As someone who did not grow up reading romance, I’ve been more than impressed at the quality of the books that have won the Romance Writers of America’s RITA Award for excellence in Romance fiction. Out of over 65 books, I would say only three were subpar, and those suffered from not aging well.
I intended to make this next article in my Great RITA Read series about how romance handles trauma, particularly female trauma, but I can’t do that until I talk about the elephant in the room with the RITA Awards: The authors it has failed to honor.
Since 1982, no black author has won a Golden Medallion/Rita Award. This is particularly frustrating since one of the co-founders of RWA was a black woman, Vivian Stephens, a Dell and Harlequin editor who was committed to excellence in romance and to shepherding the success of romance authors.
There are things RWA as an organization and RWA members can do to solve this problem, with the first being admitting the scope of the problem and listening to authors of color.
But what I can do is recommend books by authors of color that you may not have heard about because they have not been marketed widely.
I’m not recommending these books so readers can educate themselves. I’m recommending them because they’re damn fine books and they contain stories that deserve to be enjoyed by all readers. I believe firmly in the power of story, that stories can change the world, and that racism is causing so many of these brilliant voices to be lost.
My list is by no means a definitive list of wonderful romances by authors of color; only a place to get started. To find more, I would urge you to look at the “Customers Who Also Bought” section at barnesandnoble.com under each of these books, which will bring you down a delightful rabbit hole to more wonderful stories.
Pick these up, read them, enjoy them. And let them lead you to other great stories and voices.
A Princess in Theory, by Alyssa Cole
This lovely book is about a former foster child who finds out that she is betrothed to an African prince. He’s determined to find his missing bride, she mistakes him for a pauper, and a terrific romance ensues. I received an advance copy of this book and my eldest daughter (24) grabbed it and promptly disappeared with it for days, to read it several times. I can think of no greater recommendation than that.
A Bollywood Affair, by Sonali Dev
I met Sonali Dev at an RWA event for readers and was thoroughly charmed by her, carrying my signed copy of her book home to read on the plane. I almost wished that plane ride had been long enough to finish the book because it was hard to tear myself away when we landed. It’s the story of a young woman from India who comes to the United States for an education, aware that she must be the best person she can be to appease the prospective in-laws who have taken care of her ever since she was proposed to by their son as a child. It’s the story of a young man, a Bollywood star, who wants to break away from family traditions. The book is lush and emotional and intense and real and I loved it.
Something Like Love, by Beverly Jenkins
I must confess I was unaware of the enormous body of Jenkins’ work until watching Love Between the Covers, a documentary about romance writers and readers. (I also highly recommend it.) That is my loss because the power of Jenkins’ voice comes through in her fiction. Her acceptance speech when receiving the RWA’s Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017 is not to be missed. I picked this book to represent her because it’s one of my favorite romance genres, a Western, and the hero and heroine have a fraught first meeting when he robs her train, a train she’s taking to escape an arranged marriage in Chicago. The hero can’t get the heroine out of his mind, but his lawlessness and the bounty hunters on his trail are a serious impediment to romance, especially as the heroine is the town’s newly elected mayor. Of course, love wins out, beautifully.
I’ll Catch You, by Farrah Rochon
This one is a sports romance, more specifically, a fun NFL romance, in which a pro football player and his agent get closer than Tom Cruise and Cuba Gooding Jr. ever did in Jerry Maguire. This book is part of Harlequin’s now-canceled Kimani line for black authors. Other fantastic former Kimani authors include Reese Ryan, whose new book, Savannah’s Secrets, is just out from Harlequin Desire, and you can find a long list of Kimani books listed here at Barnes & Noble.
Tonight and Forever, by Brenda Jackson
This is the prolific and talented Jackson’s own favorite book and it’s one of those stories that romance does so well: tales of people who are healed by love. The heroines goes home to Texas after a bitter divorce, only to become involved with a doctor who is still mourning his late wife. It’s intense and emotional and sweet and heartbreaking and it will make you want to binge all of Jackson’s books.
I’ve listed these books to get everyone started but rest assured, there are hundreds of wonderful stories from talented authors who have not nearly gotten enough notice. You can also look for books by Barbara Ferrer (possibly the only Cuban-American author to win a Rita), Alisha Rai, and Jamie Pope/Sugar Jamison.
Please, make your own recommendations below in the comments!