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Racial Diversity in the Romance Fiction Industry

by on July 20, 2018

Historically, the romance fiction industry has been overwhelmingly white in both authorship and subject. However, a new generation of romance writers has set out to change the status quo, thanks in large part to Kensington Publishing. The company is a leader in both African-American fiction and romance fiction.1 At the forefront of this movement is Alyssa Cole, whose An Extraordinary Union, the first in a series, was selected as best romance by the American Library Association earlier this year.2

At Kensington Publishing every aspect of the publication down to the details of the cover is given careful consideration. Esi Sogah, senior editor at Kensington, speaks of how it is expected that “…any time we give an African American book to the art department, whoever is working on it will ask about skin tone and hair texture.”3 Sogah and others at Kensington work hard to ensure what they publish is accurate and reflective of the realities black women face. Part of what makes Kensington so unique is that, in the case of Cole’s works at least, the production team features “an unbroken line of black women, from the novel’s protagonist, via the author, to the editor, to the art director who created the cover art (featuring a black woman).”4

While a handful of black romance authors have been making names for themselves for years, notably Beverly Jenkins, Piper Huguley, Francis Ray, and Brenda Jackson, Cole and other newer writers are singular for the accolades they are receiving not only within the romance novel industry, but also within the publishing industry as a whole. One of her Cole’s goals is to show that black women can be both at the center of their own love stories and of pivotal moments in history. Kensington is also home to a number of other African-American romance authors, including Rochelle Ahlers, Jamie Pope, and K.M. Jackson.

Another author of color making a name for herself, this time at Avon Romance, is Alisha Rai, a South Asian romance writer who has authored over a dozen romance novels, including the Forbidden Hearts trilogy. Rai notes that although she has often felt sidelined in the romance industry, “this is the first year that I’ve even joined RWA (Romance Writers of America), because I felt sort of a tentative hope that maybe we are moving forward, maybe I wouldn’t feel so left out constantly.”5


[1] Kensington Publishing Website: http://www.kensingtonbooks.com/page.aspx/about

[2] ALA Book Club Central Website: http://www.bookclubcentral.org/2018/03/02/2018-reading-list-extraordinary-union-alyssa-cole/

[3] Adewunmi, Bin. “Meet the Women Upending the Romance Novel Industry.” Buzzfeed News, 1 May 2018.

[4] Ibid.

[5] “The Billion-Dollar Romance Fiction Industry Has a Diversity Problem.” NPR, Author Interviews, Lulu Garcia-Navarro, April 8, 2018.