In a world unhinged by fear and hate, some days love feels like our only hope. Look no further than how the marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle has captivated the globe, giving many of us a brief respite from the chaos of divisive politics and rabid warmongering we hear every day.
Since childhood, reading has been my favorite escape, a safe place to dream when the problems of the world got too heavy. But lately it seems those problems have intruded into my reading refuge.
And I'm not the only bookworm feeling out of sorts.
Romance Writers of America
, a trade group with more than 9,000 members, is reeling after recent backlash over accusations of racism and a lack of diversity within the romance publishing world—a billion-dollar industry that has long been criticized for its lack of diversity and inclusion.
Since the scandal, RWA has been forced to cancel
its prestigious 2020 RITA awards competition after a large number of writers and judges dropped out
, has lost many of its judges and seen multiple resignations from its board of directors. The president, Damon Suede
, and the executive director, Carol Ritter, have resigned
The drama began when the then-Chair of RWA's Ethics Committee
, author Courtney Milan, a Chinese American and a vocal advocate for writers of color in publishing, referred publicly
to a book by author Kathryn Lynn Davis titled, "Somewhere Lies the Moon, as a
"f***ing racist mess" depicting harmful stereotypes of Chinese women.
The romantic saga, set in the Scottish Highlands, was published in 1999.
Davis, who is white, filed an ethics complaint with RWA against Milan, claiming she had lost a book deal due to Milan's criticisms. Davis has since backtracked, telling the Guardian
that her claim about suffering professional harm was not accurate. Milan was censured by the RWA board, given a one-year suspension from the group, and a lifetime ban from any leadership positions. After two complaints filed, a lengthy investigation and a report delivered to the Board, they dismissed
all but one of the infractions against Milan.
Members revolted over Milan's harsh punishment. A twitter storm ensued: #IStandWithCourtney.
"I'm not surprised by the controversy," current board member Hanna Rhys Barnes told me, adding, "As a woman of color, I joined the organization to help make a difference and bring questions of equality, diversity and fairness to the forefront, but fairness and equality are not the same to me." Barnes avoided explaining what she meant by this, or answering direct questions about racism within the group or in the romance book publishing industry. Barnes said she's "definitely remaining" with the organization after her term ends this summer.
Famed author Nora Roberts has strong feelings about RWA. Roberts jumped into the fray early
, supporting Milan's right to call out racism within RWA and the publishing industry. A longtime LGBTQ ally, Roberts wrote on a recent blog post that she quit RWA back in 2005 when the leadership drafted an edict defining romance as only between one man and one woman. (Since then, the Rainbow Romance Writers
, a group for LGBTQ authors in the genre, has become part of RWA, which has also rejected language defining "romance" as heterosexual.) Of the current controversy, she wrote that although she isn't on Twitter and hasn't been in RWA since 2005, "it's been impossible not to be aware of the horrendous situation involving RWA, its leadership and Courtney Milan which, as it escalated, brought to light a long-standing and systemic marginalization of authors of color, of LGBTQ authors, by the organization ... I regret all the years I didn't hear, didn't see, didn't listen, remained unaware of all the sad and unfair things that are now coming to light."