The following statement was sent to the Romance Writers of America Board and staff from the WisRWA Board and our Diversity and Outreach committee regarding the recent ethics issue:
The Wisconsin Romance Writers of America chapter is writing to express displeasure at the recent censure, suspension, and leadership ban enacted upon Courtney Milan. The vote should be rescinded entirely, not only in anticipation of a legal opinion. We believe the citation of “invidious discrimination” should not be applied to keep racist tweets, speech, and works safe from criticism. Suzan Tisdale’s actual complaint likens Milan to a neo-Nazi for the very act of calling out racism, and such an accusation was allowed to stand by the Board of Directors without censure. Indeed, it was upheld. This is unacceptable.
This decision is already having a detrimental effect on authors of diverse representation. Many are worried that the organization ostensibly designed to protect all romance authors may turn against them if they speak out against discrimination. Many are already withdrawing their RITA entries, refusing to judge the contests, and even leaving the organization. RWA has only recently begun to overcome the looming threat of institutional racism. Much of that hard work can be credited to Courtney Milan. To release this decision after business hours and right before the office would be closed for a holiday implies a cowardly unwillingness to be immediately accountable for the concerns of the RWA membership at large.
WisRWA as a chapter is eminently invested in supporting and promoting authors of color, LGBTQ authors, and authors with disabilities. The RWA board has greatly weakened our position to do so. We respectfully request a full and transparent account of the actions of the ethics committee panel and the RWA Board’s subsequent actions. We ask the Board of Directors to issue a formal and public apology to Courtney Milan.
Growing up the only time I saw people like me on television was when I was at my grandmother’s house watching telenovelas or when there was a housekeeper/nanny/criminal on some other program. Literary pickings were even slimmer. There were no characters who looked, sounded, and acted like me or my loved ones. At least not ones written well and without stereotypes.
When I decided to become a writer I struggled to decide what kind of characters I would create. I wanted to tell stories about Latinx people, like me, but I also saw that all the characters in the stories I read were not people like me. I started writing stories about characters like the ones I saw in other books and secretly withered away inside.
For many years my family would tell me, “When are you going to write a story about us?” and I would reply, “Maybe one day.” Then I would go back to reading Twitter posts and blogs about the need for diversity in publishing, nod my head in agreement, but continue to write the same types of stories. Taking up the mantle seemed like such a daunting task and something better suited for more established and experienced authors.
It wasn’t until recently that I realized I was wrong.
At a Barbara Vey’s Reader Appreciation Luncheon I had the incredible luck of scoring a seat at my writing idol’s table and we discussed writing. She asked me what I was working on. I told her I was currently taking a break from writing, because I just didn’t feel motivated. She asked me if I had any ideas that I felt excited about and I hesitated to answer. Eventually I told her that I’d always wanted to write a series based off a large and animated Puerto Rican family like mine. Her response was, “That’s awesome. Why haven’t you written it yet?” I tried to explain that I didn’t think it would work and how I thought it was something better left for other (already represented) authors. She grabbed my hand, looked me in the eye, and said, “Listen to me. Nobody is better equipped to write those stories than you. Your stories need to be heard, so write them.”
I sat there in a sort of dumbfounded shock and thought to myself, “Is she right? Should I be writing these stories? Can I handle the pressure?” I thought about my life. About how I was forced to use my Barbies to act out stories as a kid, because I couldn’t find any about people like me anywhere else. I thought about how I have always been a proud Latina, even when others tried to discourage me from being one. I realized that I wasn’t doing myself or potential readers justice. There are people out there hungry for diverse stories and I can provide some.
I immediately went back to my hotel room and started plotting. I haven’t gotten as far as I’ve wanted. As you fellow writers know, life often gets in the way of our best laid plans. However, I can finally say that for the first time in a long time, I am excited to write. I look forward to finally giving my family and others like us a story with real representation to enjoy.
When she was in the first grade Natalie Caña was given an assignment: write a few sentences about the old lady who lived in the shoe. Four pages later (front and back) in which she wrote a whole new version of the story, it became clear to her mother that she was a writer. However the type of writer she was remained unclear, so she tried a little bit of everything. She wrote plays, screenplays, poems, song lyrics, news stories, and even produced some television. It wasn’t until she picked up her first romance novel, that everything was revealed (clouds parted and angels sang). She was a romance writer. Now she writes contemporary romances that allow her incorporate her witty sense of humor (it’s impossible to quiet) and her love for her culture (Puertominican whoop whoop!) for heroines and heroes like her.