The following letter was emailed to Mr. Suede and Mses. Alward, Dixon, McMurry, Rhys Barnes, and Ryan on December 30, 2019 at 1:56 p.m. EST from Romance Sparks Joy on behalf of a Group of Concerned Volunteer Judges for the RITA Awards. A hard copy of the letter is to follow.
Dear Mr. Suede and Mses. Alward, Dixon, McMurry, Rhys Barnes, and Ryan:
We are people who find great joy in the act of reading: to be swept away by a great story, to suffer and triumph with characters, to experience the happily ever after. But reading is also a beautifully selfish act. When reading for ourselves, we simply judge the book by our own standards. Does it work for me? Do I want to keep reading? The only opinion that matters is my own.
Being a librarian, book reviewer, or critic is a very different task, and it is one that carries with it great responsibility. Now we must set aside our personal preferences and analyze the book in a different way. What is in the text? How does it work on its own? How does it work within its subgenre, the genre, and literature itself? Does the book succeed or fail on any number of metrics — story, character, representation, theme?
When we give our stamp of approval to a book, we are building a relationship of trust with readers. People listen to what we say. Our responsibility, of course, is more than just to individual readers, but to the genre as a whole. It is our goal and responsibility to read widely and broadly to combat further amplifying the unbearable whiteness and heteronormativity that already exists in romance.
Finally, comes the task of judging for the RITAs, a contest that claims to “the highest award of distinction in romance fiction,” one that “recognizes excellence in published romance novels and novellas.” This is an award for posterity, one that will be memorialized forever as being the absolute best of what romance had to offer in that year.
After years of watching mediocre, problematic, and even racist books land on the finalists list, it was clear to us as reviewers and librarians that something was very wrong with the process. Many of us saw the opportunity to become RITA judges as a way of helping the award to be better and to truly represent the best of romance. We specifically volunteered our time as judges hoping to create a more fair, equitable, and inclusive RITA award.
However, it is now clear that the Romance Writers of America do not actually care about what is best for romance, they only care about what is best for RWA and a very narrow swath of its membership. By sanctioning Courtney Milan for failing to “create a safe and respectful” environment for the community of writers, RWA has made the act of judging the RWA contest, at best, impossible, and at worst, hostile to our community of librarians and critics.
The organization’s stance is now that calling out any kind of problematic elements in a text are an attack on the author and that the feelings of authors are more important than those of readers. As librarians, reviewers, and critics, this is antithetical to our work and our purpose.
We therefore withdraw our names as judges for the RITA awards. We stand with Courtney Milan and we stand with readers.
Paula Pergament, Jennifer Prokop (Fated Mates Podcast), Jenna Friebel (Oak Park Public Library), Aarya Marsden (SBTB), Elizabeth Gabriel (Milwaukee Public Library ), Agata Weronika (Twitter: @Aqueda_Veronica), Rochelle Murray (www.elleyotter.com), Melinda Utendorf (RomBkPod), Ana Canino-Fluit (Loveinpanels.com), Suzanne Krohn (Love in Panels), Micaela (@siempreromances), Jennifer Newton (www.heaorgtfo.com), Helen Kord (Imallbookedup.wordpress.com ), Kelly Kobiela (Raynor Memorial Library), Martha Mayberry (author), Ceillie Simkiss (CandidCeillie/LetsFoxAboutIt), Carol Lee (Writing Bookish Notes), Shree C.Aier (Reviewer), Stephanie Zuercher (Cranford) (Twin Cities Geek: http://twincitiesgeek.com/twin-cities-geek-staff/stephanie-cranford/), Kaetrin Allen (Kaetrin’s Musings), Jenny Nordbak (Wicked Wallflowers Club), Meagan Day (High Plains Library District ), Shana Berry (Smart Bitches, Trashy Books), Leah Dudak (Public library of Cincinnati and Hamilton county ), Lauren Sullivan (Llama Reads Books), Jessica Pryde (Book Riot), Kate Kehrel (@kate_reads_), Michaelene Malan (The Librarian’s Corner), Esther Moreira (Essieslovecorner.wordpress.com), Holly Soboroff (Loras College Library), Ezrah Lasola (I Heart Romance (http://www.eyeheartromance.com)), Nancy Clark aka Karen Kiely (Anchorage Public Library), Karen D. Toonen, MSLIS (Volunteered personal time;), Christina Hawn (Naperville Public Library), Jennifer Rothschild (Arlington Public Library), Sarah Brodeur Johnson (Lust Found Reads/RomBkPod), Nanette Donohue (Champaign (IL) Public Library), Judy Neeb (Chula Vista Public Library), Amris Allemand (Mandel Public Library of West Palm Beach), Annie Carl (Greater Detroit RWA), Trisha Brown (Book Riot), angel Graham (https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5221979.Angel_Graham), Margrethe Martin (Love in Panels), Julie Karaganis (Copper Dog Books), Jackie Horne (Romance Novels for Feminists), Jenica Hughes (Firewhiskeyreader.home.blog), Melisa Safchinsky (www.somewherelostinbooks.com), Shoshana Frank (Naperville Public Library), Sera Taíno (http://www.serataino.com), Michelle Halber (Davis Library – Montgomery County Public Libraries ), Jessica Barrientos (Westminster Public Library), Jessica Moore (Librarian ), Melanie C Duncan (Library Journal reviewer), Jennifer Rummel (YA Book Nerd / Cragin Memorial Library), May Boonpitak (GoodRead), Ali Williams (Pink Heart Society webzine ), Deborah Khuanghlawn (Arlington Public Library ), Rebecca Moe (Becky on Books / Alden Ewell Free Library), Joy Harris (Joyfully Reviewed), Pam Leffler (Morton Grove Public Library ), Erin Greenlee (The Smut Report (www.smutreport.com)), Toni Linenberger (Book Review Crew), Limecello (A Little Bit Tart, A Little Bit Sweet ), and Christine Peele (Detroit Public Library)