Friday, July 26, 2019

Jennifer Prokop's Thoughts on the RITAs

I know the RWA is proposing changes to how the RITAs are judged (although doubts have been expressed about how effective they'll be), but in the meantime, I thought these comments on this year's finalists by Jennifer Prokop are interesting:

#1: Romance has a white privilege problem. An overwhelming number of the white authors in the finals write books set in homogenized, white worlds. Regardless of whether the characters are human beings or paranormal creatures, whether they are in contemporary or historical settings, and whether they live in small towns or major cities, these are texts largely populated with white, cis-gendered heterosexual characters. In these books, white, European standards of beauty are pervasive; cops and soldiers are always portrayed as heroic warriors for justice; brown and black people in foreign countries are at best extras and at worst cannon fodder for white characters on epic adventures.

#2: Romance talks about money but not class. At the end of a satisfying romance, readers must believe that the love interests are happy and secure, and money equals security. That doesn’t make it any less remarkable that there are few middle- or lower-class characters among the nominees; that male characters are always far wealthier than the women they fall in love with; and that no white billionaire in a romance would ever vote for Donald Trump despite much electoral evidence to the contrary.

#3: Only a third of RITA finalists are truly excellent romances. The list cleaves itself neatly into thirds: excellent romances I’d recommend to anyone, competent books that I might recommend to a reader looking for something specific, and profoundly problematic books that I wouldn’t recommend to anyone. Sure, I’m just one reader, but I am a reader with a fierce, loyal love for the genre. Something is very wrong when a reader like me finds a solid third of the books to be unreadable— be it the writing style, characterizations, or themes. Many of the year’s best-regarded books are not finalists—either because authors chose not to enter them or because they were eliminated in the preliminary round. It's impossible to know why innovative, interesting books aren’t in the finals, but the presence of poorly written and sometimes deeply offensive books is a problem RWA must solve.

The whole of this article, titled "How Do You Solve a Problem Like the RITAs?" is at Kirkus.

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