Romance Writers of America Cancels Awards Program

The Romance Writers of America ended 2019 reeling from the backlash to its handling of a racism accusation. It is beginning this year by canceling its 2020 awards for romance novels, known in the industry as the Ritas, after it said that several contestants and judges had already pulled out.

The awards, which recognize “excellence in published romance novels and novellas,” are typically given during the trade organization’s annual conference in the summer. But in a statement released on Monday, the R.W.A. said that many had “lost faith” in its ability to conduct a fair contest, leading participants to withdraw.

“The contest will not reflect the breadth and diversity of 2019 romance novels/novellas and thus will not be able to fulfill its purpose of recognizing excellence in the genre,” it said in the statement, adding that it planned to recognize 2019 and 2020 books next year. The organization declined to comment further.

Romance books are a lucrative part of the publishing industry, with a deeply engaged fan base, but the lack of diversity among the genre’s writers has been an ongoing topic of debate. Many readers, writers and others in the community followed the turmoil that engulfed the R.W.A. late last month, when the organization suspended Courtney Milan, a former board member and chair of its ethics committee, and banned her from leadership positions in response to an ethics complaint. Ms. Milan, a romance writer who is Chinese-American, had criticized the depiction of Chinese women in the novel “Somewhere Lies the Moon,” prompting its author, Kathryn Lynn Davis, an honorary R.W.A. member, and Suzan Tisdale, who employs Ms. Davis at a publishing imprint, to file ethics complaints against Ms. Milan.

The R.W.A.’s punishment was widely criticized on social media and by other writers, and the organization quickly reversed course on its decision. Still, eight board members resigned in protest, as did the former president Carolyn Jewel, and a petition calling for the resignation of the R.W.A.’s new president, Damon Suede, has been submitted to the organization.

Responding to the news that the R.W.A. canceled this year’s Ritas, Ms. Milan tweeted: “Well, I think canceling the RITAs this year is the first right decision I’ve seen RWA make in this whole debacle.”

It is not the first time an organization has canceled an awards program in response to controversy. In 2018, the Nobel Committee delayed its literature prize as a result of a wide-ranging sexual abuse and harassment scandal. The Ritas have drawn criticism before over the lack of diversity in nominations, resulting in an effort by the R.W.A’s president at the time, HelenKay Dimon, to emphasize the contributions of writers of color.

Nisha Sharma, whose young adult romance “My So-Called Bollywood Life” won a Rita award last year, was among three writers of color who won. The other two, M. Malone and Kennedy Ryan, were the first African-Americans to win in the organization’s history.

“I felt for the first time, in the 10 years that I’ve been a member of the organization, that I was heard, that I was represented, that I was appreciated,” Ms. Sharma said. “That ceremony gave me this sense of hope that things were getting better.”

But she said she has been disheartened by the recent turmoil in the R.W.A. and believes there should be an “overhaul of leadership” before the awards ceremony is put in place again.

Last week, the R.W.A. announced plans to hire a law firm that will audit the process of the ethics complaint against Ms. Milan “to provide a clear report of the facts.” On Monday, it said in its statement that by taking the year off from the contest, “we will be able to move away from making piecemeal changes.” It added that it plans to hire consultants who specialize in awards programs and in diversity, equity and inclusion to build a program “that celebrates and elevates the best in our genre.”

The article was originally published by Newyorktimes

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