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Romance Writers of America Cancels 2020 RITA Awards After Firestorm Over Racism

The group also plans to hire a ”diversity, equity and inclusion consultant“

The Romance Writers of America last month canceled its annual RITA Awards for 2020 and accepted the resignations of president Damon Suede and executive director Carol Ritter following a firestorm over accusations of racism in the organization that led eight nonwhite board members to resign.

The nonprofit group also announced plans to hire a “diversity, equity and inclusion consultant” to help diversify the group’s board and staff as well as “design and structure future membership programming and events.”

In addition, an independent law firm will audit the group’s handling of the suspension — and then un-suspension — of Courtney Milan (pictured above), a Chinese-American writer and former board member who faced disciplinary action last month for openly criticizing other romance novels she considered to be racist.

“The events of the past two weeks have been the most painful and tumultuous in the history of Romance Writers of America,” the organization said in a statement sent to media organizations Tuesday but dated Jan. 9. “While these events stemmed from a recent ethics matter, they have their roots in significant failures of RWA over the course of several years to meaningfully address issues of diversity, equity and inclusion, and deficiencies in our communications and transparency with our membership.”

In a statement, the group added, “We know we have a lot more work to do to restore the trust we have lost — and we are going to do whatever it takes to get there so that we can focus on the mission of this organization: to promote the professional and common business interests of romance writers. Our goal is to ensure the successful future of this association so it can be an even stronger, better and more inclusive professional home and advocate for romance authors.”

As for the RITAs, which are typically handed out in July, the organization said that “numerous judges and entrants” had pulled out “due to recent events,” so “the contest will not reflect the breadth and diversity of 2019 romance novels/novellas and thus will not be able to fulfill its purpose of recognizing excellence in the genre.”

Milan did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The troubles began in December when RWA 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 — a decision it later reversed.

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.