Romance Writers of America Apologizes For Not Including “Members of Color and LGBTQ+ Members” as Finalists for their 2019 RITA Awards

The Romance Writers of America’s (RWA) President HelenKay Dimon issued a lengthy apology on behalf of the RWA Board for not including “members of color and LGBTQ+ members” as finalists for their 2019 RITA awards.

The Romance Writers of America describes The RITA as “the highest award of distinction in romance fiction—recognizes excellence in published romance novels and novellas.” They boast that “up to 2,000 romance novels are entered in the RITA competition in 13 different categories.” They also state the purpose of the RITA Contest is to “promote excellence in the romance genre by recognizing outstanding published novels and novellas.”

In order to be eligible for a RITA Award you have to pay an entry fee. The fee starts at $50 for RWA members and $170 for non-members. The contest is judged by the entrants as well as authors who are PAN (Published Author Network)-eligible during the preliminary rounds. The final round is judged by a panel of five judges.

However, the 2019 RITA awards finalists did not include any authors who were members of color and LGBTQ+ members. In response to not including these types of authors, the RWA Board issued an apology.

President HelenKay Dimon wrote on behalf of the Board:

“While we are happy for our finalists, we cannot ignore the lack of representation on the finalist list or the shadow this lack of representation casts on RWA. The Board apologizes to our members of color and LGBTQ+ members for putting them in a position where they feel unwanted and unheard.”

Dimon then issues a number of points and commitments the Board plans to make:

  1. The Board affirmatively states that there is a serious problem with reader bias in the judging of the RITAs. This is most evident in the preliminary round of the RITAs.
  2. Currently, the preliminary round is judged by peer-review. All entrants must judge and the judging pool is limited to those who are eligible for PAN. The 2020 RITA contest will not be judged by the same peer-review process.
  3. The Board is currently investigating options and reviewing member feedback to change the scoring and judging of the RITAs.
  4. The Board’s working presumption is that the preliminary round judges must be vetted, likely through an application process and chosen by a committee with a stated process and whose membership is transparent and includes both authors and non-authors. We are reviewing the particulars of how this would work and will seek the assistance of an expert with a specialty in implicit bias and culture change to assist us in this process.
  5. The Board commits to providing the membership with an ongoing status report of its work on the proposed RITA changes prior to voting on the changes at the July Board meeting.”

Dimon closes out her apology stating, “While we know we may not deserve your trust on this issue right now, we hope to earn it. We are aware that, for some members, this may be the last chance they give RWA and we hope to rise to that challenge.”

What do you make of the Romance Writers of America offering an apology because there were no “members of color and LGBTQ+ members” as finalists? Do you think they needed to offer an apology? Should they not be more focused on the best romance novels and novellas rather than the identity of the people who write those novels and novellas?

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