With the champagne all drunk, the countdown completed, and kisses exchanged, the book has officially closed on 2019. It was very good year for several of the writers here on the blog who successfully launched books into the hands of eager readers; it was not, however, such a good year for Romance Writers of America.
As Jeanne mentioned in her post yesterday, the implosion of RWA started on Christmas Eve when details about the RWA’s handling of ethics complaints against popular author Courtney Millan were made public. Following what happened next has been like watching an accident on the side of the road – horrifying, but hard to look away from.
While media coverage has focused on Milan’s comments about the racist elements of a specific book, the chain of events initially began months before with a series of tweets highlighting concerns about the biases of a specific acquisitions editor at a publishing company. Many twitter followers appear to have weighed in on the subject, sharing their views, and at some point, both the publisher (who hired the acquisitions editor) and the author of the book that was called out filed ethics complaints with RWA.
What ensued was a series of events that I doubt even the most creative fiction writer could have come up with: Shadow ethics committee. Re-written policies. Resignation. Censure. Backpedaling. Mass resignations. Uproar. Chapter statements. Petitions. Cancellation of the RITAs. And thousands and thousands of tweets. If someone was intentionally trying to destroy the organization, I don’t think they could have done a better job. And RWA has seemed intent on fanning the flames.
“. . . a professional organization so committed to lighting itself on fire that they’re guzzling gasoline behind dumpsters and juggling cigarette lighters.” ~ Facebook post
There are many aspects of all of this that I find troubling, not the least of which was RWA’s censure of an author who was expressing a personal opinion on social media. Now, I may be missing something here, since not all of the information regarding the complaint(s) is publicly available, but RWA policies exclude social media, so I’m definitely confused. I’m also confused about why a complaint by a publisher was considered at all, since RWA’s role is the support of writers.
What I have found even more troubling is how much of the discussion around this issue has centered on Milan’s comments about the racist elements in a particular book, and the language she used to express those comments, rather than the incidents of racism that numerous authors have experienced and spoken out about. The posts in the RWA PRO loop on the subject seemed to fall into two groups: (1) writers demurely clutching their pearls saying “language, ladies, language” and (2) marginalized writers doing their best to make themselves heard and understood. I’ll let you guess which of those two groups the PRO liaison tended to comment on.
“The PRO advisor keeps emphasizing civility and conveniently refuses to acknowledge racism. It’s infuriating.” ~ Twitter post
So now, here we are.
- After more than 300 books were pulled from RITA contention, the contest was cancelled on Monday.
- This story has been reported in the New York Times, the New York Post, NPR, the USA Today, and more; RWA’s reputation has been badly tarnished.
- The Nancy Yost Literary Agency withdrew their RWA membership and requested a refund of dues; other agents/editors have followed suit.
- There have been numerous calls for an independent audit of RWA and a firm has been hired (though there are concerns abut how “independent” or “comprehensive” the audit will be).
- There is an open investigation against RWA by the Texas Attorney General.
- The fate of the 2020 RWA Conference in San Francisco remains in question.
If there is anything that is positive about this entire mess is that a lot of things have been brought into the light that have been hidden (or at least haven’t had the visibility that they should have). There are some real, thought-provoking discussions going on about the treatment marginalized writers have been experiencing for years and years and years.
Can RWA as an organization be saved? I really don’t know.
Can we all learn something from this whole mess? I really hope so.
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Want some context around why this matters to more than just RWA members? Check out this link.
Want to broaden your perspective around diversity, power, and inclusion? Check out these two links.
Want to have see all of the chronological details in one place? Check out this site.