1093/cww/vpaa003

Jones, Amanda. “Madness, Monks and Mutiny: Neo-Victorianism in the Works of Victoria Holt”, Neo-Victorian Studies 12.1 (2019): 1-27.

Kendal, Evie, 2019. “The Use of Free Indirect Discourse in J. R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood Series.” Colloquy: Text, Theory, Critique 38: 20–43. https://doi.org/10.26180/5df1974e1cb20
Kapell, Matthew, and Suzanne Becker, 2005. "Patriarchy, the Christian Romance Novel, and the 'Ecosystem of Sex'." Popular Culture Review 16.1: 147-155. [I may have mentioned this before, but it's now available online]
Lawrence, E. E., 2020. "On the problem of oppressive tastes in the public library", Journal of Documentation, Online First. https://doi.org/10.1108/JD-01-2020-0002 
Neves, Mariana Brasileiro, 2014. ROMANCES DE BOLSO: A novela romântica da Harlequin Books no mercado editorial brasileiro, Bacharelado, Universidade Católica de Pernambuco.
Nikbakht, H., 2019. Female Agency in the Harlequin Romance Formula: developments within the timeframe of second wave feminism. Bachelor's thesis. Utrecht University.
Taylor, Jessica, 2018. “Flexible Nations: Canadian Romance Writers, American Romance, and the Romance of Canada.” Reading between the Borderlines: Cultural Production and Consumption across the 49th Parallel, edited by Gillian Roberts. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press: 199–222.

Villar-Argáiz, Pilar 2018: “Ireland and the Popular Genre of Historical Romance: The Novels of Karen Robards”, ABEI: Brazilian Journal of Irish Studies 20.2: 97-109.

And for anyone who can read Greek, a masters thesis by Ρωξάνη Γραφανάκη called Γυναίκες και ροζ λογοτεχνία: η περίπτωση των εκδόσεων Άρλεκιν and available from here.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

State of Diversity Report 2019 out now!

The Ripped Bodice's report on "the state of racial diversity in romance publishing" for 2019 has now been published.

Harlequin as a whole isn't doing particularly well, with low proportions and falls in all imprints except for Carina, which came second overall in the table with 20.7% of publications by authors who were "people of color". Kensington came top with 27.5%.

Bethany House has consistently had 0% now for four years in a row, and Tule Publishing only rose above 0% in 2018.

See the report for full details, including breakdowns by publisher.

Renee Dahlia adds some context:
this is a USA based study, and the results should be compared to the USA general population. According to census data, the USA population is 60.4% White, 18.3% Hispanic or Latino, 13.4% Black, 5.9% Asian, 2.7% Biracial, 1.3% Native American, and 0.2% Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander.
If romance publishing in America was equal, we’d see figures similar to this in the Ripped Bodice study. However, we don’t.
Indeed we don't. The figure for all romance authors of color in 2019 is only 8.3%.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

RWA Committee was horrified by swearwords (but not, presumably, by racism)

The RWA has now released the independent audit into the situation surrounding the complaints made by Tisdale and Davis: https://www.rwa.org/Online/News/2020/Audit_Documents.aspx
[Archived here, with pdf report and supplementary documents in zip files (1), (2), (3).

Note that the report contains a report of words spoken by Damon Suede which, Corey Alexander warns, require a content warning for sexual harassment.

I will therefore add a content warning before the section containing this language.]

Here's some early reaction to the report:

[That's from Bree (half of the Kit Rocha writing duo), and for the sake of avoiding any confusion, Bree is using the word "drugs" here to refer to medication.]

The section of the report of which Bree has taken a screenshot says:
The Committee did not engage in discussion of whether Ms. Milan’s social media posts were racially motivated or otherwise discriminatory. The Ethics Committee Chair told Pillsbury that the Committee members “really focused on the attack itself” and “the specific language that [Ms. Milan] used,” including the use of swear words. That the attack used inflammatory language against members of RWA was what Committee members found the most compelling. The Ethics Committee Chair said that, if Ms. Milan had more calmly and in less “incendiary” fashion expressed her opinion that certain conduct or a novel was racist, that would likely have resulted in a different decision by the Committee: “I think that probably would have cast it very differently, the language itself was so incendiary, it was so problematic, so horrible. It was considered a very horrific thing to go after another member of RWA’s publishing house, and the reputation of RWA would suffer probably as much as anything else.”  The Committee did not regard the tone of Ms. Milan’s comments as “safe and respectful” for a community of writers.
It seems some RWA members would probably consider other members' books to be full of horrible words.

If you yourself are offended by the use of swear-words, please do not read on (but this is not the section that requires a content warning):

The "incendiary" words used were "fuck" and "shit," which are hardly uncommon in romance novels. That nothing more "incendiary" was tweeted is evident from the report, which summarises Milan's use of swearwords as follows:
Ms. Milan also posted a series of tweets about a novel by RWA member and author Kathryn Lynn Davis, who is also an acquisition editor at Glenfinnan Publishing:
  • Okay, so you know how Glenfinnan publishing has two editors listed [on its webpage]? And we’ve been talking about Sue Grimshaw. Someone sent me a link to a book written by the other editor, Kathryn Lynn Davis, and is a fucking racist mess.
Ms. Milan posted an image of the cover of Ms. Davis’s novel Somewhere Lies The Moon, stating, “Here’s the book. I didn’t finish the sample. I didn’t need to. This book is like a bingo card of OH GOD DID YOU REALLY.” Ms. Milan stated that the “heroine ... is the obligatory blue-eyed half-Chinese woman” and went on to post a series of screenshots of passages from the novel that she characterized as examples of “standard racist trope[s].” Ms. Milan provided mocking commentary on the excerpted passages (e.g., “did you know that Chinese people don’t touch? Not even friends and sisters. It’s impolite you know”). She then wrote:
  • As a half-Chinese person with brown eyes, seriously fuck this piece of shit.... I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: Don’t write books about how much a culture not your own sucks. Just don’t. You’re not going to get it right and you’re going to sound like a fucking racist.... 
  • Also, I dragged that book not to be mean, but because people writing shit like that gets women like me assaulted and harassed.
It does not appear from this report that the Ethics Committee at any point stopped to consider whether Davis's novel was "problematic" or "horrible" or whether it could have (as Milan stated) a negative effect on RWA members such as Milan herself. Should this not have been considered at very least a mitigating factor even if the use of the words "fuck" and "shit" can be considered "incendiary"?

The section requiring a content warning is below.

CW: for language relating to sexual harassment.

Furthermore, as demonstrated by this tweet from Zoe York, it seems the truly inflammatory language contained in the report was produced by Damon Suede.

As noted in the report, when the RWA Board met to consider the recommendations of the Ethics Committee with regards to sanctioning Courtney Milan,
From the start of the meeting, many members asked for more specifics from the Ethics Committee discussion and specifics from the evidence.
Details were not forthcoming, but Suede did find himself able to provide a general picture which, firstly suggested that Milan had done far more than simply tweet, and then equated her behaviour with a situation of sexual abuse in the workplace:

Mr. Suede stated that the decision had involved more than tweets seen publicly. He checked with Ms. Ritter about what he could say, and she suggested he keep the explanation general.

Mr. Suede told Pillsbury how he described the information to the Board:
  • I explained that the ethics panel had reviewed material that wasn’t visible online, and that private communication had played a factor. [One Board member] asked again if this evidence involved discussion that wasn’t held in public on social media. I confirmed that was so. I also pointed out that the panel had expressed repeatedly a strong hope that the Board would deal with the social media loophole because that exception in the harassment policy had left their hands tied; [the Committee] stated plainly multiple times that Milan’s behavior was so abusive and egregious that any professional organization should have policy in place to protect members, especially from its leaders. I pointed the directors to that explicit concern in the report.
  • I spoke in generality about the discussion and the panel’s concerns about a “hostile workplace.” [Board members] asked me to explain the logic of the ruling and I compared it to coming into an office where you are threatened, harassed, and attacked every day by people in authority.
Several Board members told Pillsbury that Mr. Suede stated that Ms. Milan’s behavior was analogous to a boss repeatedly “whipping his penis out.”
I'll refrain from swearing and just conclude calmly, and in a non-incendiary fashion, that Suede's language here was so misleading it was egregiously problematic and horrific. [Also, it's been pointed out on Twitter that this analogy is particularly horrific given that Milan has spoken publicly about having a boss who behaved in an inappropriate manner towards female members of staff.]

Edited to add that some people are disputing statements of fact made in the report.

In this thread HelenKay Dimon says it is not true that "RWA switched software systems in 2018 and did not have a way to access files saved on the old software system". This is important because the report states that, this being the case, "the available evidence was limited" about past procedures.

Olivia Waite disputes the impression given concerning how complaints were handled:

She provides a screenshot of an email from Carol Ritter to demonstrate that "if you emailed to ask how to submit [a formal ethics complaint to the RWA], you were told it was okay to print a letter, sign it, and submit a photo of that letter via email. So saying they never received very many in writing is, well, kinda not the whole."

And edited again to add that on 20 February Leslie Scantlebury, the Interim Executive Director of RWA (i.e. a staff member, given that the entire board have now resigned), who was not mentioned in the report as having had any involvement at all with the events surrounding the ethics complaint (unlike Carol Ritter and Allison Kelley), posted an apology to Courtney Milan on the RWA website in which it is acknowledged that:
The report detailed many mistakes and missteps that were made in the handling of the specific ethics complaints against Courtney Milan, as well as severe deficiencies in RWA’s ethics code and process as a whole.

The staff and I deeply regret what has happened to Courtney as a result, and offer our sincere apology to her for the mistakes and missteps made in the handling of the complaint. I cannot speak on behalf of the organization, and it will be up to the next Board to determine how we move forward, but the report proves again that RWA has a lot to fix and a great amount of work to do.
Courtney Milan has since tweeted that

she "did not consider Leslie to be one of the people who had an active hand in what happened, and so [...] it's not an institutional statement. As lovely as she is, she can't apologize on behalf of those who actually wronged me."

Leslie Scantlebury obviously can't speak for Board members who have resigned and, since Carol Ritter (Deputy Executive Director of RWA until October 31, 2019; Executive Director of RWA from November 1, 2019, until January 31, 2020) and Allison Kelley (Executive Director of RWA until October 31, 2019; served as Controller at RWA until her retirement on December 31, 2019) are no longer staff members, Leslie Scantlebury cannot speak for them either.

Milan adds that she has also received personal (i.e. non-official) apologies
For those who may have forgotten exactly who resigned when, the report provides some context about the people Milan mentions: on 24 December "Board member Chanta Rand submitted her resignation" and "After the Executive Session on December 24th, a group of eight Board members – Denny Bryce, Pintip Dunn, Seressia Glass, Tracey Livesay, Adrienne Mishel, Priscilla Oliveras, Erica Ridley, and Farrah Rochon – demanded the resignations of Carolyn Jewel as President and of Damon Suede as President-Elect [...]. The group of eight Board members also resigned on December 26th.  On January 8, 2020, [...] Renee Ryan [...] resigned."

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Scholarship and thoughts on race, publishing and language

Programme for the 2020 Bowling Green conference is now available.

Our Guest of Honor for the conference will be Alyssa Cole. She is an award-winning author of historical, contemporary, and sci-fi romance. Her Civil War-set espionage romance An Extraordinary Union was the RT Reviewers’ Choice Award’s Best Book of 2017 and the American Library Association’s RUSA Best Romance for 2018, and A Princess in Theory was one of the New York Times’ 100 Notable Books of 2018.
One of the many people who'll be presenting papers is Christine Larson who recently had an article published about her research and the RWA crisis.

Some of her already-published work also discusses publishing and racism.

More coming soon: "She is currently writing a book on the 40-year history of romance writers’ professional networks." 

K. J. Charles posted about the representation of non-English languages in English-language novels. Here's an excerpt:
Italicising serves as a nudge to the reader that they’re not expected to recognise or understand a word. That act very much assumes who the reader is. If you italicise all your Spanish in a book written about Mexicans, that rather suggests you don’t expect your book to be read by Mexicans. It is othering—and in many cases that can look like saying, “Those people are different from me and you, the writer and the reader.”
And finally, still on the topic of racism some more items which can't be added to the Romance Wiki bibliography because it's not around:

Adair, Joshua G., 2020. ‘“A Battlefield All Their Own”: Selling Women’s Fictions as Fact at Plantation Museums’. Museums, Sexuality, and Gender Activism. ed. Joshua G. Adair and Amy K. Levin. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. 239-251. [Excerpt]

Ali, Kecia, 2019. “Sacrifices, Sidekicks, and Scapegoats: Black Characters and White Stories in Nora Roberts’s Romances.” Journal of Asia-Pacific Pop Culture 4.2: 149-168:
In several of the scores of romance novels she published between the 1980s and the early 2000s, bestselling American author Nora Roberts limns whiteness by deploying black characters as sacrifices or sidekicks. In her recent novels (2016–19), villainous white characters who express racist sentiments become scapegoats, obscuring racism’s broader structural and cultural dimensions. At a time when discrimination within romance publishing and award-giving has gained attention, it is vital to explore how the genre continues to center white readers and white identities, even while explicitly condemning racism.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Roundup of Mostly 2019 Bibliography Entries

I'd been saving these items up in case the Romance Wiki came back online soon, but it hasn't, so I'm just going to post this list of new-ish items now.
Bazenga, Aline, 2019. 
'Turismo e Romance na Literatura Popular Cor-de-rosa Tendo por Cenário a Ilha da Madeira', Memoria e Identidade Insular: Religiosidade, Festividades e Turismo nos Arquipélagos da Madeira e Açores, Coordenação Duarte Nuno Chaves. Velas, S. Jorge: CHAM (Centro de Humanidades Santa Casa da Misericórdia das Velas), 323-335.
Cella, Laurie J. C., 2019. 
The Personal and the Political in American Working-Class Literature, 1850-1939: Defining the Radical Romance. (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington). Excerpt [Cella "make[s] the case that working-class women, in history and in literature, constructed romance narratives in which they were the heroines, reveled in the adventures created by Laura Jean Libbey, and celebrated their new entry in the working world" (5)]
Fernández Rodríguez, Carolina, 2019. 
"Chamorro WWII Romances: Combating Erasure with Tales of Survival and Vitality", Journal of Popular Romance Studies 8.
Gerlitz, Laura Michelle, 2019. 
"Judging a Book By Its Cover: Bringing the Digital Humanities into Reader’s Advisory", MA thesis, Digital Humanities and Library and Information Studies, University of Alberta. ["This study sets out to examine recurring themes found on book wrappers published by Harlequin in their first seventeen years [1949-1968] [...]. The resulting patterns will be connected to reader’s advisory as appeal factors in successful book selection by readers."]

Jarvis, Christine, 2006. 
"Using Fiction for Transformation." New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education 109: 69-77. Abstract
Legallois, Dominique, Thierry Charnois, and Thierry Poibeau, 2016. 
Repérer les clichés dans les romans sentimentaux grâce à la méthode des ‘motifs’.” Lidil. Revue de linguistique et de didactique des langues 53: 95–117.
Toscano, Angela, 2019. 
"The Idolatry of the Real: Form, Formula, and Happy Endings in Romance Literature", Chapter 8, Iconoclasm: The Breaking and Making of Images, edited by Rachel F. Stapleton and Antonio Viselli. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, pp. 173-192.
Valovirta, Elina, 2019. 
"No Ordinary Love: The Romantic Formula of Stepsibling Erotica". Thinking with the Familiar in Contemporary Literature and Culture 'Out of the Ordinary', Ed. Joel Kuortti, Kaisa Ilmonen, Elina Valovirta, Janne Korkka (Leiden: Brill Rodopi), pp. 161-??. Abstract
Veros, Vassiliki, 2019. 
"Metatextual Conversations: The Exclusion/Inclusion of Genre Fiction in Public Libraries and Social Media Book Groups", Journal of the Australian Library and Information Association. 254-267. Abstract
And Phraseology and Style in Subgenres of the Novel: A Synthesis of Corpus and Literary Perspectives, edited by Iva Novakova and Dirk Siepmann (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020) doesn't have a huge amount about romance, but there are some insights into the types of verbs used in fantasy, romance and crime fiction in French and English, as well as the discovery that people in romance novels "take a sip" a lot more than they do in other genres (full quote here).

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

RWA Shunned by Avon and Harlequin etc

The decline of RWA's influence on romance publishing was further underlined today by an announcement by Avon:

In support of inclusive publishing, @avonbooks will not invest in a promotional sponsorship nor have a presence at the @romancewriters  national conference. We are working with @authormsbev to redirect the Beverly Jenkins Diverse Voices sponsorship & create new mentorship opportunities for #ownvoices authors.
Beverley Jenkins tweeted her "sincere thanks to
@avonbooks for its advocacy and support of inclusion and #ownvoices. *APPLAUSE*" and in particular "@avonbooks Sr Head of Publicity @pamjaffee and my editor @ErikaTsang for taking the ball, running it downfield, and carrying it over the goal line. #beastmode."

Avon was not the only publisher to announce its withdrawal from the conference, as Courtney Milan pointed out in her response

Avon and Harlequin are both part of the same company (HarperCollins). As reported by RomanceSparksJoy, Craig Swinwood, CEO of HarperCollins Canada & Harlequin has written to the RWA Board of Directors:
He states that
As a leading global publisher of romance fiction that is committed to diversity and inclusion, we at Harlequin believe it is important that all authors feel included, respected and heard. Recently reported actions by RWA leadership have therefore led us to decide not to sponsor or attend the RWA2020 national conference. We will reevaluate our participation in 2021 as the organization works with its members to address concerns that have been raised.
We will continue to support Harlequin authors and we are currently looking at additional ways to reach out to both our authors and to the romance writing community in the coming year. [A statement and a pdf of the letter were posted to their website]
Entangled followed suit slightly later in the day, writing to RWA to tell them that
Recent actions call into question the inclusivity of your organization. Until the organization upholds its responsibility to represent all members in a fair manner, our publishing house cannot endorse RWA, nor participate in any of the organization's national events.
They were followed by Berkley, who tweeted that "Our involvement with RWA has always been focused on supporting and celebrating our authors. In light of this, and our commitment to diverse and inclusive publishing, we will not attend the RWA national conference this year."

In addition, Sourcebooks Casablanca wrote to their authors, telling them that
As a publishing company with the guiding mission that books change lives, we believe that authors’ voices are of paramount importance and any form of exclusion is unacceptable. A robust and diverse professional organization that supports all authors is useful to the romance community, particularly at the local level. Diversity, equality, and inclusion are fundamental to the solution. As a company, Sourcebooks will not support RWA’s national conference this year. Our editors will honor existing commitments to local chapters that are welcoming to all authors. We commit to using the time, energy, and resources we would have supplied to the national conference on furthering diversity, equality, and inclusion efforts.
--Dominique Raccah Publisher and CEO

Sulheika Snyder and Courtney Milan emphasised the importance of the final sentence in that email, noting that a promise to commit resources is particularly significant:

Earlier today, when only Avon and Harlequin's announcements had been made Angela James noted that although
it's admirable that the publishers are speaking up on behalf of DEI [Diversity, Equity, Inclusion] and taking a stance about what's happening [...] I think what authors should be asking next is: what will you be doing in terms of using some of those saved resources? Will publishers' next steps be to work out a plan to really commit to their marginalized authors by utilizing some of the not insignificant resources that would have gone to the conference on behalf of marginalized authors and their books? *THIS* would show true commitment.I'd be looking at the publisher who takes the lead on this and puts their money where their DEI statement is. That's what's needed now. So far no publisher has really done this. Now is an excellent opportunity because resources have suddenly freed up.

It will also be interesting to see if forthcoming "State of Racial Diversity in Romance Publishing Reports" (by The Ripped Bodice) show an increase in diversity. Last year's report was disappointing in what it had to say.

Tule joined the exodus, posting that
Due to recent events that have highlighted the lack of inclusivity within the RWA organization, Tule Publishing will not be attending the 2020 national RWA conference. Tule remains committed to supporting inclusivity and diversity, and will continue to use our resources to encourage and empower all authors.
And into 9 January for me, but still 8 January in the US, a statement from Kensington Books:
Addressing himself to the RWA Board of Directors, Steven Zacharius said
We are extremely distressed by the recent events concerning RWA and the magnitude of the problems that persist in the organization. Kensington continues to be a leading advocate for increased diversity and inclusion in publishing. As an industry, it is clear we have a great deal of work to do. We are committed to supporting our authors, however, we cannot support RWA or the national conference until you are fulfilling your mission to your members.
In addition to the point about the need for publishers to back up their statements with real commitments, Rebekah Weatherspoon posted a reminder that "some of the racist incidents we've talked about at previous conferences were at the hands of publishers."

I vaguely recollected a relevant incident involving a publisher and, thanks to Olivia Waite, I was able to track down the details. Cheris Hodges had them on her blog (archived version here). They involved Pocket Books (now part of Gallery, which is itself part of Simon & Schuster):
During the Spotlight on Pocket at the 2015 RWA Conference, an attendee asked Executive Editor Lauren McKenna, “Are you working at all on diversifying your author list?” When McKenna requested clarification, the attendee observed that it seemed most of Pocket’s authors were white. McKenna then responded:
“Right now, we [Pocket] don’t have an African-American line. Our sister imprint—because we are all Simon & Schuster—we are just two different imprints that we spoke about today within Simon & Schuster.
“Our sister imprint, Atria, has an entire two lines dedicated to African-American titles, and they really do corner that market. We find doing just one in a larger list, it tends to lose its focus and it really doesn't get the attention and time it deserves, so it also requires a different marketing and publicity plan.
“So we leave that, whenever we get something strong like that in, in a multicultural topic or author, we can defer to our sister imprint who really does focus on publicizing those titles, marketing those titles, getting placement in stores.
“So no. I hear you. We also have a Latino line as well, with Atria. So we do do it, just not within Pocket and Gallery.” (Archived post from the RWA website)
The implication was that Pocket Books would continue to solely publish romances by white authors and as Cheris Hodges observed, you weren't likely to find romances published by the Atria imprint: "Atria is a very diverse line. [...] You can find women's fiction, erotic, urban fiction, urban fantasy and non fiction under Atria. But I'm still looking for romance." Pocket Books claimed at the time that the editor had "misrepresented" them. Given this history, one would have hoped that Pocket, Gallery and/or Simon & Schuster would have been quick to show that they take a firm stance against racism. However, I've yet to see any statement from them. I will add details if they appear.

On the 9th of January more publishers followed suit. City Owl Press tweeted that it could not support the RWA "as it currently stands"


St Martin's Publishing Group stated that it
believes in being a champion for our authors and in the very necessary work to make publishing more diverse and inclusive. Therefore, in light of recent developments, St. Martin's Press will not be participating in the RWA national conference through attendance or through promotional opportunities.

On 8 January the number of agents who have signed an open letter to the RWA, had risen to 57, up even from the day before, when the Gallt & Zacker Literary Agency posted about 54 romance agents who'd signed:
In their letter to the RWA Board of Directors they said:
We are writing to you as literary agents who represent the best interests of our romance clients. As believers in the mission of Romance Writers of America, we could not stand idly by while it is threatened.
Romance Writers of America is meant to be a haven for all romance writers, and given the conversations of at least the past few years, a place where we’ve been making progress in becoming even more inclusive of marginalized creatives. In light of recent events, that mission has been compromised and we want to see it rectified.
RWA continues to reiterate its stance on inclusion, yet words ring hollow without appropriate actions. In support of our authors, the undersigned agents will not attend any RWA event until new leadership is installed at the national level, and an independent audit on the process is conducted in regards to the complaint against Courtney Milan.
We will reevaluate our attendance at these conferences once new leadership is in place.

Also on 8 January, Donna Alward, elected to the RWA Board in 2019 and the organisation's secretary, announced her resignation, saying (among other things) that "my duty of obedience and my duty of loyalty are at odds, and when I can no longer keep my fiduciary duty, it's time for me to resign." It is reported that Renee Ryan has also resigned from the Board
and the day's updated RWA Board page no longer lists her as a Director. RWA has confirmed that Renee Ryan, Donna Alward and also Barbara Wallace have resigned, with Ryan's resignation effective as of 8am.

Given the speed of events on 8 January, the Washington Post's article must have been outdated by the time it was published.

On 9 January the RWA announced the resignation of its President, Damon Suede, and Executive Director Carol Ritter. The announcement expresses gratitude for their activities. Here's just part of the statement:
Damon has offered his resignation, effective immediately, and the Board has accepted it.  Damon, who has served on the RWA Board of Directors since 2015, as President-Elect from September 2019 through late December 2019, and then as President for the past two weeks, has been a passionate advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion issues for his entire life.  We thank Damon for his service and wish him all the best in the future.  
The Board of Directors has made a decision to not immediately fill the office of President while the Board – working transparently with its membership – determines an appropriate recruitment and selection process. 
The Board also has accepted the resignation of RWA Executive Director Carol Ritter, who has decided to step down from the role she assumed in November.  Carol, who has been a steady senior member of RWA management for well over a decade, has offered to stay on over the coming months to support a smooth transition to new staff leadership; the Board has accepted this offer.  Carol has been instrumental in keeping the operations of RWA running and we are deeply grateful to her for the commitment and leadership she has brought to our association.
As LaQuette points out, the resignations were made under pressure, particularly in the case of Suede, since the petition against him organised by CIMRWA (the Cultural, Interracial, and Multicultural Chapter of Romance Writers of America) had "enough signatures to force a recall election."

Moreover, Farah Heron felt that "praising Damon and Carol without mentioning the board members that left before them is gas-lighting us about what happened in the last two weeks."

In an article in Publishers' Weekly
A representative of the RWA told PW that, in spite of the turmoil, "our 2020 conference is moving forward as scheduled, and we believe it will be a critical moment for our members to come together to discuss the important issues around diversity, equity and inclusion that have surfaced in recent weeks," noting that while the organization is "disappointed to lose some sponsors and participants for this year," it hopes "to regain their support in the months and years ahead."
As Alisha Rai observed, "Damon and Carol leaving are the first positive things RWA has done (been forced to do) over the past few weeks, and that’s to be cheered, but a couple people didn’t bring this organization to the brink of collapse. There is a rot inside RWA. This is when the real work starts." Also, it's probably worth emphasizing that Carol Ritter will be remaining in place for the moment to ensure a "smooth transition."

It therefore remains unclear how many members will wish to pay to attend a conference before there is evidence the "real work" has begun and will bear fruit, with no awards ceremony and few agents and publishers present, in order to have discussions of the kind suggested by the RWA, particularly given the nature of many of the discussions of these issues on the RWA forums, which Beverly Jenkins characterizes as "hate filled":
It is unconscionable to expect members who have already suffered discrimination to pay to attend an event at which they would be expected to perform emotional and intellectual labour while exposed to microagressions and worse from other members.
The most comprehensive, chronological listing of events I've seen is this one, by Claire Ryan. It includes many details I have not covered here.

This article at Vox by examines the implications of what has happened, going back to events in August 2019 and also pointing out parallels within other writing organisations. [Archived version here.]

Somewhat less detailed, but giving a broad overview of the context, and analysis of the significance of recent events, is Jennifer Prokop's article of 15 January for Kirkus Reviews. [Archived version here.]

In her 15 January article for Jezebel [Archived version here] Kelly Faircloth highlight the central conflict:
RWA, an organization founded almost 40 years ago by a black woman, has frequently been an unfriendly place for marginalized writers, and attempts to change that have been met with pushback that now threatens to destroy the institution itself. Romance novels, at their most fundamental level, are about protagonists being seen clearly and loved—and this is a story about who gets to be seen and valued in the romance genre, and whose pain matters.
On Twitter Faircloth added "This is not a niche story -- this story is a microcosm of America in 2020."


Monday, January 06, 2020

IASPR Statement on Racism in the RWA

The International Association for the Study of Popular Romance has issued a statement, available on their website, which I copy below in full:

For over a decade, the Romance Writers of America has been a generous sponsor of IASPR. Every conference we have held has received RWA support, including our upcoming 2020 conference on “Diversity, Inclusion, Innovation” in popular romance culture, and the field of popular romance studies has been seeded and sustained by the RWA Academic Research Grant program.

However, in light of recent events we as a scholarly organization must add our voice to the chorus of readers, reviewers, editors, agents, and authors who have called for sweeping and lasting change at the RWA, beginning with the eight steps listed in the “Readers to RWA” letter from Romance Sparks Joy:
  • A clear, unequivocal statement that RWA is anti-racist and that all of its policies, procedures, and activities will ensure that the organization meets this standard.
  • A public apology to Ms. Milan, the Board members who have been compelled by their consciences to resign this week, and members who have been harmed by the RWA as stated above.
  • The resignations of President/President-Elect Damon Suede and Executive Director Carol Ritter.
  • An emergency election of new Directors to replace those who have resigned in protest.
  • A full, transparent, and independent investigation into the complaint, investigation, and censure processes around RWA’s Code of Ethics, with attention to events related to the complaints against Ms. Milan and reports that ethics complaints by marginalized members were not forwarded to the Ethics Committee by RWA staff.
  • An accounting of the actions that led to the creation of a secret ethics committee and the Board’s initial vote against Ms. Milan.
  • The removal of staff if investigations demonstrate those staff members discriminated against marginalized authors based on their identities, whether intentionally or through negligence.
  • An Action Plan developed with public input to address the systematic exclusion, harassment, and lack of support for marginalized members and prospective members at every level of RWA, including chapters, conferences and events, staff prerogatives, and Board action.
In keeping with that letter’s call for a “boycott of any events sponsored by or affiliated with the national chapter of RWA,” and in order to forestall any use of our conference to whitewash problems with diversity and inclusion at RWA itself, we will budget for, plan, and, if necessary, hold our 2020 conference this summer without using the financial support that RWA has provided for it. We will reallocate resources and seek out other funding in order to minimize the impact of this decision on travel support for graduate students, untenured faculty, and independent scholars.

We do not flatter ourselves that IASPR, our conferences, and our affiliate publication, the Journal of Popular Romance Studies are somehow free from racism, exclusion, and inequity, or that we will always succeed in addressing them. We do, however, hope to respond to our failures by keeping in mind the advice that Prof. Jay Thalang gives his graduate students—and, ultimately, takes to heart—in Courtney Milan’s Hold Me:
“If you can’t get over your ego and just talk about what you did and what happened, this will take four times as long. You failed. Get used to it. Some of the biggest scientific breakthroughs came about because someone failed and figured out why. Don’t worry about failing. Worry about failing wrongly.”
So far in this matter RWA has not just failed, but failed wrongly. We ask for better from them, and will try to do better ourselves. We hope all organizations, including RWA, are able to embrace policy and practice that sees and represents all of their talent.

Teach Me Tonight's coverage so far:

25 August 2019: "Racism and the Corporate Romance Buyer: a "little fiasco" involving Sue Grimshaw"

24 December 2019: "Racism, Literary Criticism and a "Safe and Respectful Environment"

26 December 2019: "RWA turmoil continues"

28 December 2019: "RWA and Broader Concerns"

And since the announcement mentions the RWA Academic Research Grant program, here's a link to the winners, from 2005-2019.