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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  • Photo Credit: freestocks / Unsplash

In January of this year, the Romance Writers of America cancelled the RITAs, the romance genre’s most prestigious awards ceremony. Named for the RWA’s first president, Rita Clay Estrada, the awards have been given every year since 1982. However, no black author had won a Rita until 2019, when Kennedy Ryan finally took one home, At the time, Ryan stated that the moment “kicks down a door that should have been flung open long ago.”

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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including training for the judges, making sure books are judged by those familiar with each subgenre, and an award for unpublished authors.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.”

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Featured photo: freestocks / Unsplash

Published on 29 May 2020