Romance Writers of America Board Resigns, Calls Special Election

[This is the seventh update in a series which includes “Courtney Milan Suspended by RWA, Banned from Leadership”, “Courtney Milan Controversy Decimates RWA Leadership”, “As Criticism Snowballs, RWA Keeps Trying to Justify Treatment of Courtney Milan”, “Kathryn Davis Says RWA Encouraged Her To File Ethics Complaint Against Courtney Milan”, “As More Issues Raised, RWA President Resigns, RITA Awards Postponed, and Many Publishers Withdraw Sponsorship of RWA Conference”, and “RWA Las Vegas Chapter Disbands in Aftermath of Courtney Milan Censure, RWA Appoints Interim Executive Director”.]

The remaining members of the Romance Writers of America Board of Directors resigned from office today, February 12. Prior to their resignations, the Board set a special election for the RWA membership to elect a newly constituted Board of Directors to serve out their current terms (through August 31, 2020). The special election will begin on Friday, March 13, and will end on Friday, March 20, at 11:59 p.m. CDT. Details about the election process are here.

The complete Board resignation announcement is here — “RWA Board Members Set Special Election, Announce Resignations”.

“We believe that stepping down to allow for new leadership chosen by the membership is in the best interests of the association. The Board has always wanted what is best for Romance Writers of America, and we still do. This desire has been the driving force behind every decision we have made to try to navigate RWA during this difficult time. We have tried hard to keep the best interests of RWA front and center as we have confronted the challenges of the last eight weeks.

“We believe that the Board must have the trust of the membership and that this is the best way forward to achieve that. We believe RWA can and will be a place of inclusion and respect. We tender our resignations in support of the organization and its mission.

“Under RWA’s Bylaws and the Texas nonprofit corporation law, RWA must be governed by a Board of Directors. In order to ensure continuity of governance and based on legal counsel’s advice, we voted to set special elections for all board positions beginning on March 13, 2020 (30 days from today) and ending one week later (on March 20, 2020). This will provide RWA’s General members with the opportunity to elect an entirely new Board of Directors. The new Board members will be elected to fulfill the remaining Board terms that end on August 31, 2020, and no individual elected will automatically accede to any other office following their term. This special election will not replace the normal 4th quarter election cycle as required by RWA’s Bylaws, which will occur in August 2020.      

“Our decision to resign will not affect the ongoing independent audit being conducted by Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, LLP, or the Board’s commitment to share the audit report with the membership in unedited, non-redacted form.” –Nan Dixon (Treasurer), Hanna Rhys Barnes, Kate McMurray, Maria Powers, Mellanie Szereto, Eliana West (Directors-at-Large)

PAST RWA PRESIDENTS RESIGN. Before the Board’s action today, another pair of past RWA Presidents Leslie Kelly and Dee Davis had proposed a way forward, which the Board did not accept. Now Leslie Kelly has resigned.

PAST PRESIDENT HELENKAY DIMON QUITS. Dimon, who served as President of the Romance Writers of America in 2018-2019, also announced she was leaving the organization after rejection of the Kelly/Davis plan.

FOLLOWING THE BOARD OUT THE DOOR. Immediately after today’s announcement, this member tweeted a resignation:

Ellie Finch

In the past few weeks many other members tweeted that they had resigned, are intending to let their membership lapse, or are resigning from a chapter position. Claire Ryan’s “Implosion of the RWA” lists over two dozen names in the entry for February 11.

CIMWRA HOLDING DISSOLUTION VOTE. CIMRWA, the Cultural, Interracial, and Multicultural Chapter of Romance Writers of America, a chapter dedicated to advocating diversity and inclusion within RWA and publishing as a whole wrote, is voting on whether to dissolve. Thread starts here.

MEDIA COVERAGE. Quill & Quire interviewed Farah Heron about her resignation as Toronto RWA chapter president: “Farah Heron on stepping down as Toronto Romance Writers president and a future outside the RWA”.

…Until about six weeks ago, Toronto Romance Writers – an official chapter of the RWA – had been a thriving group, serving more than 100 local members. But the fallout of the group’s association with the U.S.–based parent organization has been severe. Many authors are choosing not to renew their memberships, and now Farah Heron, author of the bestselling novel The Chai Factor, is stepping down from her position as chapter president….

How has what happened with RWA affected the Toronto membership? 

Since Jan. 31, we are down 20 members, and by the end of February, we will lose another 15. These are all members whose membership was expiring, and they chose not to renew due to the issues in the national organization. And as rolling expiry dates continue, we expect to lose more members each month. Also, we have lost speakers for both our annual conference and our monthly workshops, and we have had agents and editors tell us they cannot support and attend our conference unless we disaffiliate with the national organization.

But more than anything else, our members are angry. They feel betrayed by RWA leadership, and are frustrated by the lack of communication, and poor decisions board and staff have made. Many of our members feel they can no longer support an organization that is so resistant to taking an anti-racist stance, and has long allowed ableism, anti-Semitism, and intolerance towards LGBTQ+ members to continue.

EXTENDED COMMENTS BY COURTNEY MILAN. Well before today’s developments, Sarah Wendell interviewed Courtney Milan on the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books podcast: “391. RWA One Month Later, Part IV: A Conversation with Courtney Milan”. It was released February 3. Here’s an excerpt from the transcript:

Sarah: So one of the questions that I’ve had from people in my community, people on my, my podcast Patreon, are, what can, what can readers do? What, what do we do to move this community forward?

Courtney: Mm-hmm.

Sarah: And I, I don’t have an easy answer for that! And I was wondering if that’s a question you’ve also received.

Courtney: I have. I, I’ve received this question often, and I don’t have an easy answer either, because it’s not an easy thing.

Sarah: Nope! Sure isn’t.

Courtney: It is a, it’s truly shitty thing, in fact, and if we had easy answers to any of this, we would know what was going on. And I think, I think that the, to the extent that there is an answer, and I’m not sure that there is one, I think the answer is, like, work to be less racist and to reduce the amount of racism in your community. That’s literally the only thing. Like, because what we’re butting up against here is this hard problem that I mentioned earlier that was in, like, the last part of the diversity report, like, bunches of people are racist! What do we do about it? Like, I don’t know! Like, one of the things that I think this has really underscored for me is that you cannot actually make someone less racist. And this is, this is one of those things like, I am such a process person in so many ways, it’s like, oh, don’t like this? Here’s a process for you!

Sarah: [Laughs]

Courtney: I’m going to fix it with a process! And, like, there is no process!

Sarah: There’s no manual.

Courtney: And – it’s not just that there’s no manual. There is a manual! But you can hand it to people and they’re like, okay, I read it; I hate it. Ugh.

Sarah: Yep.

Courtney: Nothing! Nothing you can do about somebody who determinedly does not want to change, right? Nothing. There is no process. And so, like, I think your choices at this point are, you know, what do you do with RWA – question mark. I think there are a lot of people in RWA who mean well? I think there are a lot of people in RWA who are committed to diversity. And I think there are a lot of people in RWA who have not examined what it means to be in an anti-racist community and what it means to be in one that is supporting white supremacy.

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Courtney: And the, the group of people that exists there is vastly overlapping. So I think one of the issues with RWA is this: I think a lot of people of color are going to leave, because it’s just not a safe place to be. Right?

Sarah: Yeah.

Courtney: And I think a lot of white people – not, not all white people – I think a lot of white people, including some very well-meaning white people, are going to see all the people of color leaving, and they’re going to say, well, we have to prove that this place is safe, so I’m going to stay here and make it better. And I’m going to tell you that what you are doing at this point is reinforcing white supremacy when that happens. And you don’t want to hear that, and it’s going to make you mad to hear that a group of all-white people staying in RWA and continuing to give money to an organization that is white by design at this point, you know – like, they specifically did a thing knowing the effect that this would have on the community of color.

ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

N.K. Jemisin

PRESERVING THE HISTORY. Meanwhile, my alma mater (BGSU, MA Popular Culture, 1975) made this appeal —

[Thanks to James Davis Nicoll for the story.]

18 thoughts on “Romance Writers of America Board Resigns, Calls Special Election

  1. Well, this is probably the only thing they could do to save the organization (if this even works).

    I wonder if Courtney Milan would consider running for president? Though I certainly wouldn’t blame her if she didn’t want to take on this hot mess.

  2. Bonnie McDaniel: After reading the transcript of her interview (linked in this post), it sounds like Milan thinks that the survival of RWA would equate to a victory for white supremacy.

  3. RWA seems too completely poisoned by its reactionaries. And they’ve rejected a plan to try to fix things.

    So it’s not quite clear to me why anyone would want to immolate themselves on this flaming mess. Which is sad, no question. But how long are the marginalized writers and others who value diversity supposed to keep beating their heads against the brick wall?

  4. Gaahhhhhhh. Milan Tweeted she doesn’t think this is even allowed under the bylaws, BTW (the mass-resign & sudden elections).

  5. @Kendall: the set of things CM doesn’t think is allowed under the bylaws is as far as I can tell a superset of the set of things the RWA leadership are doing, so that’s… not exactly a surprise. (And based on past precedent, I trust CM’s interpretation of the bylaws rather more than I trust the board’s!)

  6. @Bonnie: Beyond the RWA being a bunch of tires on fire inside a dumpster that is also on fire, I’m not comfortable expecting an author of color to be president. That’s putting the work on people most hurt by the RWA’s actions.

  7. The board have done so many things contrary to Texas statutes & regulations governing nonprofits (with their resignations possibly creating a situation that there’s no legal way to resolve), that this is going to end with a court-ordered dissolution of the organization. ‘Cause even if the chances of finding a court that cares about racism are iffy, you know there are gov’t officials who would love to take down an organization founded and run by women, for women. (Which is by no means a reason to defend the Nice White Ladies in the core membership & leadership, nor the organization at this point.)

    I’m not a lawyer, but lots of RWA members are. I hope at least one of them writes up a layperson-friendly analysis of the situation. It would serve as a gruesome cautionary tale for organizations.

  8. @Vasha
    Check your assumptions – men also write romances. AFAIK, RWA wasn’t limiting its membership to only female writers.

  9. @P\J Evans: I am well aware of that. However, Damon Suede was the first man in the leadership, and it was founded by women, specifically to address the fact that romance, whose writers and readers have a far larger percentage of women than any other genre, wasn’t taken seriously by press, publishing, and other writers’ organizations. Sexism is still a huge part of what romance is dealing with in public perception (take a look at condescending valentines’ day articles, holy heck).

  10. Actually, Damon Suede was not the first male president of the RWA. Leigh Greenwood, author of westenr historical romances and a man, was also president in the past.

  11. @Joe: “I trust CM’s interpretation of the bylaws rather more than I trust the board’s!”

    Ditto to the Nth degree!

  12. Re Jemisin’s comment: Does she mean Borders and their policy of shelving and promoting black authors separately? I hadn’t heard that B&N mixed into this squabble. She’s right, of course, that this is about publishers, and not just a racist book.

  13. Lela E Buis: Re Jemisin’s comment: Does she mean…

    She means:
    1) RWA f’ing up by being racist and then doubling down on being racist, eventually causing their organization to implode;
    2) Macmillan f’ing up by publishing American Dirt, a novel rife with negative Mexican crime and drug stereotypes (which was written by a white American woman who says she has “Latina” heritage because she has a Puerto Rican grandmother), but not publishing books by actual Latinos;
    3) Barnes & Noble f’ing up by announcing a new line of classic novels with fake diversity covers.

  14. Pingback: Pixel Scroll 5/15/20 Hey, Scrollers! Watch Me Pull a Pixel Out of My Hat! | File 770

  15. Pingback: RWA Retires RITA Award, Announces Replacement, “The Vivian” | File 770

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.