I’ve been around in Romancelandia for a while. My young adult and “new adult” years were spent devouring romance novels and reading romance blogs, so I have a very long memory of the controversies and conversations du jour stretching back to at least 2005. So I was quite chagrined by a new Op-Ed on SBTB about the lack of diversity in historical romance. Not because the OP doesn’t have a valid argument, or that the rallying cry is not true. I was chagrined because this is an old conversation that has historically ended up with tons of comments and reaction pieces (yes, irony!), but little action. Just look at these old Dear Author posts from 2007 and 2008:
(I’m linking to DA because they were the primary hub for this conversation a decade ago)
The reactions to this topic are better than they used to be–there was real angry resistance to “being forced” to read diversely back in the day–but why are we still having this conversation? And still at the 101 level?
But after reading through some of the comments, it hit me that a new generation of romance readers are coming to the genre and are looking around, wondering how their reading suddenly turned mostly–if not all–white. Now, I certainly don’t think that YA and MG are a bastion of diversity and even representation, but kidlit readers today have more to choose from than me! All I had was Addy from the American Girls, Jessie in the Baby-Sitters Club, and whatever black character was thrown into a “Very Special Release” of Sweet Valley.
Kidlit writers also have more space to write themselves (their children, their aunts, their parents, etc) into the narrative; it’s pretty much encouraged from editors, agents, booksellers, bloggers, reviewers, and readers (Sadly, romance editors and agents do not gush over #ownvoices and diversity as much as the kidlit community in those MSWL tweets).
But as readers and writers age up and seek reads that reflect their experiences and continue the pleasure of presence they found in their kidlit, they are going to bump up against the intensely segregated and marginalized adult fiction world. Which is why we have this recent Op-Ed.
Romance needs to take a hard look at itself to ask why it doesn’t feel the need to champion diverse voices in the manner of the kidlit world.
Why, ten years later, new readers are saying the exact same thing as new readers a decade ago.
Why the landscape of the genre doesn’t appear radically different than what it looked like in the past, despite claims it’s progressed from the 70s and 80s.
Why, despite the positive response to the WNDB campaign, the action in the romance genre stops mostly at Twitter retweets and comments on blog posts like the one at SBTB.