I have been a historical romance junkie since I stole my mother’s copy of Proud Breed by Celeste De Blasis when I was 10 years old. My mother, seeing that I had enjoyed the book I had “borrowed” so much, then turned me on to De Blasis’s Wild Swan series (which spans from Regency England through the U.S. Civil War and ends at the dawn of the 20th Century). Those books pretty much sealed the deal on me becoming not only a historical romance fan, but a junkie of all things historical for life.
Then my father gave me a copy of When Harlem Was in Vogue by David Levering Lewis when I was 12. (You mean there was more to African-American history than the slave ships and picking cotton? What!) I think I devoured that book in two days. My father then told me the stories behind Bob Marley’s song “Buffalo Soldier” and about other famous black people in the Old West like Wild Bill Pickett. From that point on, my trips to the local bookstore resulted in a variety of African-American history books and historical romances mixed in with my monthly Sweet Valley High fix. However, it never occurred to me to question why there weren’t any historical romances about women who looked like me. (Note: I am African-American.)
I stopped reading for fun while I was in college. As a result, I missed the very short lived “boom” of African-American historical romance authors in the mid-to-late 1990s: Jane Archer, Anita Richmond Bunkley, Gay Gunn, Shirley Hailstock, Beverly Jenkins and Mildred Riley. Luckily, I discovered Beverly Jenkins’s books in 2002. Reading her work re-ignited my forgotten addiction to historical romance. And what made Jenkins’s books so great was that she merged all of my reading addictions into each story she wrote.
I began hunting for other books like hers with a vengeance and came up with nothing. By that time, she was the only from that original group who was still publishing African-American historical romance. All those other novels were out-of-print. A few titles by other authors have been published in the eleven years since then. But, Beverly Jenkins is the only author who has been consistently publishing African-American historical romance to this day. So unlike my teen-aged self, I began wondering why there weren’t more historical romances about women who looked like me.
I informally asked some African-American authors about this lack of historical romances about us. The typical response was along the lines of “I’d like to write one but I don’t have time to do the research.” I am an aspiring author myself and I also came to the same conclusion.
Then, I had a conversation with one of my girlfriends about the portrayal of African-American women in reality television shows that somehow turned into a discussion about young African-American girls not knowing their history. After about 45 minutes of listening to me ramble off a litany of obscure facts about the accomplishments of African-American women during the first half of the 20th century, Heather stopped me. “Why aren’t you writing all this stuff down? This is what you should be writing about in your stories.”
I couldn’t use the “I don’t have time to do the research” excuse anymore. I realized that I had already done much of it during my teenage years (And I had done all that research for fun, no less). So thanks to Heather and a few other influences, I currently have three African-American historical romances in progress with settings as varied as 1920s France, 1910s Washington, DC and World War II era New York.
Yes, I’m now doing my part to help fertilize this romance subgenre desert by working on my stories. But that does nothing to satisfy me as a reader. And then that conversation about African-American girls not knowing their history continued to bother me. This is why I recently started a weekly blog called Aren’t I A Heroine?, the purpose of which is to talk about African-American women’s historical romance with other readers, to serve as an educational resource about African-American women’s history in general, and to encourage other authors to write more of the stories I love to read.
If you have any interest in reading or writing in these kind of romances, I have your back. A group of us readers have compiled a list of over 150 black historical romances and black women’s fiction this past summer. The blog contains information about the different settings, historical events and women who inspired these stories. There are references provided to get over that research hump as well as plot bunnies based on real-life romances. What more could you want?
Biography: Kaia Alderson is the self-proclaimed Head Historical Geek over Aren’t I A Heroine?, a weekly blog about African-American historical romance. Her favorite periods in African-American history are the Civil War and the Harlem Renaissance. She is a graduate of Spelman College and the University of West Georgia. When she is not exploring all the historical landmarks she can find in the southeastern United States, you can find her either reading a book or writing one. You can contact her at aahistoricalheroine [at] gmail dot com or follow her on Twitter @KaiaWrites