The Romance Writers of America Are Taking Steps Toward Diversity

Recent backlash is leading to a change that’s long overdue.

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Recently, the RWA again debated about its diversity issues after author Courtney Milan called another author’s book a “racist mess” due to its portrayals of Chinese women. The RWA Board of Directors suspended Milan for her comments, a decision that caused the board’s women of color to resign in protest. 

The backlash didn’t end there—hundreds of authors pulled out of this year’s RITA awards, leading to the ceremony’s cancellation. The rest of the board resigned in February, and in April, a new board apologized to Milan and all other members “from marginalized communities.”

To start a new chapter, the RWA is retiring the RITA awards permanently and replacing them with a new award, The Vivian. The award is named for the RWA’s founder Vivian Stephens, a black editor who published many romance writers of color. 

According to the RWA, “The Vivian recognizes excellence in romance writing and showcases author talent and creativity. We celebrate the power of the romance genre with its central message of hope—because happily ever afters are for everyone.”

Along with a new name and mission statement, the RWA is working on proposals to encourage diversity in the awards, including training for the judges, making sure books are judged by those familiar with each subgenre, and an award for unpublished authors.

While these are all good changes, Milan remains cautiously optimistic. On Twitter, she applauded the award’s new name, but noted “That meaning will be...very diluted … if the award still continues to exclude authors of color in large part.”

Related: It’s All About Love: How Romance Author Sandra Kitt Found Her Story

Featured photo: freestocks / Unsplash

Published on 29 May 2020