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Writing for the Masses: Feminists of Color infiltrate Romance and Women’s Fiction
(Aya de Leon, S. Evan Stubblefield, Sofia Quintero)
The annual VIDA count documents how women are second-class literary citizens. Nicola Griffith’s recent study shows that women’s rare wins of big awards are generally for books about male characters. But as women writers fight for change, how are we routinely preoccupied with breaking into the boys’ club? Are we dismissive of social change potential in the areas of the publishing industry that, although generally dismissed by industry elites, are thoroughly dominated by women.
In the ongoing literary/commercial fiction debate, genres such as romance and urban women’s fiction are frequently snubbed as being uniformly lowbrow and without literary merit. Literary fiction is often dismissed as having a narrow and elite audience, and no deep cultural relevance or resonance. How are women of color breaking this binary by intentionally engaging these genres as a form of literary activism? How can this mirror recent changes in television that have the potential to change the national conversation and inject the commercial literary landscape with subversive ideas and stories? How do queer love stories inherently disrupt the status quo?
Traditional feminist analysis has critiqued romance and women’s fiction based on many concerns: chronic preoccupation with men; narrow standards of beauty; tropes of female helplessness, incompetence, and sexual passivity; and the romanticization of male aggression and violence. Feminists of color and intersectional analyses have also critiqued its widespread Eurocentrism and preoccupation with the owning class and materialism. Given these critique histories, how do these women writers of color seek to revitalize and flip romantic and sentimental tropes by injecting them with feminist and activist themes? How do they engage issues of race, class, sexuality, gender, disability, and nationality for a mass audience? And for the long term, how do these writers hope to develop new hybrid genres that have a recognizable, intersectional feminist aesthetic?