RWA president quits as HarperCollins Canada joins boycott over race row

RWA president quits as HarperCollins Canada joins boycott over race row

A host of publishers including HarperCollins Canada are boycotting the forthcoming Romance Writers of America national conference and its new president has quit, as a backlash continues against the organisation over a race row.

The RWA was forced to axe its annual RITA awards ceremony this week after hundreds of authors boycotted it. RWA president Carolyn Jewell and members of the board also quit after disciplining romance writer Courtney Mila, accusing her of an ethics violation for calling passages in Kathryn Lynn Davis’ Somewhere Lies the Moon (Pocket Books) a "racist mess".

That row came on the back of repeated criticism of the organisation for not reflecting more diverse stories and voices, particularly at the RITA awards.

The RWA’s president Damon Suede has now quit just two weeks after taking the position, while executive director Carol Ritter also tendered her resignation following anger from members. In a statement published on its website, the organisation said the past weeks had been “the most painful and tumultuous” in its history.

It said: “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.” 

On 8th January, HarperCollins Canada & Harlequin became the first major publisher to announce it would not attend or sponsor the RWA’s upcoming conference. 

In a letter to the RWA, c.e.o. Craig Swinwood said the firm was pulling out because "it is important that all authors feel included, respected and heard". 

Avon Books in the US also announced it would not be attending or sponsoring the event. In a tweet, the press said it stood for "support of inclusive publishing".

Other publishers have followed suit including Berkley Romance, Sourcebooks, Kensington and Tule. Kensington c.e.o. Steven Zacharius, wrote in a letter to the RWA: "We are extremely distressed by the recent events concerning RWA and the magnitude of the problems that persist in the organisation. 

"Kensington continues to be a leading advocate for increased diversity and inclusion in publishing. As an industry, it is clear we have a great deal of work to do. We are committed to supporting our authors, however, we cannot support RWA or the national conference until you are fulfilling your mission to your members."

The RWA said: “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. 

“We may not always get it right, but we will do our best, we will be honest and transparent, we will own our mistakes, and we will listen to our community.  We hope you will join us – collaboratively and productively – in rebuilding an RWA that serves its diverse and talented members well into the future.  We believe this community is worth saving.”