Popular romance sells. And it reveals deep truths about people and cultures, fantasies and fears. The statistics are staggering: According to the Romance Writers of America, romance fiction generated $1.37 billion in sales in 2008, and romance was the top-performing category on the New York Times, USA Today, and Publishers Weekly best-seller lists.
The Popular Romance Project explores the fascinating, often contradictory origins and influences of popular romance as told in novels, films, comics, advice books, songs, and internet fan fiction, taking a global perspective—while looking back across time as far as the ancient Greeks.
The Popular Romance Project includes several ambitious, high-profile, carefully integrated programs:
In the film Love Between the Covers we’ll meet readers who devour as many as seven books in a week, and writers who regularly write two, three, and four books per year. Some of the romances they love to read are set in the past (most of the “historical romances” take place in the early 19th-century Regency period, usually featuring dukes and duchesses). But the romance genre encompasses dozens of other types of courtship stories: mystery/suspense romances with daring detectives and crime fighters; contemporary small town romances (with settings ranging from a main street yarn shop to the Nascar racetrack); Christian/inspirational romances with strong religious themes (and very little explicit sex), romances with vampires, shapeshifters, and other paranormal creatures; gay romances with female couples and male couples; sci-fi romances; African American and Hispanic romances; Western romances (with cowboys, of course); and romances written for young adults.
The romance community has been on the forefront of the digital revolution. They were early pioneers in the creation of e-books, social networking tools, and fan fiction sites. Authors and readers communicate directly with one another, bypassing the publishers who used to act as go-betweens. Writers invite their readers to write alternate ending of chapters they’ve written, readers suggest main characters for future books, and authors offer prizes and special incentives. Authors even host cruises to European castles and California pajama parties for their fans.
In the romance community, all readers are potential writers. Romance readers who want to make the jump can choose from hundreds of available writing workshops and “romance bootcamps,” they can find a mentor online, or join a local chapter of the Romance Writers of America, where they will get tips and moral support.
The romance business as it exists today began in England, and then spread to Canada, the U.S., and Australia. Romance writing, however, is universal. Harlequin has recently opened an office in Mumbai, India. And there are communities of romance writers in Bangladesh, South Africa, and Mexico, all deeply rooted in their own cultural traditions.
Popular romance fiction is a remarkable, worldwide phenomenon that’s wired. The Popular Romance Project’s Executive Director, Laurie Kahn, finds it deliciously ironic that tech savvy readers and writers are pushing the boundaries of digital publishing and social networking, all in the service of reshaping archetypal stories that can be traced back hundreds, even thousands of years…
The Popular Romance Project is poised to bring together disparate groups of scholars, writers, readers, editors, romance fans, and the general public, to launch an entertaining, substantive, lively discussion about how popular romance is created, who consumes it, and how it helps shape private lives and public cultures.