Elizabeth: Diverse Voices (RWA Conference Wrap-Up)

Last week’s RWA National conference is over and I made it home with twelve books to add to my To-Be-Read pile, some fun memories, pages and pages of notes from the various workshops I attended, and a lot of things to think about.  There will undoubtedly be much cogitating here at the Writing Castle in the weeks to come.

Today, however, I want to start off with a few facts:

  • In its 37-year history (1982-2018) no black author won an RWA RITA award.
  • According to the RWA’s own research, black authors have written less than half of 1 percent of the total number of books considered as RITA finalists.
  • Pew Research survey from 2014 found that the person most likely to read a book of any genre is a college-educated black woman.

Do you see the problem?

If so, you’re not alone.

You may remember that back in May, RWA president HelenKay Dimon issued a statement apologizing for the lack of diversity in the 2019 RITA finalist list, and a few finalists actually removed their works from consideration to further highlight the issue.  Last week’s RWA Conference included a 2-hour session focused on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and the RWA board has been working with an outside consultant to determine how to make the RWA organization more diverse, equitable, and inclusive.  Changes are already being put in place for the 2020 RITA contest to (hopefully) ensure a broader range of finalists.

That’s good news but, as Jeanne mentioned in her post yesterday, something even better happened at last week’s RITA award ceremony.  Kennedy Ryan (“Long Shot“) and M. Malone (“Bad Blood“) both won RITAs, making them the first two African-American writers to do so.

*Cue the applause*

Seriously, the crowd went wild.  There were multiple standing ovations and a number of teary-eyes.

The award ceremony also celebrated the early authors and books that have been left out of the spotlight during the nearly fifty years of the modern American romance genre.  You can check out the Romance Trailblazers they highlighted or Watch the romance trailblazers video.  Perhaps you’ll find something to add to your own TBR pile.

In the meantime, it’s time to update one of the facts I initially posted:

  • In its 38-year history (1982-2019) two black authors have won an RWA RITA award.

It may not be a big change, but it’s a start.

2 thoughts on “Elizabeth: Diverse Voices (RWA Conference Wrap-Up)

  1. I looked at the trailblazer book link and was surprised to see how much diversity got represented going back decades. But clearly the books with African-American characters or lesbian or gay themes did not find widespread acceptance with publishers or readers, or there would have been more of them going forward into the modern day. I hope finally we can overcome the straight/white bias that has personified contemporary traditional publishing. It is a great start that two books written by African-Americans won Ritas this year. As Beverly Jenkins so trenchently put it, why would readers be able to relate to vampires and shapeshifters, but not black characters? If the stories get out there, readers will find and appreciate them.

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