Breaking the barrier

In the past, scholars studying romance novels did so in isolation. Today popular romance scholars act within a growing community, says scholar and editor Sarah Frantz, founding member of the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance (IASPR). Frantz explains how this change has paved the way for up-and-coming scholars.


Is studying popular romance more common today?

I think writing about popular romance as an academic is still an uphill battle, but somebody’s got to break the barrier, somebody’s got to be there to say, “No, this is a field that is worthy of study” and “Look, here’s, you know, everybody else who thinks that, too.” If you don’t do it because you’re worried that it’s going to be an uphill battle, then nobody will do it and then it will continue to be an uphill battle. So if you have a community that’s trying to make it not be an uphill battle then it becomes a little bit flatter for the next person, and a little bit flatter for the person after them [. . .]

[. . .] We’re trying to excavate the romance history and how and why and when did people start reading the genres and the tropes and the conventions that we all read nowadays. If you have that background and you can go as a graduate student to your committee and say “I want to do popular romance” and they say “Over my dead body!” and the students say, “But look!” [. . .]

[. . .] Then the graduate mentors can kind of go, “Oh, okay then.” If there’s a community then it’s obviously (a) worth doing and (b) you have a community to help you and to mentor you and to move you through. And that’s what we have tried to create and what people are telling me that we’ve succeeded in doing. What we’re seeing now is not people coming from other areas going, “Oh, I have this side interest in romance.” What we’re seeing now is graduate students going “This is my primary course of study.” And that’s what we set out to do seven years ago.

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