women of color in Romance
These five authors of color are some of the best writers in romance literature. (Illustration by Julie Chow, University of California, Berkeley)

5 Women of Color That Are Pushing Boundaries in Romance Literature

Diverse representation in romantic fiction can reaffirm how the genre adds value to the literary community.

 

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women of color in Romance

Diverse representation in romantic fiction can reaffirm how the genre adds value to the literary community.

 

Despite it being one of the largest and fastest-growing genres, romance novels are stigmatized within the book community. People think they’re “chick novels” or all about sex. Neither notion is true. Romance books are for everyone interested in uplifting and empowering the voices and stories of women — a group that has typically been overlooked in society. And with the rise of indie publishing, we also see LGBTQ+ people and women of color finally beginning to take center stage.

It’s important to see this representation in literature, not only for those who want to see themselves represented, but also so we can diversify what literature looks like. When our novels finally become classics we want them to be as much of an accurate representation of those who were writing and impactful in this space as possible.  With more romance writing making room for minority voices, maybe the stigma against romance will give way to something more positive for everyone.

BookTube has been one of the most influential places to find new authors recently, but knowing where to look is only the beginning. Branching out of traditional publishing is important because many diverse stories are self-published. Traditional publishing is hard to get into anyway, and indie publishing often offers more artistic freedom because the author doesn’t have to worry about pleasing a wide audience. I’m not saying that minority romance fiction is niche — though, like anything, it can be — but rather, indie stories can sometimes talk about real people in a more … realistic way. However, not all minority women are indie published and neither form of publishing is better or worse; it’s simply something to note when building your own list of books to read.

Here is a list of five women of color who are writing in the romance genre and why they are worth reading.

1. Talia Hibbert

This Black, British author has sparked quite the conversation with her “Brown Sisters” series. Featuring the books “Get a Life Chloe Brown,” “Take a Hint Dani Brown” and most recently, Act Your Age, Eve Brown, Hibbert has quite the knack for creating fun and interesting main characters all while tackling themes of mental health, physical disability and grief. These books in particular are romantic comedies and Hibbert effortlessly finds a way to portray nuanced characters as they deal with the endless complexities of everyday life.

Her heroines navigate the complications of finding their passions, battling insecurities, and figuring out how to be in a relationship after being independent for so long — at the same time, none of the more serious sides of their personalities are suddenly “fixed.” Rather, growth is gradual throughout the books. If you want more of Hibbert and her brilliant writing I would suggest reading “Work For It.” It’s about Keynes and Griffin who navigate their relationship, tackle depression and demonstrate the power of friendship.

2. Christina C. Jones

Jones is one of the first authors who truly made me laugh out loud. Her romantic comedies are undeniably hilarious but her more hard-hitting novels hold just as much weight. This Black indie author has spoken about never wanting to be traditionally published because she loves the creative freedom that comes with her writing. Not to mention, it makes the relationship between her and her audience more personal.

My favorite books of hers include “Me + Somebody’s Son” and “Getting Schooled.” Both are novellas but Jones’ talent truly lies in creating characters that you can connect with, even if the stories are short. “Getting Schooled” is about a teacher’s assistant and a student who fall in love through the student’s written work. Later it comes out that Jason is a war veteran going back to school after serving for so many years and Reece is taken back by his age. “Me + Somebody’s Son” is a fun summer romance that makes a play on Meghan Thee Stallion’s “hot girl summer”; Jones does a good job at keeping her references culturally relevant while fitting them naturally into her fictional worlds.

3. Courtney Milan

Historical romance has been criticized for overshadowing other genres of romance literature and for sometimes being a little too historically accurate. Featuring a lack of diversity and themes of sexual assault and the violent abuse of women, even “The Duke and I,” the first book by Julia Quinn in her “Bridgerton” series, has been criticized for the way it underplays marital rape.

Fortunately, the historical romance genre has come a long way since then — though that doesn’t mean there isn’t more work that needs to be done. Asian American author Courtney Milan is a part of this change as her historical romance book, “The Duke Who Didn’t,” features two Asian main characters. It’s something I’ve never read in this genre before. Her book “Hold Me” features a trans-Latina heroine and a Chinese/Thai American bisexual hero, which, as far as intersectional identities go, is truly refreshing to read about in contemporary romance.

4. Mariana Zapata

Zapata is known for her 500+ page, slow-burn romance novels and I think it’s because of their length that she’s able to create such compelling and well-rounded stories. The Mexican American indie novelist says in an interview, “There’s so many people in this country that aren’t just Caucasian, I never remember reading a book with a book with a Hispanic heroine.” And so she made her own.

“Kulti” is one of her most renowned works, featuring Sal Casillas, an international female soccer player, and her soccer coach, Kulti. Throughout the book, Zapata blends the Hispanic and German cultural identities of the couple all while tackling conversations about multiracial experiences “that make our experiences as members of minority groups so unique.” Alongside that, her novel “Work For It” handles grief and blended families while “From Lukov, With Love” looks at what it means to be a competitive ice skater — I love the way she writes about professional sports.

5. Rebekah Weatherspoon

“Treasure” by Rebekah Weatherspoon was the first queer romance I read and I immediately fell in love as Weatherspoon did a beautiful job of redefining narratives for her characters. The story is about Trisha and Alicia who initially meet while Trisha is working as a stripper. While Alicia is there for her sister’s bachelorette party, she later realizes that she also knows Trisha from her computer science class.

The novella follows the couple as Alica navigates growing out of her past and her family’s expectations while Trisha handles doing school and work at the same time. Weatherspoon negates all negative talk about sex work and promotes body positivity all while celebrating Black love between these two women. In her series “Loose Ends,” her two books “Xeni” and “Rafe” depict bisexual main characters, plus-sized heroes, and a male nanny, which, as normal as that might seem in real life, is not always seen in romance.

In conclusion, these authors’ stories are important not only because they’re told by women of color, but because their stories add to the canon of romance literature that’s not always seen today. The world is changing but minority voices have always existed and need to continue to be highlighted in all aspects of life; especially when there’s such heavy racial conflict over systemic violence and oppression in the world today, it’s important that minorities are also seen in stories other than just those about trauma and pain.

Romance novels allow them to be seen celebrating life, love and having fun despite whatever other life complications come their way. Women of color bring their own voices to the table and continue to emphasize the narratives of others. Reading more romance books from them will diversify not only what romance literature looks like, but hopefully redefine what can be written in romance in general.

Writer Profile

Arianna Taylor

University of Rochester
Language Media and Communications

Arianna is from the Bronx and is studying language media and communications. You can find her watching "Avengers Endgame" (again), reading about happily-ever-afters and writing short fiction stories. She’s here to try something new.

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