About the 2005 RITA Presentation
(August 3, 2005)

The firestorm I first brought to the attention of our readers earlier this summer may be behind what apparently happened prior to last weekend's RITA presentation. For those of you who haven't heard, Nora Roberts was supposed to have MC'd the RITA presentation, but she refused, asking that RWA president Tara Taylor Quinn read this statement to the assembled membership and guests: "Nora Roberts declines to host tonight's awards ceremony as she feels the content is inappropriate and believes the focus should be on the nominees and the organization." According to Roberts, Quinn agreed to read her statement at the start of the RITAs but did not, and then agreed to read it at the end of the RITAs, but once again did not.

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None of AAR's staff attended the RITA awards, but I did hear privately from some authors who did attend. The story as represented was that a montage opening the ceremony was filled with content totally unrelated to romance novels and instead presented graphic images of terrorist attacks, as well as political images that, for some, were politically motivated. Particularly offensive to Roberts was the accompanyment of Bobby McFarrin's Don't Worry, Be Happy to some of these horrific images. It was reported to me that the montage was "right-wing" and "pro-Christian" and "would have been offensive" to anyone who wasn't white, Christian, or a Republican. But as part of the montage was apparently changed at the last minute, only those who worked on its creation, as well as Roberts herself, are privy to the presentation in its entirety. As for the montage as it did appear at the ceremony, many authors say it was an equal opportunity offender to members across the political and religious spectrum, and also had nothing to do with a celebration for romance writers.

Roberts was careful in that public statement not to broach the so-called biased content, instead focusing on the fact that the RITA ceremony is a time to celebrate with winning authors their achievements. It's one thing, after all, for a presenter at the Oscars to discuss political or religious views "off-script," but it's quite another for those who've written the awards show to deliberately incorporate such content into the ceremony. After all, how would it relate to the event itself?

There's a lot of behind-the-scenes whispering about what really caused Saturday night's fiasco, and it has to do whether or not the political and cultural climate in the U.S. has trickled out of governmental organizations and into organizations such as RWA, whose mission is to provide "networking and support to individuals seriously pursuing a career in romance fiction." We already know, for instance, that some RWA members are not happy that Romantica authors and/or their publishers are part of RWA...that much I reported in that ATBF column I mentioned at the outset. But right after we posted that column, we learned that RWA sent out a questionnaire to its 9,000 members presenting them with possible new definitions of Romance. I have not seen the questionnaire, but have been told by those angered by it that it was part of a calculated plan to close off RWA membership to writers of Romantica and Gay/Lesbian-themed Romances.

Whether or not that is true, in fact, is almost besides the point. Because by now many of RWA's members believe it to be the case, and quite a few authors have resigned their memberships in protest. Overnight I became aware of an open letter from Jennifer Crusie, who attended the RITA ceremony and called it "the worst in [RWA's] history" because the organization as shown to the world by those who produced the event seems to be "anti-woman," "racist," "so far to the right politically that it's falling off the map," "insensitve," and uncaring about "its members, its fiction, or its past." Granted Crusie is not considered a conservative, but like Roberts, she not only has worked tirelessly for RWA when, at this point in both their careers they do more for RWA than the reverse, and it is no doubt frustrating for both to see the accomplishments of writers who have won the highest award in their field to be sidelined for a history lesson, however biased it might have been.

Nora Roberts, in another public statement, wrote, "I can't comprehend how such tragic events and images had a place at a ceremony meant to showcase the nominees and the organization."

Quinn is an author who has received only positive reviews at AAR, and she came into power at RWA after a debacle in 2002 during which a large segment of its membership believed their rights to free speech were being limited. Is it not deliciously ironic that this latest incident also has overtones involving freedom of speech? I ask this question because of how it ties in to the possible limits RWA may place on whom it allows as members, and whether or not certain sub-genres are considered disgraceful to the genre as a whole, and if the war in Iraq and the Gay/Lesbian rights issues that so divided this country in the last presidential election now threaten RWA.

I've asked some members whether or not RWA itself is moving to the right, and the answers vary. Some say it is only the current president of RWA pushing a conservative agenda - indeed, Roberts publically states that she didn't resign over this incident because "it wasn't RWA that pushed this agenda. It was a handful of individuals, (adding that "RWA has, as always, my respect, affection and gratitude. The current president has none of those.")." But I've also heard that there is a quite substantial cabal of authors doing so. The latter is the view most often expressed, and whether or not this is true is, again, almost besides the point because it is so widely believed.

Are the events at a ceremony like the RITA's of interest to most of our readers? Not in general, but because they could be deemed the next salvo in a cultural war within RWA, I decided to share with you what I have heard.

--Laurie Likes Books

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