Last month I made a dark, deep confession over on Contemporary Romance Cafe, where I also blog each month. In my post, Celebrating Diversity in Romance (or Why #WeNeedDiverseRomance), I recounted the disturbing realization I arrived at in the months leading up to the release of my debut novel, Making the First Move, released in 2013.
I know. BAD. Really bad.
I was a voracious reader as a kid, gobbling up the work of authors like Judy Blume and Paula Danzinger and reveling in the joys of classics like Little Women and Pride and Prejudice -- two of my favorite books still. Yet, I can't recall a single book that I read back then written by a POC author or featuring POC characters.
As an adult, when I started reading fiction again, I consumed mostly chick lit, women's fiction and the occasional literary fiction. Through recommendations or library displays I stumbled across and came to adore authors like Pearl Cleage (LOVE. HER.), Benilde Little, Bebe Moore Campbell and Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez. Still, in the scheme of things, this represented a very small proportion of the books I was reading.
Once I became a reader of romance, I read mostly mainstream novels. I wasn't actively looking for books by black, Latino, Asian or Native American authors because I made the false assumption many open-minded readers make. I was simply looking for my next good book, expecting that books by POC authors would be among them.
After decades of that experiment, I can tell you with great certainty that relatively few multicultural books found their way to me. So it was time to change things up.
I sought out African American romance. In doing so, I discovered fabulous stories by authors like Farrah Rochon, Beverly Jenkins, A.C. Arthur, Brenda Jackson, Francis Ray and Rochelle Alers. I've been kicking myself for not discovering these authors sooner.
So you can imagine how thrilled I was when author KM Jackson started the #WeNeedDiverseRomance campaign, as an extension of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign. I got how important it was to bring awareness to the imbalance in the publishing industry and on local library shelves when it comes to diversity. The movement calls for new voices of color in publishing. But it is also very much about making people aware of the wealth of fantastic authors in a rainbow of shades and ethnicities who already exist and have been doing the damn thing for years.
The #WeNeedDiverseRomance movement isn't just about making mainstream readers aware of books by POC authors. It's also about making POC readers aware that those books exist and need to be supported with our dollars. This movement has also led me to discover fabulous authors of Indian, Asian and Latino descent. Authors I probably wouldn’t have discovered, had I not been actively seeking them.
It made me want to do my part to "bang the drum" as Kianna Alexander likes to say. So I began a series of interviews with POC authors over on my blog, Recent interviewees include Elle Wright, Erin Ashley Tanner and Tasha L. Harrison. (If you're a POC author, you can request an interview slot here.)
When did you first discover African American romance? Who are some of your favorite POC authors?
Diversify Your Shelves Campaign photo courtesy of Kelly Garbato.