Romance Writers of America cancels racist book award

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This past weekend, the Romance Writers of America (RWA) honored many romantic writers at their inaugural VIVIAN Awards. Named after RWA founder Vivian Stephens, the online event came after a complete organizational overhaul and the 2020 RITA Awards were canceled. It was for the best.

Despite this upheaval due to marginalized members of the Romantic community denouncing fanaticism within the organization, 2021 still had glaring missteps – the most discussed was attribution At Love’s Cordered by Karen Witemeyer with a VIVIAN. Already in the problematic category of “Romance with religious or spiritual elements”, the “hero” of this book participates in the murder of indigenous communities, but then finds love and Jesus.

Romancelandia broke. The writers allowed their RWA membership to expire and at least one author declined their award.

The Monday following VIVIAN, the RWA published a statement doubling the judges’ decision.

Romance with religious or spiritual elements, as a sub-genre of romance, requires a redemptive bow as a genre convention. Essentially, the character cannot be redeemed by human means; it is only through their spiritual / religious awakening that they can find redemption for their moral flaws and / or crimes against humanity.

Yes, you read that last part correctly.

Although signed by the president of RWA LaQuette alone, the statement ended with the board’s email for comment. Sure, she’ll be the face of the board and the organization, but it’s surprising why the entire board wouldn’t sign him. Perhaps there was dissent?

On top of that, she made sure everyone knew that this group was a diverse class of finalists and that there would be a task force to assess reviews of the first VIVIAN Awards. That and the “technically good” about the nature of the category, as if that category itself wasn’t widely criticized, turned out to be valid rejections of concern.

Less than 24 hours later, the RWA has issued a follow-up statement cancellation of the prize. They recognized Witemeyer’s right to post garbage (my word) but continued with:

“Cannot in good conscience support the judges’ decision during the vote to celebrate a book that depicts the inhumane treatment of indigenous peoples and romanticizes real-world tragedies that still affect people to this day.”

The publisher of the book, Bethany House, defended the book at Religion New Service. They claim that “the author makes it clear throughout the book that the protagonist deeply regrets his actions and spends the rest of his life trying to right the wrong he has done.”

There are several things that are wrong with this statement. First, he ignores readers’ criticism (of the entire book and the screenshots) that he doesn’t confront the big picture of what he did. Second, the book focuses on how the white man feels bad and gets a happy ending that we shouldn’t be chasing anyway.

At the same time, we are still actively investigating the history of racist atrocities against Native Americans in the United States and Canada with research into the many bodies buried in “residential schools”. Every few weeks we get a grim update, so it’s in the public consciousness more than ever. Long overdue.

Still no word from Witemeyer herself on the review or the price. She is not active on public social media, but contributes to a Western-themed blog and a Christian fiction blog.

(via Religion News Service, featured image: Bethany House Publishers, emoji)

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