The RWA debacle

December 29, 2019 Musings 6

Image by RedHeadsRule. Used under Pixabay license.

The romance world is up in arms over RWA’s secretive (and inappropriate) handling of ethics complaints against Courtney Milan. The complaints were lodged by several author/editors whom Milan had called out for racism. RWA responded by

  1. Requesting that Milan resign from her position as chair of the Ethics Committee, rather than asking that she recuse herself, which would be the normal procedure (she did resign);
  2. Forming a second, secret ethics committee whose members remain unknown at the time of this writing… without letting the members of the standing Ethics Committee know anything at all;
  3. Voting to approve the secondary committee’s recommendation that Milan be suspended from membership for a year and banned for life from holding any national office in RWA. (Essentially, Milan was censured for publicly calling out racism on the part of several authors who are also editors/publishers. Ironic, since Milan has been at the forefront of efforts to eliminate racism and bigotry within RWA.) Note that a day after this went public, the Board rescinded the vote “pending a legal opinion.”

At this point, Milan was notified of the Board’s decision. Her friend and fellow author Alyssa Cole went public with it on Twitter on Dec. 23.

The resulting uproar has highlighted not only serious problems with RWA’s procedures and leadership, but also a history of systemic bigotry, as other authors of color and LGBTQ authors recount their own experiences. Eight POC RWA Board members resigned “because [they] no longer trust or have confidence in RWA’s leadership”, and feel the complaint should never have been referred to the Ethics Committee in the first place (let alone the secret alternative committee that was set up.) Several members of the official Ethics Committee also resigned. As a result of the brouhaha, the president, Carolyn Jewel, has also resigned. A number of authors have pulled their RITA entries from contention; several RITA judges have resigned; and a number of agents have said they will not attend RWA events. And there is growing support for a recall of Damon Suede, the president-elect (now acting president), based on his apparent involvement in the whole complaint/secret-committee process as well as other alleged irregularities.

It seems unlikely that RWA can weather this storm without a significant loss of both members and industry respect, unless meaningful changes are made. The organization has lost a great deal of trust and goodwill on the part of both writers and romance readers. What is needed is a thorough housecleaning and restructuring, along with a public acknowledgment of past wrongs and a true commitment to transparency and nondiscrimination going forward.

To get a clearer, broader overview of the whole story, read Claire Ryan’s post, The Implosion of the RWA, and All About Romance’s Has RWA Lost Its Way?, both of which contain many useful links to original documentation and tweet threads from various authors.

ETA 1/02/2020, 1:44 PM EST: Smart Bitches, Trashy Books has a frequently-updated post (with links) that contains much of what has gone on since I posted this: WTAF, RWA: Courtney Milan Banned, Suspended From RWA. TL;DR version: It’s still a mess. RWA’s acting/current president, Damon Suede, has still not resigned, despite a petition requesting he do so. An email from the board and staff requests members to stay “civil” in expressing their opinions about other writers’ work (raises hand: How do you “civilly” point out that someone’s work contains racist tropes, when they will take offense at the term “racist” regardless of what else is said?) And new board members have been appointed (not elected.)

Also, Mikki Kendall’s opinion piece for NBC News is worth reading: The Romance Writers of America racism row matters because the gatekeepers are watching.

6 Responses to “The RWA debacle”

  1. Cleo @ Mysteries and Memoirs

    Geez, I will admit to not being a huge fan of romance/historical romance except when it straddles another sub-genre such as romantic suspense.

    But even I, as a well-read blogger, know about Courtney Milan and what a decent person she is besides being a talented author. I would imagine that she is against racism and gender bigotry… so someone who is against her would then be…. pro-racism?! Shaking my head at the confusion…
    Cleo @ Mysteries and Memoirs recently posted…About Lists— Because I Love Lists!My Profile

  2. Jorie

    Hallo, Hallo,…

    You did such a fantastic recapture of what I gathered the gist of via Twitter.. I was following *thread after *thread sorting through everything said, tweeted, declared and shared whilst I wished I had just checked your blog and had this lovely post to read instead! Mostly as you wrote it in a very condensed edition of events, disclosures and the key issues at hand.

    Sadly, this did not shock nor surprise me,… I’ve had some experiences as a reader / blogger / writer IRL with chapters of this writerly union and to be honest, those encounters and experiences left me realising that unions are not my cuppa. They were above and beyond snarky, clicky and unapproachable and if you did not fit within their ‘box’ of acceptance perimeters you were rightly shunned.

    What is further saddening is that have heard better experiences by authors who are with the RWA overseas and how its a sister/brotherhood of support, encouragement and meet-ups where everyone comes together for the right reasons and helps each other along their careers. It is sad yes that this happened the way it did but I’m simply not surprised. It just never felt like they had their act together, plus they are not respectful of (potential) new members nor do they like anyone as said who is outside their purview of what they expect a writer / reader / blogger to be,… in essence, I can see why they need to clean house. From the top to the bottom and definitely with PR and respect towards those who want to visit their chapter meetings and/or meet-up with fellow writers who are on their publishing road.

    There is so much wrong with what happened… I don’t even have words. I grew up in a metropolis which had a beautiful melting pot of culture, religions and ethnic backgrounds… I love the diversity of our world and to think at the root of this fiasco are people who are not addressing prejudicial behaviour is seriously horrid for being in the second decade of the 21st Century.

    I kept ‘mum’ about my thoughts… but felt I could share them with here.
    Jorie recently posted…A very special #blogmas Christmas Eve with a time travelling war drama #ChristmasReads selection by Jorie | “Christmas Once Again” by Jina BacarrMy Profile

    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      I’m sorry you’ve had bad experiences with the local chapters. A friend of mine is in one of the chapters, and I think her experiences have been positive, but I’m sure it very much depends on which chapter, and on who one encounters within the chapters. Courtney Milan and a number of others were working hard to move RWA in the direction of more inclusivity. Perhaps the uproar will bring about much-needed change in that direction…

  3. Jan @ Notes from a Readerholic

    I had not heard RWA was having problems since I don’t really read romance anymore. However, when I was reading it Courtney Milan was one of my favorite authors. I feel she’s a really good writer plus she does such a stellar job with her self-published books. When I was reading romance books I had thought of going to one of the RWA conventions, but it was quite expensive as I recall. I also vaguely recall 15 years ago or so that the group was also having problems. I can’t quite remember why, but I think had something to do with “what is a romance?” Sounds like they’re still having problems!

  4. Vi @Inkvotary

    Woah! I am kind of speechless. Good, I am not very familiar with the topic you are telling us about in your post (somehow I didn´t see that on Twitter although I am following Milan there) but from what I can read and understand is, that this is not only sad but also very bitter. For the community as well as for Courtney Milan. Thank you for all the links you are providing in your post. I will go and check them out. Stay the way you are and all the best for 2020!

    Best wishes
    Vi @Inkvotary
    Vi @Inkvotary recently posted…Weekly Book Wrap-Up #98 – First Long Weekend Of The YearMy Profile