Publishers, Citing Diversity Concerns, Drop Romance Conference

Harlequin, Avon and other romance publishers said Wednesday that they will not attend or sponsor this year’s Romance Writers of America conference, another setback for the organization as it struggles with the backlash to its handling of a racism accusation.

The event, held annually in the summer since the 1980s, typically attracts about 2,000 attendees. It is a major source of revenue for the R.W.A. as well as a key networking opportunity for romance writers, agents and editors looking for new talent. This year’s conference is scheduled to begin July 29 in San Francisco.

But some of the romance genre’s biggest publishers are reconsidering in light of the organization’s turmoil, which has been ongoing since late last year when it suspended a member after she criticized another romance novel as racist. Other romance writers slammed the R.W.A.’s move, and it has prompted intense debate on social media over how the genre handles issues of race and diversity. On Monday, the R.W.A. said it was canceling this year’s Rita awards, which recognize excellence in romance writing, after several contestants and judges pulled out.

Avon tweeted Wednesday that “in support of inclusive publishing,” it would neither attend nor sponsor this year’s conference. In a letter to the R.W.A.’s board of directors Wednesday saying that it too wouldn’t participate, Harlequin said, “It is important that all authors feel included, respected and heard.” It added that it would re-evaluate whether to participate next year once the R.W.A. “works with its members to address concerns that have been raised.”

Another company, Entangled Publishing, said “recent actions call into question the inclusivity” of R.W.A. and said it would not participate in any events “until the organization upholds its responsibility to represent all members in a fair manner.”

According to HelenKay Dimon, a former R.W.A. president, the departure of so many major romance publishers is a major blow to the organization. “RWA plans conferences years in advance,” she said in an email, adding that both Avon and Harlequin are major sponsors — “tens of thousands of dollars worth” — and that losing them will likely have a “cascading effect” in terms of the authors and editors who attend.

The R.W.A. didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday. Two more board members, Barbara Wallace and Renee Ryan, and its secretary, Donna Alward, resigned today, according to the R.W.A. website.

That follows the departure of eight board members late last year, after news about the suspended member, Courtney Milan, became public. Ms. Milan, a romance writer and former R.W.A. board member, had criticized depictions in the novel “Somewhere Lies the Moon” as racist, prompting the author and her employer to file ethics complaints against Ms. Milan.

The R.W.A. withdrew the penalties against Ms. Milan as the backlash grew, and subsequently said it would conduct an audit of the process. A petition calling for the resignation of Damon Suede, the organization’s current president, has been submitted, and dozens of literary agents signed a letter saying they would not attend any R.W.A. events until “new leadership is installed at the national level.”

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The article was originally published by Newyorktimes

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