After an organizational crisis stemming from concerns over diversity and equity, the Romance Writers of America have decided to end the annual RITA awards. They will be replaced with The Vivian, an award that RWA says will be inclusive, equitable, and accessible.
Few know better than the Romance Writers of America that breaking up is hard to do. But, sometimes, you have to call it quits. Such is the case with RWA’s RITA awards, which have been around since 1982. RWA announced recently the RITA will be replaced with The Vivian award.
“We hope that The Vivian brings a contest of the best of the best that is guided by diversity, equity, inclusion, and access,” said RWA President Alyssa Day. “We can’t have a contest that is the best of the best, if it’s not inclusive of all romance writers.”
And while the RITA awards were part of RWA for nearly 40 years, they were also emblematic of the diversity problems the organization faced. A black author didn’t win in any of the RITA’s 13 categories until 2019. Then, back in December, RWA’s equity and inclusion problems came to a head after an outcry among members over RWA’s sanction of Chinese-American author Courtney Milan for saying on Twitter that a fellow author’s novel was racist. By February, RWA’s entire board, president, and executive director had resigned, and an independent review later determined RWA needed to address several issues that led to Milan’s sanction.
Day is among the new leaders of RWA and views The Vivian award as part of the process to remake the organization.
“My driving force is we can’t change the past, but we can reinvent the future,” Day said. “We are working on building a new RWA, an RWA 2.0, one that has at its core: diversity, inclusion, equity, and access. One of the things we are reinventing from the ground up is the contests. Band-Aids have been applied in the past, and they were never successful. We decided to start from scratch.”
The Vivian is named after RWA Founder Vivian Stephens, an African-American editor who helped bring diverse novels to publishing houses. Details about the new award are still being fleshed out: A task force is currently working on developing a contest that aligns with the board’s vision and will present a proposed format later this month. After that, members will have the opportunity to provide feedback on the proposed format.
“One of my big goals has been transparency after the crisis we had late last year and early into this year,” Day said. “We have been doing weekly reports to the membership. We have started a quarterly townhall to chapter leadership, and our first member townhall will be next week to report on what we’re doing. We want our members’ input.”
Day expects the task force to complete its work on The Vivian, including getting member input, over the next two months, and the board will vote on the final rules and configuration in August.
Even without all the details in place, Day said RWA members are warm to the idea of the new, inclusive award. “A lot of people who were concerned about RWA’s record are excited by the new direction,” she said. “People are seeing this as a good step forward.”