Way back in the early aughts, when Borders was still a book lover’s dream destination, I read that summer blockbuster book, “Bridget Jones’s Diary.”
It was the first time I’d really read a voice that was similar to mine. Funny, self-deprecating and full of romance. I wanted to write a book like that. I wanted to be in the front of the store where I’d be accessible to the most readers. Oh, and one more thing: I wanted the heroine to look like me. It was one hell of a mission statement. Especially considering at that time, I was well aware that books that celebrated black women were not always easy to find.
Sure, I could find Toni Morrison and the queen herself, Maya Angelou, but even as important as their books were, I wanted romance, joy and fun. For that, I had to sift and search.
In the Borders I used to go to, the African American section was at the back of the store and on the top two shelves. Worse, the few black romance authors I could find were not in the romance section. To find Beverly Jenkins or Brenda Jackson, I had to climb the shelves at the back where they were haphazardly shelved with books that had nothing to do with romance.
There were many mountains to climb in my journey — including confronting the obstacles of the Romance Writers of America, which earlier this year underwent a massive shake up in members and leadership stemming from charges of organizational racism. Despite the fact that a black woman founded the organization in 1980, no black author had ever won an RWA prize at its annual awards, until 2019.