Last year, the Romance Writers of America experienced some spectacular drama — accusations of racism, infighting, lawsuits, etc. I guess it’s a problem when the membership of your organization consists of a large number of white women, with a disproportional representation of Karens. Things had settled down, I guess, and everyone promised to do better.
This year, they were handing out their annual awards (called the Vivian), and one of the winners was…a love story about two white Christians set against the backdrop of the Wounded Knee Massacre? Which was just an accident? And it’s OK, because god forgives the American cavalry? And the author is actually named “Karen”!
This year, the Vivian in the “Romance with Religious or Spiritual Elements” category was awarded to Karen Witemeyer for At Love’s Command, and a number of its critics thought RWA was Stuck on Stupid again. Witemeyer’s book, says Religion News Service, “opens with a depiction of the Wounded Knee Massacre that some readers and authors have criticized as romanticizing the killing of Native Americans.” The love interest, an officer in the 7th Cavalry, commands the Lakota Sioux to put down their weapons, citing Scripture as his rationale. When a religious leader from the tribe begins chanting, a shot goes off (on purpose? by accident? from whose side?), the order to fire is issued and scores of men, women and children are slaughtered. Then the hero asks God’s forgiveness and, eventually, claims his woman.
What were they thinking, and worse, what was the author thinking? She should have just titled it Custer’s Revenge. You can read a more thorough summary of the mess, or you can even read the beginning of the book for free. I don’t recommend it. It’s Christian apologetics and historical revisionist nonsense, pretending that it was all the fault of the Lakota and that the soldiers didn’t really want to murder women and children.
This is the account of American Horse, a chief of the Oglala Lakota: “There was a woman with an infant in her arms who was killed as she almost touched the flag of truce … A mother was shot down with her infant; the child not knowing that its mother was dead was still nursing … The women as they were fleeing with their babies were killed together, shot right through … and after most all of them had been killed a cry was made that all those who were not killed or wounded should come forth and they would be safe. Little boys … came out of their places of refuge, and as soon as they came in sight a number of soldiers surrounded them and butchered them there.” Some women were found killed two miles from the massacre — they’d been running away, and the cavalry ran them down.
Did you know the US government handed out 20 medals of honor to the soldiers who perpetrated the slaughter? It rather diminishes the “honor” part. I’m beginning to suspect that “awards” are kind of a bad idea.
The result of this appalling romance writing award was, you guessed it, another implosion at the RWA.
The irony of the choice did not escape several who took to social media to protest: On Twitter, author Jenny Hartwell shared an email she sent to RWA board members: “Romances have flawed heroes and heroines who find redemption through the transformative power of love. However, aren’t there some people who shouldn’t be redeemed? Nazis. Slave owners. Soldiers who commit genocide.” Hartwell continued: “Can this author write this story? Absolutely. Free speech is important. But should our organization give this story its highest award? Absolutely not.”
Others resigned their membership in RWA. One member, Bronwyn Parry, served as a judge for the Vivians. “I had high hopes for the VIVIAN award and the strategies for cultural change that the RWA Board have put in place over the past two years,” Parry said in a statement on her website. She expressed pleasure at the diversity of the offerings in the category she was judging — a stated goal of the awards — but was dismayed when all the finalists in that category were (including her) white women writing heterosexual characters. When At Love’s Command was named a winner, she asked that her book be withdrawn from final consideration and her name removed from the finalists’ list.
The award has since been rescinded — I guess the judges opened their eyes and actually read the book they were honoring.