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African American authors romance

It's All About Love: Romance Readers Speak Out
by Gwendolyn E. Osborne

Many Americans hold preconceived notions about romance fiction without having read one of these books. Their knowledge of the genre involves perceptions about Harlequin romances, terms such as "bodice rippers" or "purple prose, " and book covers with Fabio embracing a blonde, blue-eyed ing’nue deep in the throes of passion. It is widely believed that romance fiction only appeals to the type of women a Washington Post reporter once called "the bored and the brain-dead."

Despite stereotypes of the novels as "poorly written" or "trashy, " readers spend nearly one billion dollars on romance fiction each year. Approximately two out of every three paperback fiction titles purchased are romance novels. Sales of romance fiction surpass those of mysteries, science fiction and westerns combined. Surprisingly, African-American readers make up the fastest growing segment of the romance reading community, accounting for about 25 percent of the romances sold. What accounts for this trend?
Ain't Nobody's Business If I Do

Romance novels are good escapist fare, says Jeanette Cogdell, senior reviewer and editor for the popular Internet site Romance in Color ( "Reading a good romance novel helps to balance out the stress involved in everyday living. When reality gets to be a bit too overwhelming for you, romance novels offer an escape to a world you may never live in, but for those few hours of reading, you become a part of."

But choices were limited for the first generation of African-American romance readers who entered the genre reading books by white authors. Historical romance author Beverly Jenkins is an African American who was an avid romance reader, growing up on "Victoria Holt, Phyllis Whitney and Georgette Heyer. When times changed we moved to books by Kathleen Woodiwiss, Rosemary Rodgers and Johanna Lindsay."

Jenkins recalls, "Not a one [of the romance novels] featured women who looked like us, but as we read them we longed for stories that did feature us, stories that reflected the love our parents shared or our grandparents shared; the love that we saw in that married couple at church who was always holding hands; or the love we see every time we look into our partner's eyes."

Prompted by the enormous success of Terry McMillan's Waiting to Exhale in 1992, publishers began to accept manuscripts by African-American writers in all genres, including romance. The introduction of the Arabesque line in 1994; releases by authors Beverly Jenkins, Amanda Wheeler and Celene Hardware; and the launch of Genesis Press in 1995 - these events all ushered in a new era in romance novels and the availability of romance novels by and about Black women created a second generation of African-American readers.

Blacks who read the early African-American romance fiction were drawn to the stories about middle-class Blacks with whom they were able to identify and who were involved in committed relationships. But psychologist Renee A. Redd, director of Northwestern University's Women's Center, says the benefits for readers are often more than superficial. Redd says that romance fiction provides an escape from the social realities many African-American women face.

"They [romance novels] offer a substitute for those who have resigned to never really being able to find a fulfilling love in their actual lives. The reality of a dearth of available straight Black men for straight Black women is a disconcerting and painful issue before us. For a long time we have lived with the idea of the strong Black woman, who by implication can do without a romantic relationship if she must, but the truth is that she would rather not."

"...many feminist scholars and literary critics have berated the genre for its steamy sexual content. In addition, African-American scholars believe that the open sexual expression in romance novels can only reinforce negative stereotypes about Black women's sexuality."

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