RWA’s First Vivian Award Winners Announced But Not Without some Controversy

By Lori Perkins

As most of you are aware, Romance Writers of America (RWA) has recently been through some hard years, even before the pandemic, which caused almost all writers’ conferences to be cancelled and go online last year. There was a years-long battle between “the way things have always been done” contingent, which often was used as cover for racist and noninclusive behavior, and a growing movement to redirect the organization, its membership and awards to a broader, more “woke” place in American letters.

Last year, the entire governing board was replaced by what was hoped would be a more “diverse” governing body and the annual awards, formerly called the RITA Awards, were skipped entirely and renamed after founding RWA member Vivian Stephens, a Black editor who had more often than not been ignored when looking at the history of romance publishing in America. The organization also revamped its judging requirements (which had formerly been open to anyone who was a RWA member and wanted to judge), hoping to make the process more inclusive and professional, and made entry free for all members.

The first annual Vivian Awards were held Saturday July 31st, and we were all eager to see how things had changed. Unfortunately, it’s the same old, same old in a new party dress.

The online ceremony gave awards in 14 categories, and awards of recognition to those who have helped keep the romance industry alive during these difficult times, but the entire awards experience was once again tarnished by an award given to a novel in the Romance with Religious or Spiritual Elements category. This year’s tone-deaf winner was At Love’s Command by Karen Witemeyer, a novel featuring a massacre by the “hero” of Native American people in the first chapter, and the surprise that the Native women are not eager to be “saved” by this rescuer.

As soon as this award was announced, romance Twitter blew up with the news, so instead of describing the outrage myself, I’ll just link to some choice comments below:

Jeanna Louse Skinner

Waking up to the news that the world’s largest professional body for romance authors has yet again awarded one of its most prestigious awards to a racist author after all the noise made over the last few years to combat institutionalised racism is just…

Beverly Johnson

Replying to

@rebelwrites_

and

@romancewriters

Spechless

You might have noticed that I used the word “again” here, in the Romance with Religious and Spiritual Elements category, and that’s because a few years ago another tasteless-at-best (and tone-deaf) award was given in this category to a book featuring a Nazi officer who saved a Jewish concentration camp prisoner who falls in love with him and converts to Christianity (I have intentially refrained from promoting the title of this book).

So the question really is (see below)

Eve Pendle

Genuine question: why is there a separate religious category in the RWA Vivians but not one for Paranormal, Sports, Holiday, New Adult, Rom Com, or Westerns, all of which sell similar amounts or more?

All this is my way of saying that I am profoundly disappointed in this year’s Vivian Awards, because I so want the organization to succeed (I am a member.) For what it’s worth, I think they are going to have to re-vamp their judging system again, and, perhaps, have every nominated title read by an outside (meaning non-RWA) committee to make sure that the category itself doesn’t blind the judges to its faults. And maybe, get rid of the religious/spritual category (and I’m the daughter of a minister, so don’t even think you can go there with me).

Anyway, here’s the winners in the other categories.

Romantic Suspense — Mid

Storm by Janie Crouch

Erotic Romance

Pure Satisfaction by Rebecca Hunter

Historical Romance — Mid

A Study in Passion by Louisa Cornell

Contemporary Romance — Long

False Start by Jessica Ruddick

Romance with Religious or Spiritual Elements

At Love’s Command by Karen Witemeyer

Contemporary Romance — Short

Engaging the Enemy by Reese Ryan

Mainstream Fiction with a Central Romance

An Everyday Hero by Laura Trentham

Speculative Romance — Long

A Stitch in Time by Kelley Armstrong

Romantic Suspense — Long

Hail Mary by Hope Anika

Speculative Romance — Mid

Betwixt by Darynda Jones

Historical Romance — Long

Ten Things I Hate About the Duke by Loretta Chase

Contemporary Romance — Mid

Tempting Taste by Sara Whitney

Most Anticipated Romance

Burning Caine by Janet Oppedisano

Best First Published Book

Love Me Like a Love Song by Annmarie Boyle

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