As RWA Implodes

Over the holidays and New Year’s, I was keeping my eyes peeled on Twitter because on December 23rd, Alyssa Cole tweeted a thread with documents about her friend Courtney Milan and a kerfuffle with the Romance Writers of America.

Basically, what happened–as far as anyone knew on December 23rd–was that there had been a complaint lodged with the Romance Writers of America’s Ethics Commitee against Courtney Milan, because some months ago, she tweeted that a book, originally published in the 1990s but then re-released in 2014, was “a fucking racist mess.” Somehow, this complaint went to a committee who ruled that Courtney Milan should be kicked out of RWA for a year and be banned from holding all leadership positions for a lifetime.

Well since then, this fucking mess has morphed. It’s, like, honestly–nobody could write this:

  • The author is an editor for someone else who also filed a complaint against Courtney Milan
  • The book Milan criticized on Twitter “was thirty years old,” so everyone kept saying–and featured really problematic descriptions and content of a Chinese heroine, apparently. Milan is half-Chinese.
  • It later turned out that the book was re-released in 2014, so, uh, that shit could’ve been updated
  • Also, if someone points out racism in your book, just say sorry, I didn’t understand, I will try better next time
  • The author claimed Milan’s comments on Twitter caused the author to lose a publishing contract (This has turned out to be false)
  • The fact that this complaint was heard by some subcommittee that no one on the Ethics Committee knew about
  • Most of the RWA board resigned in protest
  • A trending hashtag: #IStandWithCourtney
  • The President of the RWA board also resigned, leaving the President-Elect in charge

As a romance reader, I became aware of RWA probably in college. I knew the authors I liked reading belonged to this organization. I knew they held conferences. I contemplated joining RWA someday, if my writing ever showed my inclination for romance novels clearly. As I’ve followed more and more of Romancelandia on Twitter, I’ve become more aware of RWA as well–I even went to the Literacy Signing, open to the public, at RWA last summer.

But even though I’ve been reading romance since I was quite young, there were plenty of times I grew tired of the same old thing, especially in historical romance. Why are they all dukes and why are they all white? I found Courtney Milan’s books as I was finding other, more diverse historical romance to read and she is one of my favorite authors.

Plus, her Twitter feed is hilarious and informative.

Following the developments has actually given me a cursory education in non-profit management, publicity, publishing, law…

These were the blogs I was glued to last week:

WTAF RWA? Courtney Milan banned, suspended from RWA

And this one, which is an updated timeline of pretty much every twist and turn of this saga:
The Implosion of the RWA.

4 thoughts on “As RWA Implodes

  1. I mean, if Courtney wanted to rant on Twitter, that's within her right. Probably shouldn't have been banned for it, but I don't know. I think a lot of people are accused of being racist and with having malignant intentions, and I think intent matters. I don't really believe in attacking people for their ignorance. That book isn't even all that popular. How many people have even read it? Pitching a fit on Twitter is exactly why people are scared to have non-white people in their books in the first place. At the same time, yeah, I rather people not do it at all then write something intentionally or unintentionally racist, but once it’s out there, what’s the benefit of attacking them? No one benefits from that. However, I kind of feel like the author who complained about Courtney should have just let it go, as well. All they did was draw a lot of negative attention to themselves. And when is it ever a good idea to try and hurt someone who criticized your book? Grow a damn spine. They majorly overreacted, but I feel like Courtney did too. She made gross assumptions about that person’s intent and accused them being a horrible, awful racist. The passages she pointed out in the book in question are ridiculous, yeah, but it looks like typical misunderstanding and ignorance. Courtney was going off on a tangent like the author was purposely trying to harm Chinese people, when in reality, the author is just ignorant. And easily butt-hurt. And I don’t feel sorry for her. She had no grounds to go after Courtney, but I don’t feel sorry for Courtney either. This whole situation got way out of hand, in my opinion.

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  2. Well, whether or not one thinks Courtney shouldn't have blasted the book on Twitter or whether or not one is not bothered by one-note fictional portrayals of minorities, it's been interesting to see how badly RWA is handling this and how such a huge organization is disintegrating. They're ignoring *their own* by-laws. There was a secret ethics committee. Wtf is that?Plus, although I may not have heard about this particular author or editor beforehand, I have definitely read problematic things–and written them, too. Apparently, this author also wrote a book with some cringey portrayals of Native people.I don't read it as being \”white people are scared to write about non-white people because the diversity police will come after them\”–it's more that some white authors don't get that they're not the be-all, end-all, and non-white authors who write in a particular genre should also be represented by the professional organization of that genre. I don't care if white authors don't want to write more inclusive characters or settings–I can find more and more non-white authors for that. But if they do want to write more inclusively–especially with the Internet available–then do the work. And if they get criticized for it, learn from it.

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  3. I've caught bits and pieces of this on Twitter as well, but didn't quite get the whole timeline or all the details, so thanks for the summary. A couple years ago, I toyed with the idea of joining RWA, but it seemed a lot for something that's ultimately just a hobby for me at this stage. From what I've read, it does look like they've handled everything in the worst way possible, so it'll be interesting to see what happens in the future.

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