Note: This post was first published on my Lucy Varna blog.
The Romance Writers of America recently announced the finalists for its 2015 RITA and Golden Heart Awards. I had two reactions to this. The first was, oh, great, look at all that stellar competition. I’m hoping to enter one of the books I publish this year in the 2016 RITAs, so when I look at the finalists lists and see which authors I’ll potentially be up against, my heart sinks just a little bit. I mean, look at that list. Nora Roberts writing as J.D. Robb. (She actually has a whole RWA award named after her. Seriously.) Carolyn Crane, a fellow indie author, won a RITA last year. Jill Shalvis, Julie Miller, and on and on. These are some really great writers. Someday, I hope to be at that level, too.
My second reaction was, wow, look at all the new-to-me books to read! Because I’m a reader and any time I see a list of novels in one of my favorite genres, I’m gonna take a look.
My reaction was never, not for one, single second, oh, hey, there are lots of authors here who are also people of color!!!
But that was the reaction of some.
First, just to clear up any misunderstandings before they even occur, I think it’s great that authors of all types and from all kinds of backgrounds are winning awards for their writing. Truly, I feel blessed to live in an era when people are judged by the value they bring to the world and not by the pigmentation of their skin, their reproductive organs, or their sexual preferences.*
Or, at least, that I live in an era where those things usually don’t matter. There are, unfortunately, whole groups of people out there that sincerely believe certain people should win writing awards like the RITA simply because they’re non-white, non-male, and non-heterosexual. If you think I’m kidding, do a search for reactions to 2014’s Nebula Award winners and you’ll see how truly, truly demented some people are. I mean, these are folks who celebrated because women swept the field solely because they were women and not based on the quality of the stories under consideration.**
In fact, there are some people (and I’m not going to name names because, frankly, this belief is embarrassing enough without pointing fingers) who believe that select classes of people should be promoted solely because they’re non-white, non-male, and non-heterosexual; and just the opposite, that readers should avoid, for example, books written by heterosexual, white males.
How demeaning, no, how insulting it is to tell a person that these three inconsequential matters are the qualities moving them forward, that they’re earning accolades not because they’re a good writer or their characters are well-drawn or their plots compelling or their stories so beautifully written they linger in the reader’s mind forever, but because they’re a “minority” and, as such, can never make it without that special concession.
How belittling that is to the individual, to be told that their value can never be based on their innate worth or hard work or genuine talent, but always on the color of their skin, their sexual organs, or whether or not they prefer to be intimate with people of the opposite sex, the same sex, or some combination thereof.
I do so love that we live in a time when all people have the ability to share their words with the world, regardless of who they are, where and how they grew up, or anything else, I truly do. But that doesn’t mitigate the fact that writing contests should, by their very nature, be blind to every factor outside of the quality of the story. The skin color of the author, their sexuality, their sex; these are unimportant. They don’t matter. And they certainly shouldn’t be factors judges consider when they’ve taken on the task of sorting through hundreds of submissions and choosing the very best entry. People who believe otherwise are completely missing the point.
* Although I don’t give a hoot about any of that. I base my reading habits on the kind of story an author’s written, not on who that author is as a person, and on the mood I’m in when I go to my shelf (or library or bookstore) and pick up a book to read. Don’t you?
** These same people lauded Samuel Delaney as the winner of the Grand Master Award (it’s a Nebula thing). Mr. Delaney is gay; this is why so many people celebrated him winning the award. What they completely forget to mention is that he also supports NAMBLA, an organization that promotes and supports pedophilia and pederasty. Draw your own conclusions there. I certainly did.