|Image of Gwendolyn E. Osborne from AALBC|
I just got devastating news. Gwen Osborne, a former reviewer at The Romance Reader, a champion of Black Romance, has tragically passed away. Here's an article with the sad, tragic, and preventable details https://t.co/LCkO1W7u6E— SuperWendy (@SuperWendy) May 20, 2022
AALBC, to which Gwen Osborne contributed, had long had a profile of her in which it was stated that:
Gwendolyn Osborne (a.k.a “The Word Diva”) is a freelance writer based in Chicago. She is a hopeless romantic and an unabashed book junkie. She prefers to be called “Gwen,” but unapologetically uses the longer version in her bylines “because it takes up more space in print.”
Gwen began her journalism career as a reviewer for The Detroit Free Press. Her work has also appeared in several national publications including Book Magazine, Mode Magazine and The Crisis, the organizational publication of the NAACP.
As Wendy stated, however, she has been a particularly important figure in the romance community, and not just as a reviewer. Some of Osborne's contributions to the study of romance and romance readers were recognised by the Black Romance Bibliography which was published only a few days ago by the Journal of Popular Romance Studies. More extensive discussion of her contribution to romance scholarship appears in the Routledge Research Companion to Popular Romance Fiction (2021). There, Julie E. Moody-Freedman notes that:
Throughout the early 2000s, Gwendolyn Osborne’s articles contributed to the documenting the evolution of the African American romance publishing industry. Osborne’s articles about the production aspect of the romance industry provide foundational information about the industry which scholars like Markert have referenced in publications. Her articles “How Black Romance Novels, That Is—Came to Be” and “Love in Color” document the development of the industry. “How Black Romance Novels, That Is—Came to Be (romance)” documents the evolution of African American romance between the 1960s and 1990s by pointing out the contributions Frank Yerby’s novels, True Confessions magazine, Bronze Thrills, and Black Romance and Jive have made to the genre through their publication of established romance writers Donna Hill and Francis Ray. “Love in Color,” a 2006 publication in Black Issues Book Review, discusses the acquisition of BET books by Harlequin in November 2005. (238-239)
Moody-Freeman added that,
As I have noted above, Gwendolyn Osborne’ publications have contributed to understanding the production of African American romance in the early 1990s and 2000s. However, her publications also focus on readers’ responses to romance ﬁction. In a 2004 book chapter “‘Women Who Look Like Me’: Cultural Identity and Reader Responses to African American Romance Novels,” Osborne reports her ﬁndings based on a study of romance readers to answer “what it is about Black romance that draws so many African American book buyers to the romance sections of the nation’s bookstores”[...]
Osborne’s article “It’s All About Love: Romance Readers Speak Out,” written for the AALBC two years prior to her book chapter, also uses reader response to discuss African American romance, but in this article, Osborne interviews readers as well as writers and editors to understand romance novels’ appeal to Black readers. (240-241)
In the same volume, Jayashree Kamblé stated that "Gwendolyn E. Osborne's 2004 essay is the only study that briefly touches on romance covers with African American characters" (288).
In addition to making a direct contribution to the study of African American romance through her own writing, Osborne also helped others. In the acknowledgements section of the ground-breaking Black Women's Activism: Reading African American Women's Historical Romances (2004) Rita B. Dandridge expressed her thanks to
Gwendolyn E. Osborne, reviewer for Romance Reader, who facilitated my contacts with the writers and bought and sent me a copy of Gay G. Gunn's Nowhere to Run. Thanks, Gwen, for introducing me to a writer I did not know existed.
[Edited to add: Here's an obituary, giving more details about Gwendolyn Osborne's life, by Cheyanne M. Daniels of the Chicago Sun Times. An archived version can be found here.
Another, from the perspective of a fellow romance reviewer, Wendy the Super Librarian, can be found here. Among other things, she writes that
Words like "trailblazer" and "pioneer" get thrown around a lot, but Gwen truly was both. She sprang from the womb a reader, but had an awakening in the 1990s when she discovered Arabesque Books. A light bulb went off for her when she discovered romance novels written by Black authors featuring Black men and women falling in love...she was hooked. And from that moment on Gwen was an evangelist for Black Romance.You have to understand the time in which Gwen was beating this drum. Black Romance was relegated to segregated "African American Interest" areas of bookstores and distribution was the pits on top of that. The romance genre as a whole got next to zero mainstream attention other than sneering, but Black Romance? You could hear a pin drop.
That's archived here.]
Osborne, Gwendolyn E. (1999) "Our Love Affair with Romance." Black Issues Book Review 1.4, Jul 1999, pp. 40-44.
Osborne, Gwendolyn (2002). "How Black Romance--Novels, that is--Came to be." Black Issues Book Review 4.1, Jan 2002, pp. 50.
Osborne, Gwendolyn (2002). “It’s All About Love: Romance Readers Speak Out.” African American Literature Book Club, 1 Feb. 2002.Osborne, Gwendolyn E. (2003). "In Search of Women Who Look Like Me: A Brief History of the African-American Romance." The 2000-2003 Proceedings of the SW/Texas PCA/ACA Conference. Ed. Leslie Fife. 2020-2044.
Osborne, Gwendolyn E. (2004). “‘Women Who Look like Me’: Cultural Identity and Reader Responses to African American Romance Novels.” Race/Gender/Media: Considering Diversity Across Audiences, Content, and Producers. Ed. Rebecca Ann Lind (Boston: Pearson). 61–68.
Osborne, Gwendolyn E. (2006) "The COLOR of LOVE." Black Issues Book Review 8.1, Jan 2006. 14-15.