Last week the list of finalists came out for this year’s Romance Writers of America RITA and Golden Heart contests. There was much happiness by those who saw their names on the lists, but there was also an obvious, elephant-in-the-room issue out there that couldn’t be ignored.
For all of the talk and focus in recent years on diversity, there was a distinct lack of it represented on the lists of finalists.
The topic of diversity was front and center at last year’s RWA conference, with a number of the RITA and Golden Heart award winners specifically commenting on the lack of diverse-author representation in their categories. That same conference also included a Diversity Summit attended industry professionals, RWA staff/Board members, members of RWA’s Diversity Committee, and other leaders within the organization who represent marginalized populations. According to the RWA website, the purpose was to “share ideas, identify roadblocks, and reaffirm a commitment to fostering a romance genre that represents the wide array of authors and readers that love it.”
And yet . . . it doesn’t feel like much progress has been made yet.
A few days ago, the RWA president HelenKay Dimon, on behalf of the RWA board released a message, confirming the obvious problem that exists:
“The Board affirmatively states that there is a serious problem with reader bias in the judging of the RITAs. This is most evident in the preliminary round of the RITAs.”
“While we are happy for our finalists, we cannot ignore the lack of representation on the finalist list or the shadow this lack of representation casts on RWA. The Board apologizes to our members of color and LGBTQ+ members for putting them in a position where they feel unwanted and unheard.”
The RWA board is considering several changes to the RITA in order to address the issues of bias in the contest judging, and that makes sense. If your judges aren’t diverse, then the results of their judging may very well not be either, despite the best of intentions. It’s like having a group of middle-aged white men making decisions about women’s reproductive issues. Who wants that?
Un-biased judging is important, but is the problem even bigger than that? Are diverse authors even making it into the contest to begin with or are there barriers to entry that are keeping them out?
The Board is looking all aspects of the contest and has committed to making changes:
“While we work through this process and the large-scale change to RITA judging and other issues in the contest, we ask that members contact us with their comments, suggestions and concerns. You can contact any Board member directly or email me at president@RWA.org and I will share your email with the Board.
While we know we may not deserve your trust on this issue right now, we hope to earn it. We are aware that, for some members, this may be the last chance they give RWA and we hope to rise to that challenge.”
So, what are your thoughts on the issue? What changes would you recommend?