"Recent RWA Boards have worked hard to make changes to the current contest, striving to make it more diverse and inclusive, relieve judging burdens, and bring in outside voices"
After a series of controversies, the Romance Writers of America has retired the annual RITA Awards and created a new award, the “Vivian.” The RITA was named after Rita Clay Estrada, RWA's first president, and the board thanked her for the past thirty years "as the award's namesake and for her service to RWA and romance authors everywhere."
The Vivian is named after RWA founder Vivian Stephens, "whose trailblazing efforts created a more inclusive publishing landscape and helped bring romance novels to the masses," the board said.
The board emphasized that its contest task force was "guided by the principles of diversity, equity, inclusion, and access" and has aimed to develop a contest that recognizes "excellence in romance writing and showcases author talent and creativity. We celebrate the power of the romance genre with its central message of hope—because happily-ever-afters are for everyone."
Among other elements, the Vivian will offer "a clear rubric to enhance and streamline scoring guidelines in addition to judge training that will allow for more standardized judging, a sophisticated matching process so that entrants can be sure their books go to judges versed in their subgenre, and a category devoted to recognizing unpublished authors." The task force presented details about the Vivian to the full board at its May 30-31 meeting.
In January, the RWA cancelled this year's RITA Awards after months of controversy and mass resignations by members and board members. At issue were charges involving a lack of diversity and inclusion by the RWA.
At the time the RITA Awards were cancelled, the board said it was hiring "a consultant who specializes in awards programs and a DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion] consultant" and would seek member involvement in remaking the awards. "Recent RWA Boards have worked hard to make changes to the current contest, striving to make it more diverse and inclusive, relieve judging burdens, and bring in outside voices," but those kinds of changes have been "piecemeal," and the hiatus allowed the RWA, it said, "the opportunity to take a proper amount of time to build an awards program and process—whether it's a revamped RITA contest or something entirely new—that celebrates and elevates the best in our genre."
Learn more about the Romance Writers of America, headquartered in Houston and celebrating its forty-year anniversary this year.