Racism Dispute Roils Romance Writers Group

It’s hit The New York Times:

A dispute over a racism accusation and how it was handled have upended the romance writers’ community, with best-selling novelists speaking out against the Romance Writers of America and most of the powerful, 9,000-member trade organization’s board resigning in the last days of the year.

The R.W.A. on Monday said it was hiring a law firm to “to conduct an audit of the process and these events to provide a clear report of the facts.” The dispute arose over the group’s treatment of Courtney Milan, a former board member and chair of its ethics committee who last summer criticized Kathryn Lynn Davis’s novel “Somewhere Lies the Moon” on Twitter as a “racist mess.”

Ms. Milan, who is Chinese-American, took issue with the depiction of 19th-century Chinese women in the book, including a description of “slanted almond eyes” and a quote from a character describing them as “demure and quiet, as our mothers have trained us to be.” “The notion of the submissive Chinese woman is a racist stereotype which fuels higher rates of violence against women,” Ms. Milan wrote on Twitter.

Ms. Davis, who is an honorary R.W.A. member, disagreed with Ms. Milan’s assessment, saying her book was historically accurate and based on years of research. She filed an ethics complaint with the R.W.A., saying that Ms. Milan’s comments were “cyberbullying” and cost her a publishing contract.

“I would not have filed a complaint if she had been more professional,” Ms. Davis said of Ms. Milan.

In her response to the complaint, Ms. Milan said that the R.W.A.’s ethics code does not cover discussions on social media accounts it doesn’t operate, and said of her criticism: “I am emotional about these issues. Negative stereotypes of Chinese women have impacted my life, the life of my mother, my sisters, and my friends.”

. . . .

As a result of that complaint and one from another writer, Suzan Tisdale, who employs Ms. Davis at a publishing imprint and said she had lost potential authors as a result of the controversy, the R.W.A. told Ms. Milan earlier last week that her membership was suspended and she was banned for life from holding leadership positions within the organization.

Ms. Milan called the judgment “a form of betrayal” and shared the documents associated with the complaint with her friend and fellow romance writer Alyssa Cole, who posted them to Twitter.

“If it was now R.W.A.’s policy that talking about a book and specifically saying negative things about a book as a marginalized author was going to get you banned from the organization,” Ms. Milan said, “I felt that other marginalized people in the organization needed to know that.”

Once the documents were on social media, other writers, including best-selling romance novelists like Nora Roberts and Cynthia Eden, voiced their support for Ms. Milan. The R.W.A. quickly reversed course on its judgment, but eight board members resigned as well as the former president Carolyn Jewel, and a petition calling for the resignation of Damon Suede, the R.W.A.’s new president, began circulating online.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

4 thoughts on “Racism Dispute Roils Romance Writers Group”

  1. I think authors, who are also readers, believe that they have two voices in the world… one as an author, and also one as a reader. I disagree. I think once you become a published author, you lose the right to your reader voice. You lose the right to talk xxxx about other authors or write scathing blog posts about other authors’ books.
    I’ll be over here, writing my next book, keeping my mouth shut.

    • I don’t know what authors believe. I suppose they believe all sorts of things. But, authors lose no right to speak on anything. They are not an inferior class, denied the rights the rest of society enjoys.

      An author may choose topics to discuss for whatever reason he wants. Some may speak on one topic, and some on another. But that choice is an expression of their right to speak on whatever they want.

      Authors aren’t special.

      • Oh, I will agree that writers do not lose their right to diss other people’s books.

        HOWEVER, they should remember that what they dish out is likely to be what is plopped down on their plate at some point. (This is actually a good thing to remember, period – but especially in relations with those in the same profession.)

        I have a review policy. I will not review a book that I have not read completely. Which pretty much means that I actually liked it enough to finish it. If and when I have criticisms about it, I read it again, to make sure that my first impression was valid.

        That being said, I am slowly wading through the book in question, expressly to see whether “racist mess” is an accurate description – or not – or partially true. This is something that I have not seen any of the Twits say they have done.

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