Celebrating Diversity in Romance Fiction
My last four posts have been all about the Romance Writers of America National Conference in July, and I just have to add one more!
Diversity was a key theme of this year’s conference, put into practice in the choice of keynote speakers authors Beverly Jenkins and Sherry Thomas.
Beverly Jenkins’ speech was both educational, teaching us about African American authors writing in the nineteenth and twentieth century, and also inspirational and encouraging. Sherry Thomas spoke about her path from Chinese immigrant to a career as a romance author. And both authors shared books with the conference attendees.
I’ve always felt that the best way to learn history is from good story-telling. Sure, “based on a true story” might have some anachronisms or incorrect facts, like the movie Braveheart, but a gripping biopic can also inspire readers or viewers to go learn the true facts of history. The same holds true for purely fictional creations, like the Horatio Hornblower or Richard Sharpe characters. A well-told story entertains while it teaches and inspires more study.
Beverly Jenkins’ Night Hawk is that kind of well-told story. Set in 1889, both hero and heroine are people of color, he the son of a Black sailor and a Scottish mother, she the daughter of a Black schoolteacher and a Native American mother. The hero is a lawyer and a very successful bounty hunter in the Old West.
His story brought to mind real life bounty hunter Bass Reeves, an African American man, and the inspiration for the Lone Ranger character. Jenkins’ story world is populated with a wide cast of well-developed characters of all colors and social levels–a diversity often neglected in the traditional telling of history. I look forward to reading more of her books.
My Beautiful Enemy
I have a special regard for Sherry Thomas because of some one-on-one query help she gave me when she visited my local RWA chapter a few years ago.
Her books are always a little different and My Beautiful Enemy is no exception. This is another Victorian era story, and the heroine is half Chinese and half British, with the same skills as the heroine of the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon film. Flashbacks take us to the Muslim parts of the Chinese Empire.
Two more notes of diversity I want to mention involved the RITA award nominees. The RITA is the highest romance fiction industry award, much coveted by authors and their editors alike. An LGBT author, Alexis Hall, won a RITA in the erotic romance category for her book, For Real.
And, three self-published authors won RITAs. Three out of twelve is a small number percentage-wise, but trust me, it’s not without controversy. Some traditionally published authors are embracing self-publishing, but among others, and among many unpublished, there’s still a lot of disdain and nose-holding going on over self-published books.
My take? It’s wonderful to have options as an author, and choices as a reader.
What do you think? Have you read Beverly Jenkins or Sherry Thomas? Do you read self-published books?