Embracing diversity

Author Rhonda Jackson Joseph has always enjoyed romance. When she first began reading the genre, there were no black romance lines, but today, she finds the ever-expanding horizons of modern romance authors invigorating.

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How did you get interested in romance?

I always liked romance as a genre. If I have to say there was something that actually hooked me on the romance, it probably would have been, uh, when the Confession Magazines came out with Black lines. It was a little revolutionary at that time, even, you know, for fear of dating myself, you know, I remember when there were no Black lines in the Confession mags, as well as when there were no Black romance publisher lines. So I think that the first time I saw that, I thought, “Oh my goodness, here are people that look like me.” And, “Oh my gosh, there are people that, you know, that know what I’m thinking and what I’m talking about. This may be something I actually could do.”

There was Donna Hill, and there was, um, Beverly Jenkins. Beverly Jenkins was doing the historical romances, I mean, the first time I read one of those I was absolutely blown away. Even then, I was toying with the idea of possibly doing a historical romance, but, I, you know, the slavery thing is such a touchy subject, and you don’t always know how to handle it, um, appropriately, and, uh, and I hesitate to say lightly enough, but to where it’s not the focus of the story, but the romance is. And, uh, Beverly Jenkins did that so deftly that I thought, “Oh, wow.” She was able to bring in history so seamlessly that you didn’t realize you were learning something, and that was always a really big draw for me.

How have romance genres changed?

The world of romance has opened up so much diversity. I actually wish that more writers would take advantage of that. You can’t sway everybody over to the unicorn and fairy side of romance, but because romance is increasingly opening up to diversity as far as the paranormal romances, the multi-racial romances, the LGBT romances. I just finished reading an anthology that was a zombie romance anthology. That was really different, but I found myself getting really excited because I thought, “I’ve never read anything like this. Oh my gosh, where have I been?”

And I think that the way that the romance genre has embraced all this diversity, and has actually lent itself all the way from sweet romance to the darkest of paranormal romance or maybe even urban fantasy, I think that that just leaves the world wide open. I mean, of course, if we can accept zombies and vampires and shapeshifters, why couldn’t we accept you know, Black people, people of Asian descent, you know, Latin descent, why couldn’t we do that? And I think that romance is doing it very well.

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