When did you fall in love with romance? Do you remember? Well, I do! The love bug bit me somewhere around the age of eleven or twelve, and like many of you, I made my way to romance by pilfering a book that I was too young to appreciate, couldn’t fully comprehend, and had absolutely no business reading. And from the very first word, I was hooked. I loved everything about it. From the energy of the meet cute to the buildup of tension and angst of the dark night. I was insatiable, devouring books with the glee of a literary glutton.
Somewhere between ripped bodices and sexy bar hookups I became dissatisfied. The guaranteed happily ever after no longer appealing to the squealing teen that still resided at the center of what was becoming my jaded heart. That hopeful girl was slowly understanding that women like her, and her friends, didn’t get the fairytale ending. HEAs were reserved for those with pale or tanned skin. Women that had silky strands instead of coily curls and characters that lacked the cadence and flow of the people in her community. If the popular books of the time were to be believed, people like her didn’t exist in the world.
With sorrow and maybe a little indignation I left Romancelandia touting the rhetoric that I was too mature, too sophisticated, and waaaaay too diverse to live in a land that had no space for people like me. I refused to even browse the romance section of the bookstore because even from my position across the store at the magazine rack I could see row upon row of books covers that only served to reconfirm the erasure of an entire population of people. Until one day a friend introduced me to Eric Jerome Dickey, an author of contemporary stories, not specifically romance, that not only place Black and Brown people at the center but showcased them in a nuanced way that didn’t solely rely on the typical themes of struggle, survival, and overcoming.
I recognized these characters. The cool brother, the overbearing mother, the friendships galvanized in childhood but disintegrating under the pressure of adult responsibility, and love. That fleeting intangible thing that I swore to never read about again was there on the pages. A sirens call imploring me to come back home. And I did.
My reading selections were chosen with tentative curiosity and dare I say it… reignited hope. Which I am happy to report wasn’t disappointing in the least. What I found was completely contrary to my expectation. Romance authors from traditionally marginalized communities were showing up and showing out! They carved out a space that honored the validity of diverse stories and reflected the authentic experiences that amplify OWN voices. Love was defined with broad strokes and intention leaving ample room for all of us.
Spoiler Alert: OWN voices are important.
Diverse stories, specifically those that showcase Black characters, Black love (because it is indeed a thing), and a positive Black community are vitally important to all literature, but for the sake of this conversation we’ll keep the focus on romance. When there is so much that divides us having an avenue that allows readers to walk in the theoretical shoes of character and experience a world outside of their own in a resounding way can have a long-lasting impact.
Take for instance, the Cowboys of California series by Rebekah Weatherspoon, a contemporary western romance set on a Black-owned luxury dude ranch. The setting although a-typical for this city girl is beautiful and sprawling. The family located at the center of this story is recognizable, at times chaotic and a little wonky but still loving. The brothers that hold down each book in the series are engaging and believable. In the series latest release, A Thorn in The Saddle, Rebekah Weatherspoon takes us on a journey that includes representation that we rarely see in the genre while balancing the art of telling a story. As a reader that’s all I can ask. It’s that intangible thing that makes me feel seen. In a world that sometimes seems fractured beyond repair finding and celebrating our differences in all things just might be our saving grace!
In closing I’ll leave you with a little food for thought. Here is a lyric from the song “The Light” by hiphop artist Common.
“I never knew a luh, luh-luh, a love like this.
Gotta be something for me to write this.
Queen, I ain’t seen you in a minute.
Wrote this letter, and finally decided to send it.
Signed, sealed, delivered for us to grow together.
Love has no limit, let’s spend it slow forever.”
Although his meaning was different the sentiment eerily mirrors my renewed enthusiasm for all that romance can be.