057. Black Romance Podcast: An Oral History (New Podcast Preview)


Short Description

Learn more about a new podcast that is an oral history project for Black Romance: "The Black Romance Podcast features weekly conversations with Black writers, editors, and scholars of historical and contemporary popular romance fiction. Julie Moody-Freeman and guests talk about a range of experiences: their difficulties trying to publish love stories with Black characters; their favorite books; writing and teaching about black romance fiction; traditional vs self-publishing; publishing queer romance fiction; and their recently released books."


Show Notes

Learn more about a new podcast that is an oral history project for Black Romance: "The Black Romance Podcast features weekly conversations with Black writers, editors, and scholars of historical and contemporary popular romance fiction. Julie Moody-Freeman and guests talk about a range of experiences: their difficulties trying to publish love stories with Black characters; their favorite books; writing and teaching about black romance fiction; traditional vs self-publishing; publishing queer romance fiction; and their recently released books."

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Show Notes:

Guest: Black Romance Podcast

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Notes:

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Full Transcript

[00:00:00]  Andrea Martucci: Hello, and welcome to episode 57 of Shelf Love, the podcast that has fun taking romance novels seriously. I'm Andrea Martucci host of the Shelf Love podcast and today I want to let you know about a new podcast that is creating an oral history of Black romance writers. In a minute, you'll hear the trailer for the Black Romance Podcast, as well as a few minutes from the first episode with Sandra Kitt. I am so glad that Julie Moody-Freeman is doing this podcast and I really think you'll be interested in checking it out.

Many of the listeners of this podcast may have already read the excellent article in Texas Monthly by Mimi Swartz about Vivian Stephens. If you haven't read it, the link is in the show notes for this episode.

Despite her huge contributions to the formation of the modern romance publishing industry, the RWA, and her groundbreaking work publishing Black romance authors, she has largely been erased from the narrative. Hearing Vivian Stephens tell her own story is powerful in getting it on the record is important for preserving a full understanding of romance history.

But that journalistic article excellent though, it may be, is still filtered through another person's lens and mostly focused on correcting a white-centered narrative. What I love about Julie Moody-Freeman's podcast is that she'll be presenting Black romance writers', readers', and scholars', words, histories, and stories unfiltered, and from their own perspective.

So first, I want you to hear the trailer where Julie explains what the podcast will cover. And then I'm going to play a short clip from the first episode in which Julie interviewed Sandra Kitt, a groundbreaking black romance author, whose books were first published in 1984 by Harlequin and were acquired by Vivian Stephens.

Thank you to Julie for sharing this audio with me so that I can share it with you.


 

  Julie Moody-Freeman: Welcome to the Black Romance Podcast. I'm Julie Moody-Freeman. If you love reading Black popular romance novels, or if you're an academic teaching and writing about Black romance fiction, or if you're a budding romance writer, wanting to find out about how to get into romance, writing and publishing the Black Romance Podcast is for you.

I've been a reader of popular romance since 11, reading Mills and Boon, and exchanging Barbara Cartland's books in high school in Belize. But my first experiences reading Black romance came in the early 1990s while I was a graduate student in North Carolina and I was [00:02:30] looking for images that reflected my own  as a Black woman. Since then I've continued to be a reader and I also teach and  publish about Black romance.

Every week, I will be talking with you about your favorite Black romance writers. I'll be talking with industry experts, editors, and scholars. As a proud romance nerd, I don't only want to read all the Black romance fiction I can get my hands on, I want to know about the writers.

What are your favorite books? Who are their favorite writers? What's it like to be a Black writer trying to publish romance fiction? What editors did they work with? What are the inspirations for their characters and for some of their best-loved books? What's their relationship with readers? What's their recent and upcoming releases?

That's what I want to know about. So I'm extremely excited to share these conversations with you. If you want to be a part of this journey every week, please subscribe to the Black Romance Podcast. Join me every Tuesday for a new podcast. I look forward to sharing with you all things Black romance.

See you soon.


 

  Sandra Kitt: I read about Vivian in an article in the New York Times that was talking about this new office opening in New York City. And I called her, I just picked up the phone, found the phone number and made a cold call, got her on the phone. Her office was so new she didn't even have a secretary. She didn't even have more staff.

It was just her. And, um, she invited me in to speak with her and I spoke with her for two hours. I said, you know, I know nothing about publishing. I know nothing about really what you're looking for, but I think I have written two books that might interest you. So she gave me a quick two-hour tutorial in publishing. What she was looking for, what the industry was like.

And, um, it was easy to talk to her. You know, she was African American so we were able to be very comfortable and she could be very open with me. So at the end of the two hours, she said, you've said, you've written three books. Why don't you send me what you think are your two best ones? So I sent her Rites of Spring and I sent her Adam and Eva, and she called me 10 days later and says, I'm buying both of them.

That's how I got started [00:05:00] publishing. And after that, everything I wrote for Harlequin sold.

Julie Moody-Freeman: Yes.

Sandra Kitt: Everything I wrote sold for 10 years, I was pretty much doing about a book a year for them. I didn't have an agent. Um, they were not saying to me, give us an idea for a book and then we can put you under contract and you'll go ahead and write the book. I was just writing the whole book and then turning it in to them and they'd say, great, we love it. You know, we're gonna do, we're gonna give you the contract and we're going to publish it. I didn't know you could ask him for the contract before you have, I've actually written the whole book.

No one ever told me that. And actually I looking at it hindsight, I realize that it was important to me growing as a writer, building a career that I didn't know any of that in advance, that I had learn it as I went along. I learned it all as I was going along one contract that a time, one book at a time, one incident at a time, it was all just coming in to me in real time.

Julie Moody-Freeman: Okay. So I want to ask,   you said Vivian Stephens talked to you for about two hours and that, um, she talked about the things, certain things they were looking for. I know it's a long time ago, but do you remember some of the things she talked about in terms of what were the, when, when you say, what were they looking for? Certain characters, happy ever after?

Sandra Kitt: One, one of the things I still believe to this day about Vivian and I said it to her,  at uh, if not at that initial meeting over the years, you know, that ,we had contact that to me, she always had a very, very clear understanding of what romances were, what it needed to contain in terms of a story and what the readers ultimately were looking for.

And she had already proven that she understood that because she had success at a house before she ever came to Harlequin, is because she understood the, um, dynamics and the elements of a good romance story. And so what she did was to talk to me about what she was looking for in the story.

And there were certain things that were taboo, but it was not even just with Harlequin. It was just across the board in terms of publishing. Um, you couldn't write about religion. You couldn't write about war. They didn't consider quote unquote fell within the realm of romances, you know. Oddly enough, fast forward about 15, almost 20 years, Harlequin did develop a line of romance that were [00:07:30] called inspirational stories, which absolutely allowed the writer to touch on their, what they believed in, in terms of faith or spirituality.

So things had changed. Everything changes, everything morphs and everything advances because that's what happens in life.

  Andrea Martucci: New episodes of the Black Romance Podcast will release every Tuesday so by the time you're hearing this a second episode will be out. So make sure you go listen to episode one with Sandra Kitt, as well as the second episode and subscribe to Black Romance Podcast on your podcast app of choice. I will have the links in the show notes in case you can't find it via search, as well as links to Black Romance Podcast on Twitter.

Thank you, Julie Moody-Freeman for giving me the opportunity to share your new podcast. And I hope that you, the listener, will support Black Romance Podcast by subscribing, listening, and engaging with this important project.

As for Shelf Love, I'll be back with season two next week and I can't wait to share it with you.  I hope you're having a great week. Black lives matter. Stay safe, stay mad and keep reading romance.