NEW YORK (AP) — The Romance Writers of America have dropped their annual RITA awards and replaced them with a prize dedicated to the association’s co-founder and meant to address criticisms over lack of diversity.
The RWA announced Thursday that the new award will be called the Vivian, in honor of Vivian Stephens, a pioneering black romance novelist and publisher. The award’s credentials beyond “excellence in romance writing” are still being worked out. The RWA will be seeking feedback from its thousands of members and hopes to launch the Vivian this fall.
“Our goal is to celebrate the very best of our diverse genre,” RWA President Alyssa Day said in a statement. “To do that, it’s imperative we develop rules and resources that ensure The Vivian is inclusive, equitable, and accessible. We have a task force hard at work making that happen.”
Long-term frustration among writers over diversity became widely known last December after the RWA initially reprimanded author Courtney Milan for calling a novel by Kathryn Lynn Davis racist. The trade association has been in turmoil all year as board members have departed and numerous publishers dropped out of this summer’s annual RWA convention, which ended up being canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
In a statement Thursday, Stephens urged the romance community to commit itself to storytelling, no matter anyone’s background.
“Since we all live in the universe it is well worth remembering that underneath the outer dressing of ethnicity, color, and gender, we are all the same. Showered with the gift of stars,” she said. “Today, as we move forward into a new world order, Romance Writers of America must be one group, united by the purity of craft that identifies the organization.”