Carolyn Jewel, the president of the Romance Writers of America’s board of directors, resigned on Thursday evening following outcry over the group’s suspension of the romance writer Courtney Milan.
“The past several days have been an upsetting and tumultuous time for Romance Writers of America, our members, and the romance community as a whole,” RWA said in a message to the group’s members provided to TheWrap. “Our members and many in the romance community have seen cause to doubt our integrity and our ability to provide that open and safe environment. This is unacceptable and horrifying to us, as it is so extremely counter to what we stand for. We are deeply sorry that we have caused you to lose your faith in us.”
The message announced Jewel’s resignation and stated that Damon Suede, the president-elect, would still be remaining in his position.
“President Damon Suede and the remaining board will be looking for a strong, diverse group of new leaders who have the ability to think strategically and believe in the mission of the organization,” the message said. “As it stands now, the organization is at a turning point. We have lost the trust of our membership and the romance community and we must find a way to rebuild that. It’s going to be a hard road, maybe one of the most difficult we’ve traveled since our inception.”
In a separate document, RWA leadership also clarified and apologized for the decisions that led to Milan’s suspension, as reported earlier by TheWrap, and the subsequent reversal of that decision.
The Romance Writers of America board has at least temporarily rescinded the suspension of Courtney Milan (pictured above), a Chinese-American writer and former board member who was suspended from the group earlier this month for openly criticizing other romance novels she considered to be racist.
But the reversal of Milan’s suspension hasn’t done enough to quell the concerns of other RWA board members over the group’s disciplinary measures, prompting eight writers of color to resign from the board in protest on Thursday. (According to RWA’s website, the board — before Thursday’s resignations — had 16 members and three advisers.)
“Our resignations give us no joy or relief. All of us have volunteered our time to this organization to help propel it forward and to do our best to represent membership — all membership,” Priscilla Oliveras said in a statement shared on Twitter, tagging fellow authors Seressia Glass, Adrienne Mishel, Tracey Livesay, Pintip Dunn, Farrah Rochon, Erica Ridley and Denny S. Bryce. “We believe this should never have gone to members of the Ethics Committee. We extend our sincere apologies to Courtney Milan and the romance community.”
Today, I — along w/ multiple former board members — resigned from our positions because we no longer trust or have confidence in RWA’s leadership. 1/3@seressia @DrenzPen @tlivesay @pintipdunn @farrahrochon @EricaRidley @DennySBryce
— Priscilla Oliveras???????????????? (@PrisOliveras) December 26, 2019
Also on Thursday, 28 RWA members in good standing wrote a letter calling for the resignations of Carolyn Jewel, president of the RWA board of directors; Damon Suede, the president-elect; and Carol Ritter, the executive director.
“This board and the staff of RWA misused the policies and procedures of this organization to punish a woman of color who has done nothing but stand up for those that RWA has historically kept out and mistreated. The handling of this situation is shameful,” the letter said. “What this leadership has done may taint the name of RWA forever and you need to make this right by stepping down now. You need to show every member that has served, paid dues, and stuck by RWA after so many missteps that you understand the gravity of what you’ve done. RWA needs to carve a new path forward and this cannot happen with the existing leadership in place.”
Earlier this month, RWA had suspended Milan for her online comments about other writers’ work, including calling out Kathryn Lynn Davis’ 1999 romance novel “Somewhere Lies the Moon” as a “f—ing racist mess.”
Davis and fellow novelist Suzan Tisdale both filed formal complaints about some of Milan’s Twitter comments about their past work, which led to an investigation by the RWA and the decision to suspend Milan’s membership over what it termed violations of its Code of Ethics.
Milan’s suspension, which was made public on Monday, garnered public scrutiny from other writers, leading to the #IStandWithCourtney hashtag becoming a trending topic on Twitter by Tuesday morning. That same day, the board of directors met again and ultimately rescinded Milan’s suspension, a representative for RWA told TheWrap.
“At a meeting today that identified a gap between policy and process, RWA’s Board of Directors rescinded its vote accepting the findings of the Ethics Committee report and the consequent penalties against Courtney Milan pending a legal opinion,” the board said in a statement on its website. “RWA reiterates its support for diversity, inclusivity and equity and its commitment to provide an open environment for all members.”
In an email to TheWrap, Milan noted the provisional nature of Tuesday’s decision. “Their judgment is merely withheld pending consultation with a lawyer, and so I am still waiting on a complete explanation and an apology,” she said.
Earlier in the week, Milan defended her actions on her Twitter feed and questioned the RWA’s decision. “I don’t think you can call yourself an advocate for writers if you do not defend the right of authors to criticize — and criticize in sharp terms — publisher’s business practices,” she wrote, adding, “One of the things that we grappled with when I was on the Board — endlessly, I thought, fruitlessly — was what to do about the fact that we had racist members who were just going to racist all over the place.”
RWA is a nonprofit trade association dedicated to helping romance writers make a full- or part-time career out of romance writing, as well as to help spread awareness of the genre. The association has more than 9,000 members and over 100 local, international, and online chapters.