You might think that the world of romance novel writing (known as Romancelandia) is a genteel place removed from the pressures and conflicts of the everyday world. The RITA awards, shown are above, are awards given yearly by the Romance Writers of America (RWA) association to celebrate excellence in Romance Novels. This year there will be no RITA awards ceremony as the RWA is in turmoil after a series of events that seem like something out of a novel. A short summary: Courtney Milan, a well-known and popular romance writer of color, is suspended by the RWA on ethics violation charges after commenting that another RWA member’s book was full of stereotypes, accusations discovered to be false and/or exaggerated, and members leave RWA and publishers pull out of events. Author Hillary Monahan puts it better in this tweet:
Chinese American author critiques white woman’s portrayal of Chinese Americans, white woman calls her a neo-nazi for it, RWA backs white woman and censures author, -BACKLASH-, RWA rescinds censure, everyone eats a giant holiday meal, RWA roils in own vomit.
To say that the plot thickened after the initial suspension would be terribly cliched but accurate. Courtney Milan worked diligently with the RWA to make it more inclusive, serving on its board and even winning a service award in 2019. The 20 year old book she was calling out, definitely had its problems. Here is an excerpt from Milan’s tweets on the book:
“Madam Chin lifted her head in a small gesture of defiance. “You know how the women of the household behave. We remain inside of the walls of the women’s compound; we are demure and quiet, as our mothers have trained us to be. We walk with eyes lowered politely, and may not look higher than a man’s breast.”
As Perez Hilton sarcastically notes regarding the book’s writing, “This was in 1999 and not 1899.”
The Vox article points out that this incident is not surprising when a mostly white institution like the RWA tries to be more inclusive and attitudes that were acceptable in the past no longer are acceptable, citing a similar backlash that happened in Science Fiction a few years ago. Another fascinating aspect of this story is Courtney Milan herself. Courtney Milan is the pen name of Heidi Bond, who has had an incredible and varied career that includes earning a Masters degree in Physical Chemistry from Berkeley, serving as a law clerk at the US Supreme Court, and teaching as a law professor.
This story has even more twists and turns than the few I have mentioned and makes for some absorbing reading. If you are more interested, I suggest taking a look at the following takes on the controversy:
(photo credit: Barbara Samuel under Creative Commons 2.0)