About the Project

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 TimesUSA Today, and Publishers Weekly best-seller lists.

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The Popular Romance Project will explore 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 will include four ambitious, high-profile, carefully integrated programs:

  • a feature-length documentary, Love Between the Covers, for international television broadcast, focusing on the global community of romance readers, writers, and publishers
  • an interactive, content-rich website created by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, allowing the website’s users to see romance novels in a broad context across time and place
  • an academic symposium on the past and future of the romance novel hosted by the Library of Congress Center for the Book
  • a nationwide series of library programs dealing with the past, present, and future of the romance novel, plus a traveling exhibit, organized by the American Library Association

Passion and Diversity

Christmas postcard, Buon Natale, c. 1930s, New York Public Library Digital Gallery

1930s Christmas postcard

Just as Laurie Kahn’s earlier films, A Midwife’s Tale and Tupperware!, revealed the lives of unsung women and their work, allowing us to see the past in new, more complete and complex ways, the Popular Romance Project will carry us into the present, revealing a misunderstood but flourishing worldwide community of romance novel readers, authors, editors, bloggers and fans. With its website, library programs, and symposium, the Popular Romance Project will invite us to think deeply about the canonical romance and courtship stories that are repeated and reworked in each era.

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.

Global Community

Relief fragment, Akhenaten, Nefertiti, and the Royal Princesses, c. 1350 BC, AICT

Nefertiti, Akhenaten, and daughters

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.

Telling the Story

Chromolithograph, [Wedding of Crown Prince Yoshihito and Princess Kujō Sadako], May 1900, Kasai Torajiro, Library of Congress

Wedding of Prince Yoshihito and Princess Kujo Sadako

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.

Staff: Jesse Albro, Multimedia Editor. Alaina Harmon, Project Manager. Laurie Kahn, Executive Producer and Film Producer/Writer/Director. James McCartney, Lead Developer. Chris Preperato, Multimedia Developer. Chris Raymond, Lead Website Designer. Kelly Schrum, Principal Investigator/Website Executive Producer.


Project Partners

Our Partners:

Project Funders

Our Funders:

Popular Romance Project, Humanities Advisors, 2012

Our Board of Advisors:

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Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this website do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.