Hello dear friends and welcome to what I must reluctantly confess now is really and truly summer. I don’t know how that came to slither up on me but there it is. I’m now elbow deep in writing my current novella while little hidden closets of my brain cook up scenes for other stories that I have in the works while deadlines, they be looming.
I’m also busy getting ready for the big Romance Writers Of America National Conference this July where for the first time I’ll be participating in (see: shaking in my boots) a workshop with three of my friends and chapter mates the talented authors: Alyssa Cole, Falguni Kothari and Lena Hart. For our workshop, on Thursday July 23rd which is called: Multicultural Romance, When Keeping It Real Goes Wrong And How To Make It Right, we’ll be talking about quite a few topics one of which will be diversity in romance including the #WeNeedDiverseRomance hashtag.
I’ve also self-proclaimed July 23rd #WeNeedDiverseRomance Tee day at RWA so if you have your tee and are coming this would be the day to wear it and represent.
I started the #WeNeedDiverseRomance hashtag around 8 months ago to honor my dear Nana who had recently and very suddenly passed away. Nana was a huge influence on me becoming the romance writer I am today. I have strong memories of seeing her, after a long day of being a child caregiver for working Harlem mothers (a job she took on right after I was born and one she retired from after my own twins went off to pre-school), tiredly taking a moment for herself to relax with a Harlequin romance before she went to off bed. Nana was a veracious reader of romance, a lover of these books that took her far away from her day to day everyday, but in no way reflected the amazing woman she was or the incredibly hard working black women (and men) who went off to work and entrusted her with their precious children as they did so. It will be so hard to fight back tears as I go to the RWA literacy signing this year and for the first time since I’ve been a member I won’t have the assignment from Nana to go and get a signed Nora Roberts for her. She was such a huge Nora fan that Nora’s was the one book I HAD to get every year without fail.
That said it was due to Nana that as a preteen I picked up these books and like her was entranced with the love stories that took me away from my concrete jungle with their high level of love, emotion and passion even though I could never fully put myself in the shoes of the creamy skinned, blue eyed, blond heroines that the Greek tycoons fell for no matter how many times I put my tee shirt over my head and pretended it was my own flowing locks.
But it was what it was, and being lover of books, I read what was available in the genres I loved and that was women’s fiction and romance. Taking nothing away I still found many books, authors and stories I adored. It would be few and too far between, but I was thrilled when I found books like Terry McMillian’s Disappearing Acts and the iconic AA couple of Zora and Franklin who looked on the page like people I could possibly know or, hey, even maybe be one day, just way more passionate. I wanted more of these type of stories! And thankfully with that book’s success there was more. Many more, but sadly not nearly enough.
The #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag and movement has been making great strides since it was started and does so much for children’s literature discussion and I hope landscape and I’d love for that to continue into romance and all genres of literature. It saddens me so much when I see how disproportionate the bestseller lists are when it comes to authors of color. Now I’m not sure I know the fix to this problem as I don’t think there is one fix all as the problem has come from years and years of the “norm” being books by Caucasian writers and book by writers of color being labeled as other and shelved separately if picked up by a mainstream publisher. And if not picked up by a publisher then self-publishing being the other option for an author of color where discoverability is even more difficult. So with these obstacles I think the fix will take a not so subtle shift of the norm being truly diverse catalogs put out by publishers. And by diverse that means having more than 1 or 2 offerings by authors of color a month and consistently giving equal presence and retail marketing money to authors of color. That way when the public goes looking for their next read the offerings truly look like a rainbow and instead of the “right” choice being subliminally made for them.
It would be great to also address the lack POC staffing in publishing. Not to mention but to mention the fact that African American college educated women are the largest group of readers in the country so why not service them and stop leaving money on the table?
This year the need for the #WeNeedDiverseRomance hashtag and the movement has been brought home even more with what has been going on all over the country. From the awful police shootings and targeting of black men, women and children to the most recent horrific event in Charleston at Emanuel AME. How many times have we asked the question or shouted the rally call #BlackLivesMatter? How sad is it that we have to ask this question and remind people of this fact in the first place? But the truth is too often POC color are looked at as so called “thugs” before they are looked on as regular citizens with all the rights that come with that label. I think having more men and women of color lifted up as heroes and heroines from early on in literature is one way this perceptions can change. We can also go far with changing these perceptions on the big and small screen but that is a post for another day.
Sidebar: If you are looking for another great hashtag to follow please check out #WOCRomance and also check out Rebekah Weatherspoon’s @WOCInRomance on twitter and tumblr where she highlights new offerings from women of color in romance.
I’ve gone on long enough but I want to finish by saying that I know #WeNeedDiverseRomance will mean different things to different people and that is fine and as it should be. This post is about why I started the hashtag. Your perception is your reality as mine is mine. #WeNeedDiverseRomance is also shouting out to the persons with disabilities and the LGBTQ and transgender community. We are all here, all having been marginalized and all fighting the good fight for our truths to be told. I’m just the one here today rambling on about why I started the hashtag with a tweet on a day back when I was feeling low in my grief watching what was going on in the world and and missing my grandmother terribly. The response has been overwhelming and humbling and I’m honored that the hashtag still continues today and to that I say tweet on. Tweet on until the hashtag seems silly and redundant because we are truly equal and not segregated and all is well because finally well and truly do have Diverse Romance. Thank you.
Early tweets for #WeNeedDiverseRomance
Click the blow links to order your Tee!
P.S. I’ll always love you Nana and will forever thank you.