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.

Friday, January 03, 2020


From the EUPOP blog:

Jagiellonian University, July 22nd – 24th, 2020
Deadline: 29th February, 2019
Individual paper and panel contributions are welcomed for the ninth annual international conference of the European Popular Culture Association (EPCA), to be held at Jagiellonian University, Kraków, Poland, July 22nd – 24th, 2020.

EUPOP 2020 will explore European popular culture in all its various forms. This includes, but is by no means limited to, the following topics: Climate Change in Popular Culture, European Film (past and present), Television, Music, Costume and Performance, Celebrity, The Body, Fashion, New Media, Popular Literature and Graphic Novels, Queer Studies, Sport, Curation, and Digital Culture. We also welcome abstracts which reflect the various ways of how the idea of relationship between Europe and popular culture could be formed and how the current turmoil in European identity (e.g. the legacy of totalitarianism and fascism), union, its borders and divisions are portrayed in popular cultural themes and contents.

More details here.

Monday, December 30, 2019

RWA: Social Formation and Big Names Speak

Claire Ryan reports that
Dr. Natalie Tindall, RWA Academic Grant Committee Chairperson, and one other committee member resign. (Information received by email from Dr. Tindall)
Staying with the academic perspective, Dr Jodi McAlister has commented that
From an academic perspective: one thing I already knew but that this debacle has made even more clear to me is that to studying the literary sphere is just as (and often more) important than studying texts themselves.
The "genre worlds" approach (Fletcher, Driscoll & Wilkins 2018), which holds that a genre world is comprised not just of a body of texts but also by a sector of the publishing industry & a social formation/s, is going to be *very* useful in parsing this in future scholarship, imo
Of particular relevance to this situation is Fletcher, Driscoll and Wilkins's comment that
A genre world is a social entity defined by interaction between its participants. This kind of interaction includes (but is not limited to) discussions and feedback with writing buddies and writing groups, mentors, and editors both pre- and postpublication, discussions and panels between authors and readers, and reader feedback given to the author directly (via social media or “fan mail”) and indirectly (via reviewing sites such as Goodreads). Genre worlds also “distinguish between significant and peripheral participants” (Becker 35), and an author is less likely to be influenced by a single reader than to be influenced by an editor or peer. (1008)
Here's a letter to the RWA signed not "by a single reader" but by over 1300. A similar letter, from reviewers and librarians has also been sent. But since writers' peers are clearly extremely important, it might be relevant to see what some of the "big names" of romance have to say about the RWA crisis.

Beverley Jenkins has been speaking out about this from the start. Here's one of her earlier tweets, with the #IstandwithCourtney hashtag:

Suzanne Brockmann expressed her support for radical change from the 24th onwards:

and on 2 January posted a letter to the Board which, among other things, contains a statement that she is "ashamed to be associated with an organization that is currently working hard to show the
entire world that it's willing to go to extremes to protect the white supremacy at its foundation."

On 29 December Nora Roberts issued a statement (archived here, which I'm mentioning because her website was loading rather slowly) about the developments at RWA:
Writer, the middle word in Romance Writers of America, is a word without gender, a word without color or race, a word without sexual orientation, without creed. We’re writers, and as such must expect to be treated, must demand to be treated, fairly and equitably by our professional organization.
That's just part of her post, in which she outlines why she left the RWA some years ago and concludes
Let me add, as a personal note, that over the course of my life, the course of my career, the couple hundred books I’ve written, I may have–most likely have–said or done or written something that was offensive, racist, homophobic. Without intent–but intent doesn’t mean a damn to those hurt. So I’ll apologize without qualification.
I hope I’ve learned along the way. I intend to continue to learn and do better.
One assumes that the RWA holds/held these authors in high esteem, since they're Past Recipients of the RWA Lifetime Achievement Award: Suzanne Brockmann (2018); Beverly Jenkins (2017); Nora Roberts (1997).

Roberts is also a member of the RWA Hall of Fame, as is Julia Quinn. Julia Quinn has commented that "members of RWA leadership acted inappropriately and in violation of many organization rules" and has therefore signed the petition to recall the President of RWA.
Lisa Kleypas, a two-time RITA-winner is also among the Romance Trailblazers for her "Popularization of the non-aristocratic hero in historical romance" and "Early historical fat representation." In 2018 one of her novels was criticised for orientalism. Kleypas responded by writing that:
In my life, I’ve had a lot to learn AND unlearn. All I can say is, I’m sorry. Thank you for helping me to understand the lack of awareness I had about this issue. Obviously I would never want to hurt anyone by perpetuating an offensive stereotype, especially about women from a culture I respect so tremendously, and I feel terrible about it.
I will make changes to the book immediately, so all future editions will be culturally sensitive and mindful of how every single character is portrayed. Thank you again for making me aware of this and teaching me something I needed to understand, both as an author and as a person.
Kleypas has also signed the recall petition.

J. R. Ward, who has been "nominated for multiple RITAs, and won three times" has written (on 31 December) that the current events and the revelations that have come out as a result of them have opened her eyes to much that she was not aware of:
My relationship with RWA was awesome and uncomplicated because I’m white and I’m heterosexual and I’m physically able. I didn’t know any of that other sh*t was going on because I’m white and I’m heterosexual and I’m physically able. I didn’t look any further than my own experience because I’m white and I’m heterosexual and I’m physically able- and all of that means I don’t have to.
And that’s white privilege in action right here.
Like Roberts, she acknowledges potential issues within her own works:
I am sure over the course of the books I’ve written that there are things that have been microaggression
s or been ignorant or offensive. I’m sure I’ve done things that are all of that in personal or correspondence. I want to put a stake in it right here that I am apologizing for any of those mistakes. I’m trying to learn and be better and do better. I am not going to get it right, now or in the future, but I am committed to keep trying and keep learning, and I am so grateful for the POC in my life who are helping me along the way.

I'll add more statements if I come across them. Here's an article from 30 December in the New York Times. As of this date, the RWA "Board and Staff" appeared unmoved

The full archived text of that statement can be found here. But here's part of it:
"We do not take positions for or against specific literary criticism [...] We do, however, have explicit policy for our members' professional conduct. [...] In accordance with RWA policy, the Ethics panel met and delivered its report to the Board, dismissing all charges against Ms. Milan except one: a violation of the association's express purpose of creating a "safe and respectful environment" for its community of writers. [...] RWA is not alone in trying to balance free speech with civil discourse and the damage - personal and financial - its absence can do. It is, however, up to us to find a pathway forward to meet the competing needs of free expression without subjecting our members to harassment, intimidation, and financial loss. [...] In an abundance of caution over confusion regarding RWA's policies and procedures, the complaint against Courtney Milan has been closed and no action is being taken at this time. [...] Our members have strong opinions, which we applaud. But when expressed inappropriately, and in some cases far worse, by our organizational leadership - past and present - these can result in personal and financial harm to members.
This would appear to:

a) continue to characterise certain forms of literary criticism as "unacceptable behavior" which can be construed as "harassment" and "intimidation"
b) does not appear to apply the same criteria to racist primary texts as it does to literary criticism
c) does not address the "personal and financial harm to members" caused by actions of RWA members and staff, as detailed online over the past few days.

[And editing again to add that an article about the situation was published in The Guardian on 31 December.

Another article appeared on 2 January on NBC News's website, written by Mikki Kendall, who summarised the situation thus:
The complaint against Milan was fundamentally that her criticisms — accurate though they were — had cost other writers opportunities by drawing attention to their flaws. So the real issue isn't whether her criticism about racist elements in other writers' work was accurate, but whether some writers might lose money because of those criticisms.
This is about writing, but it is also about our culture and whether we want the people who have traditionally influenced it to continue to do so without engaging with the consequences their work might visit on other communities.
An author statement by Caroline Linden, also from 2 January, outlines suggested norms for authors with regards to reviews:
I don't think saying a book has racist content is bullying. I don't think the vast majority of reviewing is bullying, if the reviewer honestly believes what she writes. Authors may hate what the reviewer says, may think the reviewer is mean or too picky or flat-out wrong, but that is part of being an author. You put those words and that story out there, and the world gets to comment on it. It ain't all five-star raves.
Olivia Waite used her column in the Seattle Review of Books to discuss the crisis. And archivist Steve Ammidown, at the Bowling Green State University's Popular Culture Library, is trying to archive all the relevant online posts.

On 4 January an interview with Kathryn Lynn Davis was published in The Guardian (their second article on the RWA crisis). In it Davis
said she was “encouraged” by the administration of Romance Writers of America (RWA), a trade association for romance writers, to file a formal complaint against Milan, an influential former board member and diversity advocate. She now feels she had been “used” to secure a political outcome that she had never intended.
She also clarified that, contrary to what was written in her complaint, "she did not have and lose a written book contract, but that a publisher had delayed further discussion of a potential contract in the wake of the controversy." Davis also states that she "decided to make some changes to the novel Milan had criticized [...] and that she has republished edited ebook versions."

As noted in the article, literary agencies have also been withdrawing support from the RWA. Claire Ryan, who is still keeping track of events, noted that on 3 January
All this provides support for the genre worlds model with respect to norms and behaviours. Davis still seems to be implying that Milan was in the wrong for how she expressed her criticism: Davis says she has now made changes to her novel not because of Milan's comments but because "people have contacted me and have told me calmly what it was that offended them" (emphasis added). However, it is evident she has has felt the pressure of the behaviours being modelled by significant authors and the weight of the opinions of other significant players in romance publishing.]

Fletcher, Lisa, Beth Driscoll, and Kim Wilkins. ‘Genre Worlds and Popular Fiction: The Case of Twenty-First-Century Australian Romance’, Journal of Popular Culture 51.4 (2018): 997-1015.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

RWA and Broader Concerns

Australian romance scholar Dr Jodi McAlister has
been wondering about how the RWA implosion is going to function as a paratext to the romance genre in the years to come - that is, how is this going to affect the romance novels that are written and read, going forward?
RWA is a national organisation, but there's no getting away from the fact that North America (and especially the US) is the dominant centre and marketplace for romance publishing.
The impacts of this are not only going to be felt among the RWA membership, but will almost certainly ripple through to most of the rest of the Anglophone romance writing world. But what will those impacts be?
It's because of the importance of the RWA to the genre as a whole that I feel it's important to keep recording some of the details of the current crisis here at Teach Me Tonight, even if all of those details don't seem directly about the academic study of romance.

I didn't want to keep updating my previous two posts about the RWA (1) and (2) so I'll add some updates here.

There was coverage on 27 December from The Seattle Times and since it's an AP article it appears in the same form in The Washington Post. The article is focussed on the situation as it relates to Courtney Milan. This does not mention the fact that the RWA appears to have created an Ethics Committee for this process which by-passed the existing Ethics Committee. Rachel Grant (who was on the Ethics Committee) states that a new committee was created "without informing the existing committee that was never informed of the complaint"

In addition to the implications of the specific complaints against Courtney Milan, the details of the ruling against her, concerns about the processes according to which it was handled, etc

there are broader concerns about how complaints have been handled and used in the past:

1) There is at least one account of a "similar use of complaint as retribution against marginalized authors speaking out against racism in a RWA chapter" (retweet by Alyssa Cole of complaint against Diana Hicks)

Sally Kilpatrick suggests that the complaint was never formalized but that nonetheless "the RWA wanted the then president to ask Diana to resign"

2) By contrast, it appears that formal complaints made by marginalized authors/about discriminatory language used to refer to people from marginalized groups did not reach the Ethics Committee and neither was further action taken.

Katee Roberts reports that she asked the RWA Office about this in relation to complaints by Olivia Waite and received the message that "Olivia Waite's Ethics complaints in fact were reviewed by the office. The subjects of those complaints subsequently resigned their membership and at that point, there were no longer matters to bring to the Ethics Committee."

However, according to Olivia Waite "the person I reported for saying queer women were as repulsive as alcohol addiction (on the RWA forums!) has not withdrawn, as staff claims. Not only is she an active member, she is currently the treasurer of her local chapter."

[Edited to add: Olivia Waite points out a loophole in the procedures which may have allowed the Executive Director to process complaints informally rather than sending them to the Ethics Committee through the formal procedure. However, the use of the informal procedure is supposed to involve the consent of the complainant, and Olivia Waite did not consent to it. Robin Covington corroborates that the staff have "strenuously urged" the "use [of] this informal process but I refused. When I did I was encouraged to drop them [both complaints]. Neither went anywhere."]

Concerns have also been raised about:

1) The interpretation/application of the membership requirement of “proof of serious pursuit” of a career in romance writing, as detailed by Xan West here and another case which is linked to on this thread.

The rejected applications contained the requisite "central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending" (RWA definition of romance).

Karin Kallmaker was refused entry to PAN (the Published Authors Network) despite being a multipublished author:

I joined/rejoined RWA I think a total of 4 times in about 25 years. The first 3 times I had to go through hoops and each time I was not allowed access to the PAN forums. The 4th time I finally was. So I have to wonder.
The first time they rejected Naiad as an appropriate publisher for some technical contract based reason (lack of advance?). Naiad was the largest lesbian press in the world that produced 30+ books a year, more than half romance.
The second time I think the same thing happened and I had 10 books to provide them as proof I wrote romance.
The third time they ruled that I was a publisher because I said that my publisher occasionally asked my opinion on a manuscript, maybe 1-2 times a year (this was long before I joined Bella Books as a consultant).
The 4th time I finally got access to the PAN forums.
It didn't occur to me these were trumped up reasons because nobody wanted the words "lesbian" and "queer" showing up on the forums. That's the insidiousness of discrimination - sometimes you just don't know so you blame yourself wrongly. 
2) Inequality in other contexts, including one Chapter of the RWA paying "black speakers half the rate they usually pay"

Melissa Blue, one of those speakers, gives more details here.

Here are some reader responses, from Wendy the Super Librarian , Smart Bitches Trashy Books and from Lynn Spencer at All About Romance.

An open letter has been composed, from readers to RWA. It will remain open to signatories until 29th December. I have added my signature to the letter.

In an astonishing turn of events, communications have now been released from both the former and current presidents, respectively Carolyn Jewel and Damon Suede. These suggest that the Board made its original decision on the basis of information provided by current RWA president Damon Suede (at the time the Board members had not seen the original text of the complaints):

Here's Courtney Milan's thread. The text of Carolyn Jewel's letter is provided by Alyssa Day.

The above image is only part of the message from Damon Suede, which can be read in full here.

[Edited to add: another surprising fact emerges from a different communication sent by Carolyn Jewel to Carrie Lomax.

One of the things stated is that "The complaint that was made public was only the starting point and does not represent the totality of what the Ethics Committee considered." Jewel adds that "The Ethics Committee then reviews the complaint, the accused's response, and any evidence provided and conducts a thorough investigation of the matter." Claire Ryan has transcribed this communication in full here, along with a time-line of events.

This means that it is unclear both exactly what the Ethics Committee considered and what information was provided by Damon Suede to the Board.]