081. From History to histories
"Archives don't tell us everything. You should question, what texts did you use? What did you look at? What did you not look at? What did you miss? What questions did you ask? What questions did you not ask? And I think that's when we start to get outside of this problem of history, capital H, and move into histories, small "h" pluralized, and think about what appears first and what we do underneath." -Dr. Margo Hendricks
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Guest: Dr. Margo Hendricks
Article we talk about:
Archives and Histories of Racial Capitalism: An Afterward by Jennifer L. Morgan
A very short starter reading list sent by Dr. Hendricks:
- Richard Hakluyt, Voyages and Discoveries: Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques, & Discoveries of the English
- Imtiaz Habib, Black Lives in the English Archives, 1500-1677
- Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina, Black London Before Emancipation
- Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic
- Annette Gordon-Reed, Racism in America
- The Vision of China in the English Literature of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century. Edited by Adrian Hsia, Chinese U P, 1998
- Connexions: Histories of Race and Sex in North America, eds., Jennifer Brier, Jim Downs, Jennifer L. Morgan
- Stephanie Camp, "Early European Views of African Bodies: Beauty," Sexuality and Slavery, ed. Daina Ramey Berry and Leslie M. Harris
- Jerng, Mark C. Racial Worldmaking: The Power of Popular Fiction (2018)
- Baez, Jillian, "Navigating and Negotiating Latina Beauty" (In Search of Belonging: Latinas, Media, and Citizenship) (2018)
- Akhimie, Patricia, Shakespeare and the Cultivation of Difference: Race and conduct in the Early Modern World
- Readers: Critical Race Theory, Critical White Studies, Critical Indigenous Studies
- Elizabeth Kingston, "Romanticizing White Supremacy" (2018)
- Chess, Simone, Male-to-Female Crossdressing in Early Modern English Literature: Gender, Performance, and Queer Relations
- Asexualities: Feminist and Queer Perspectives. Ed. Karli June Cerankowski and Megan Milks. New York: Routledge, 2014.
From History to histories
[00:00:00]Andrea Martucci: Hello, and welcome to episode 81 of Shelf Love, a podcast that unpacks romance novels with nuance in conversations with scholars, readers, and other experts, Shelf Love contextualizes, the popular romance genre within the broader critical discussion of identity, culture, and love.
I'm your host, Andrea Martucci and my guest today is once again, Dr. Margo Hendricks, romance author, early modern English literature scholar, sometimes Shakespearian. If you are listening to this now, but have not yet listened to episode 80, which is part one of our conversation, I recommend that you go back and listen to that before listening to this episode. Or you do you, I respect rebels.
As mentioned in the intro to last episode, there are some references to a chapter that Margo shared with me before we recorded about the work of the archives.
It's by Jennifer L. Morgan and is entitled Archives and the Histories of Racial Capitalism: An Afterword. I have the link to go learn more about that afterward in the show notes. I hope you enjoy part two of our conversation.
Marker [00:01:09] Margo Hendricks: There's also the stigma of writing historically. Why would you do that when there's so much stuff going on now that readers will come to? "Oh, I don't want to read the past because this is what the past is about."
As someone working in the past and also writing romance set in the past, I'd like to upend that a little bit. Told someone I was going to write an Elizabethan romance set in Elizabeth's court. Immediately they presumed all my characters are going to be white. I said, no, this is about Black people.
I'm going to write a Black love romance set in Elizabethan, England. So that you get a sense that this court, this world, isn't what you think it is. But there's this immediate kind of, Oh no, no, no, no, no. Once I explained to the person they got excited and this is a writing partner.
But the perceptions that there's only a small frame that you can do it. You write Black people, contemporary. You write Asians, contemporary. You write Latinos, contemporary. You write white people across the spectrum. That's the perception. Yeah, we get tired of billionaires. I don't want to read another white billionaire romance.
I'll read a Black billionaire romance if it intrigues me. My problem is that most of those are produced as category romances, no offense to the [00:02:30] publishers or to the authors. Those are category romances. So honestly you're taking the billionaire body and putting it in a different person's body, colorizing it for lack of a better phrase and you're going forward. So I think that's the resistance.
I really think there are so many narratives out there that are romance rich across the board that we don't have to settle for one type. I think that part of the issue is what gets put to us.
I'm on Twitter. I look at the recs and. I haven't done it in a while, so I need to go back to doing it.
But every time someone would rec the same 10 or 12 authors of color, I would try to rec ones I've read who aren't on that list. Now, if more reviewers did that across the board, more non-Black reviewers, more non Latinx, non-Asian reviewers did that. We would see narratives that, speak to what you're talking about, coming out.
Andrea Martucci: Actually I wanted to get there, the ideology that it's not the writer, it's not so much about the characters. It's about the ideology that is embedded in the person writing the story. And if that person, whether they are a Black writer, a white writer, whoever, if they have not examined that ideology, they can write a story that very much reinforces white supremacist ideology and hierarchical power structures and ideas about what we should find romantic and whose cultural experience we're centering in the story, right?
Margo Hendricks: Yes. Yes. But if you're doing it under the guise of creating Black characters or Asian characters around characters, then it's institutionalized racism at work as well.
And I'm going to say, again, I understand that I think we all have a mission if we want to crack the foundation of white supremacist thinking and institutionalized racism, systemic racism and institutionalized racism because I'm sorry, traditional publishing is [00:05:00] institutionalized racism.
Andrea Martucci: Yes. then that gets into, which books get the money put behind them to increase the visibility to book bloggers and be everywhere so that they get recced over and over again. And also which stories are acceptable to the white gaze of publishing -
Margo Hendricks: yeah.
Andrea Martucci: -To be acquired.
Margo Hendricks: Yes. Yes. And the issue for me, is there are little things that you can do to disrupt that. So take a good look at me. But if I said to you, I'm a university professor, you didn't know my background. What field do you think I would be in?
Andrea Martucci: Because of your funky, bright blue glasses? I kind of, okay. Look, I can picture you in an art studio.. Of African-American art of African art or something like that.
Yes. How do you think people would perceive you? What do you think the stereotype is?
Margo Hendricks: I know what the stereotype is for the first. For the first five years of my academic life, people were constantly asking me, first if I was an African-Americanist, and second, why am I a Shakespearian? I was constantly questioned about this. I had people say to me, you should go into African-American literature, not Shakespeare studies because you'll feel more comfortable there.
Andrea Martucci: Ew.
Margo Hendricks: Oh sweetie.
Andrea Martucci: I know. (resigned)
Margo Hendricks: The pushback that I have gotten. When people said to me, Oh, you work on Othello. And I said, no, I don't write about Othello. I write about Christopher Marlowe's works. I write about Midsummer Night's Dream. I write about the texts that you don't think of in terms of this. I wrote about Romeo and Juliet. The constant expectation of where I should be versus where I am.
Okay. I'm a Shakespearian. I write about race and gender and class and all those good things. And it's not what people expect.
So I'm saying to bloggers, to reviewers. Yeah. Let traditional publishing pay you to push so-and-so's book, but slip someone else's book in there that you've read. Who's not with that traditional publisher.
So if you really liked this book. All right. You really like this book then read this person's book. They're self-published indie. Oh my God. If you love this, [00:07:30] you'll love that. In fact, you might love this a little bit better. You know what I mean? There's a way you can push up against the fact that we step complacently within capitalist modes of production, because that's what pays our bills.
We need to examine that just as much as we need to examine the way in which we are complicit in institutionalized racism. In the continued reaffirmation of white supremacy within romancelandia on all fronts. Because until we start questioning the comfortableness of our positions, vis-a-vis capitalism, it's very difficult to do more than say institutionalized racism is wrong.
Because indies don't have the money to pay you, to push their book.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah.
Margo Hendricks: So you do that free labor.
Andrea Martucci: You have hit the nail on the head with this, and I think that there's this understanding, right? That some people believe that we live in a post-racial society. These people are wrong, right. Just because Black people in America are not physically enslaved anymore, does not mean that as we have talked about throughout this conversation, the ideology behind that is not still very much ingrained in the way we think about everything and the narratives that we have been immersed in have not reinforced these things.
Right. And so I think that in the time we live in now, there is the mistaken belief that we are just making rational choices. " I just don't see a lot of books by Black people on the shelves, or I just don't get them from publishers" without then stopping and examining exactly as you are encouraging, if we understand the systemic nature of racism and how it has impacted what is published by traditional publishers and what gets resources put behind it, then you understand that if you, as a book blogger, that your production of what you do, your supply chain is flawed, that you need to look at your supply chain and you need to have another input there that does not have those same incentives.
But the thing is I think that a lot of people don't think that hard about what choices they're given. They think that those are all the choices like that the books on NetGalley that they can review. Those are all the choices. That's not true. That is a subset of [00:10:00] the universe and it is a privileged subset.
And so if you only go to that well, you're just going to keep drinking the same water.
Margo Hendricks: Exactly. And it's leaded.
Andrea Martucci: Yep.
Margo Hendricks: And it's same with what is it? Edelweiss?
Andrea Martucci: Edelweiss, yeah.
Margo Hendricks: It's the same with that. It is the same obsessive concern with the USA Today, New York Times. For me, we could talk ideology, but we also need to talk about the capitalist mode of production at work here.
Because the capitalist mode of production requires that ideology to be the curtain from behind which it operates.
Andrea Martucci: It is the wizard. The ideology is the wizard and we're like following the yellow brick road.
Margo Hendricks: Exactly. And so until you actually understand that, you can rant and rave about the ideology all you want. Until you control the means of production -I'm sorry, I'm historical materialist. Marx was wrong in many cases, but he was right in others and there are a lot of BIPOC Marxist historical materialists who have added corrections that people need to read this, but until you to control the means of production, you're always performing ideology. You really are.
And so it is what happens in the historical romance, it is what happens in the re-presentation of wealth and power tied to an aristocratic formula, tied to a billionaire formula, tied to an aristocratic formula in quote, medieval narratives.
There's a new book coming out written by a Black author a Highlander romance. (laughs) And the thing is I'm like totally excited for it, except that the critique that I might make, as someone who's looking at this from a literary standpoint, I'm going to be real curious of what you do.
What I ended up doing is I rewrite early modern romances in my stuff. I look to some of those romances that show the representation of the aristocracy in complicated ways that aren't racialized, according to the norms that we operate from that, like I said, where [00:12:30] if you've read Orlando Furioso, there are Black Kings and Queens, African Kings and Queens and princesses and warriors and whatnot with light skin, dark skin, brown skin, all kinds of skin who are very much racialized as superior over their white counterparts. So if you haven't read those, then you're not going to be familiar with the narratives that circulated culturally in the moment. They're problematic, but they circulated where colorism is beginning to evolve as a dominant part of racial discourse, but doesn't get solidified as the dominant racial discourse until the 16th and 17th century.
And so how are you positioning this? Thinking of Alyssa Cole's Agnes Moore which is a fascinating little book. I read it and I'm like, yeah, finally! Why haven't more people done stuff like that?
There are texts that exist that can help you shape it so you're not just taking this white narrative and colorizing it.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. What foundation are you building on? If you're building on the foundation of white romance and what has been constructed as desirable.
Margo Hendricks: Yes, this goes back to your ideology. It really does because that ideology, and I always talk in ideologies rather than, as if there's a single one. So I would talk about white supremacist ideology in the same way that I would talk about class ideologies, et cetera. But it's the ideologies that you're operating from that you sometimes don't even interrogate as you're writing.
When I write, I think who am I? I'm a professor. A Black woman. I'm technically middle-class. I come from enslaved people who were here at the beginning of the 18th century. The family name is Colepepper, which if you're from the South you know that name. We owned property at the end of the Civil War. That property remains in my family in Alabama.
There's this history that I know that shapes the way which I think about myself from a class standpoint. I graduated high school in the sixties- I'm telling my age. I moved to Oakland, participated in activism during that period. I taught at UC Santa Cruz. I have this amazing memory. My daughter who is adopted being [00:15:00] held by Angela Davis. Teaching Shakespeare.
There is all of this stuff that goes into my thinking about who and what I am. And so when I wrote my, so far, one contemporary book For Your Heart Only, she's a Black Shakespearian, has a daughter, multi-millionaire Black hero. Shakespeare stuff built into it and all that tension, but that's what goes into it. Am I feeding ideologies? Probably because , we can't help it. We don't exist outside of this.
But we can critique it in certain ways. And I think that's what's important is the way in which we critique this in our romances, the way in which we open it up, which then creates the problem of when white writers want to go and create a world that represents the world they live in, the world we're talking about. How do you do it carefully? Do you hire a sensitivity reader? You can. But part of it is the reading. There's work out here that can shape the way in which you think about the world. And then you have to work harder than that to replicate it.
And it is hard. Yeah, it is fine. It's not easy.
Andrea Martucci: I think that if I had to define part of the project of this podcast, it would be pulling out some of these ideologies so that readers of the romance genre can start to think about this themselves. I don't necessarily mean to be like prescriptive. Like you have to think this. More like, Hey, have you thought about this in relationship to the genre? How then does that change how you think about things you have read, are reading, et cetera, and modeling those conversations with specific books, but hoping that people can take away that they can do the same thing to books they're reading that are not discussed on the podcast.
Margo Hendricks: Okay.
Andrea Martucci: And because, as we've talked about in a variety of ways, we're all shaped by our experiences and I know that every reader, we find pleasure in the romance genre. We love it. We find pleasure in it. And I think it's incredibly hard for people to look at this thing they love and have to acknowledge that what they find fun and fantasy can be harmful to other people. And I think that's an incredibly difficult thing to do, but I think that in order to actually make positive, actual change, that the demand [00:17:30] has to change. So yeah. The supply is going to continue as it is now, unless the demand changes.
If the demand for a particular type of story that we have seen a million times before diminishes publishers will react to that and authors will react to that.
Margo Hendricks: Yeah.
Andrea Martucci: And so I think that it's not enough for readers to absolve themselves of responsibility in this ecosystem. Readers have power to affect change by changing their reading habits writ large, because it's not enough to go buy one or two books that are different, you also have to stop buying the other books. And I think that's where there's like maybe more tension, people are adding, but they're not taken away.
Margo Hendricks: Yeah. I was going to say you're absolutely right. And that requires a willingness. And again, it comes back to the whole question of will. This is my Milton rising to the fore, and I have to push it down a little bit. The whole idea of contained will and liberated will, I'm gonna put it in those context rather than free will versus unfree will. Which most people think of as Christian doctrine, where in fact it's as early as the Greeks and so on.
You have to willingly want to change. Just to say, Oh, to the badge of courage, I'm going to read Katrina Jackson's polyamorous books. Like even though I'm, straight up, heterosexual, monogamous, et cetera, kind of reader. I'm going to go out and read this. You got to examine why you want to do that. If your comfort zone is here, your comfort zone is here. Accept that, and then admit your willingness to change or your unwillingness to not change it.
That's the first step. You have to be willing to embrace the fact that you read because, and that you want to read differently because. I read everything. I'd read romance. And then there was a period where I didn't read romance at all. I only read speculative fiction, science fiction and fantasy. And some of the fantasy that I read, like, Oh my God, you know, The Belgariad, I loved that series and I read it every year and I still cringe over it, but I will read it. So own that, own that you do problematic stuff.
But I think there's some limits, like the one that just got discussed on Twitter.
Andrea Martucci: The Nazi romance?
Margo Hendricks: Yeah. And then the little bit that says she could have chosen between Jamaicans and Germans [00:20:00] and like -
Andrea Martucci: what, wait
Margo Hendricks: Oh yeah, are, the war prisoners.
Andrea Martucci: Oh, she could either take a war prisoner who was a Jamaican man or a German prisoner of war. Ugh! The layers.
Margo Hendricks: There was some mention in there we could have taken some Jamaicans or we could, we did the Germans. There's logic behind that. And we need to talk about , that is not a romance. That's not part of romance. I will fight you tooth and nail about what constitutes the romance genre. That ain't it.
But the decision to read something that you think is innovative and a re- writing of a problematic genre, like there are people who will write, in their minds, recuperative narratives at the end of The Civil War where this white plantation owner or enslaver has a come to Jesus moment.
And then it's okay for him to have a relationship with this mixed race, Black woman. Who was enslaved but now free. Think about why you willing to accept that. What does that say about you? I think that the pressure that's being put on publishers needs to be ramped up. I think that there are individuals who are writing stuff.
It's harder to find in the historicals. All right. Vanessa Riley is God love her, is single handedly trying to pull Regency and Victorian sub genre of romance, like screaming and yelling out of the historical wilderness. And she's getting it. Rebel Carter has written some fascinating stuff.
Why isn't every time we mentioned X, we're not mentioning this? And that's where we do it. I think readers have to willingly want to read something differently. I'm living with the fact that there are going to be readers who won't ever read my historical stuff. Because it won't fit their expectations of what this world should look like.
Andrea Martucci: It just doesn't seem that romantic and like that attitude,
Margo Hendricks: well, but the HEA seems artificial. It's not even that it's, isn't romantic. My romances change the plot, but if I write a romance that is a retelling of Shakespeare In Love. Why is it plausible for this aristocratic woman to dress up as a male and hookup [00:22:30] with Shakespeare and do all this other bullshit, but it's not plausible for a Black woman to do the same thing? Tell me why? A middle-class Black woman.
Andrea Martucci: Personally, I would hypothesize. That the reason people give for why they think it's a problem is not the real reason. I think the real reason is because they have a hard time imagining the protagonist to be a woman of color or a man of color or whatever the situation is, but they will say, they will couch it in terms that sound like they're not being racist. Or that they haven't been influenced by the water that we're swimming in.
Margo Hendricks: Yes. And I got pushed back when I did my contemporary and in part of it were love letters between Shakespeare and the Black woman of the sonnets. I got push back from a beta reader. Who said that's impossible. We just know that the Black woman in the sonnet just had dark hair. She couldn't possibly be Black. And yet Shakespeare's world through Black women walking around there who were hanging around the theater and stuff. Why not? Who ran taverns, who ran ins, et cetera. Why not?
So you hit it. The pushback is, I'm a racist. I can't admit that I'm a racist, therefore, because I can't possibly be racist because I read these books, which feed me a little bit of comfort. And I work in this environment and I do this. Therefore, I can't be a racist. Being a racist doesn't necessarily mean that you go out and you storm the capital. Being the racist means that you don't question the ideologies when you say this is not real, this is historically inaccurate.
This is historical license, which I support. I think all writers engage in historical license. Therefore we should stop pulling out accuracy as if.
I think that the thing that I loved about the archive piece and my own sense of the archives is the archives don't tell us everything. So anytime you read it in historian, you should question, what texts did you use? What did you look at? What did you not look at? What did you miss? What questions did you ask? What questions did you not ask? And I think [00:25:00] that's when we start to get outside of this problem of history, capital H, and move into histories, small "h" pluralized, and think about what appears first and what we do underneath.
The academic book that I wrote. The last chapter focuses on Aphra Behn, a white writer. And I make an argument that she's engaged in white passing. And the only way we can recognize it is to read her work. And reading the language that she uses to code her passing. So there's no archival support for my argument, but there's all kinds of archival support if you understand that the archives are just as much about what we represent as what we don't represent, what gets put in, what gets left out, what gets marked, what gets erased, what gets crossed out, what gets underlined. And I think when we, as readers start to ask those same questions about our reading habits and accept if there's just some stuff we're not going to read, I'm not going to read a Nazi romance. I'm not going to read a recuperative racist, KKK motorcycle club, loving white boy who has a come to Jesus moment and hooks up with a Black woman who saves him. I'm not gonna read that crap. I just refuse.
I accept that. There's some stuff we're not going to read, and I think we need to do that with all readers. But if we express a desire to read outside our comfort zone, then we need to own why we're in that comfort zone and then maybe begin to move forward. That's what I would say to readers.
And I think that we need to stop thinking that traditional publishing will absolutely become a diverse entity. Capitalism doesn't work that way, but if on the terrain of traditional publishing, it treats the narratives of nonwhite peoples the same.
I'm saying economically, treat them the same. I want to make this supply and demand. It's an economic argument, it's not a moral. We are fighting the moral argument most of the time. It's an economic argument. So economically treat them the same. That's how you begin to push the demand and you feed the supply and the demand, and you change the demand by treating them the same, because we've been spending so much [00:27:30] time arguing from a moral standpoint that capitalism said, we don't care. That's ideology. You fight that moral fight.
Andrea Martucci: Economically equal. However, as somebody who works in marketing, what I think traditional publishing does not do well is understand that - They treat them as cans of soup. They treat a romance novel with white protagonist and a romance novel with Black protagonists, like the same item that can be marketed in the same way to the exact same audience. And I think that where traditional publishing continuously fails is they're like "well, we did what we normally do and it didn't succeed, I wonder what happened?" When it comes to a book by a Black author with Black characters and it's like perhaps you didn't acknowledge what was truly unique about this text and you didn't market it appropriately to be successful. And so this is like the distinction between equality is not always the exact same treatment. It's like what is appropriate to be equitable, right? Like the same amount of resources, but like crafted in a different way to acknowledge the needs of each thing. But that requires acknowledging that they're different. And I don't mean that in like a segregated way. I mean that in the sense that like all works are unique and that all works have their own audience.
Margo Hendricks: And again, Kimani Press. (laughs) Okay. The marginalization of African-American romance. First of all, African-American romance, if you wanted to find it a decade or so ago, you had to go into African-American literature.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah.
Margo Hendricks: And so romance readers, who might have been like , I don't care who wrote it as long as it's a romance, why isn't it a romance? That's the first question. By the time you start producing this romance and think about the labels that disappear.
This is where Vivian Stephens, man, her history is phenomenal. And people need to understand the way in which traditional publishing effectively furthered institutionalized racism within its control of supply and demand, in favor of white authors. Look at what they do did to Arabesque, the original Dafina, to Crimson, to Kimani, to those lines at a time when they're starting to get [00:30:00] readers of color, but also white readers who were saying, I want to read this. Okay.
I read this book I'm going to read more. Where is it? Where can I find it? The contraction was quick and instantaneous. Why? Because a few loud mouth white women couldn't write the racist narratives that they wrote because people were starting to call them out on it. That's part of it. The other issue is you're right with marketing. We can't take Campbell's tomato soup label and put it on there and have tomato bisque soup in one can and plain tomato soup in the the other can and say, they're identical, but you can take that label and market in such a way, tomato bisque soup versus tomato soup.
Andrea Martucci: And they're on the same shelf
Margo Hendricks: and they're on the same shelf.
Andrea Martucci: Not one above and one down at the floor.
Margo Hendricks: They have to be there. And you have to put the same resources behind doing it. You have to be willful. This, may be too much Renaissance in me, but the willfulness to it act.
So it comes back to it, all is handfast. You have to recognize that you can't defeat one without defeating the other. You can't defeat colonialism without going after white supremacist thought and without dealing with the economic mode of production that keeps both of those in play at all times.
So for romance to do its job, we need to educate ourselves about what stands behind both traditional publishing, but the celebration of Jane Austen as the first romance author, which is crap because Walter Scott was writing romances, come on Ivanhoe? Let's be real here. The 16th century they're writing romances, Aphra Behn was writing.
So romances has a history that precedes that, but what does it mean to celebrate this white woman? As the icon of a literary genre, it establishes the institutionalization of whiteness as what romance is even at a time when romance was probably the most multicultural, trans national, trans cultural, I'm going to say [00:32:30] trans gender, not in literal.
Andrea Martucci: Well de-centering the male gaze.
Margo Hendricks: Decentering it, but also the representation of transgender people. In terms of appearance, not in terms of necessarily reassignment. Romance was the genre that you could do it in. You could do everything in it and get away with it.
So when did it become white centered? Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, the 1980s and nineties historical. The Mills and Boon, Harlequin, you saw the collapsing of a literary genre that was oddly enough, wasn't as elitist as people think. Wasn't as institutionally racist in its representations, as people think. Wasn't as heteronormative, as people think. Wasn't decidedly white Christian, as people think. Suddenly become narrowly defined in those terms.
That's what we need to understand, which is why I'm always arguing y'all need to get out of the 19th century and go back earlier to understand.
That was what Heliodoris's Daughter is going to do maybe, but it was too massive a project. And I, so I still need to do that quick, dirty historical romp through romance.
Andrea Martucci: I mean, and you're using the romance in the way that Northrop Frye talks about like,
Margo Hendricks: Oh heck, yeah.
Andrea Martucci: So you're not talking about the popular romance genre. You're talking about romance, the structural entity.
Margo Hendricks: I'm talking about romance as a genre of literature that allows for sub genres.
The biggest debate, honestly, in the 16th century was between history and romance. Romance was fictional, romance told history, but in a fictional way, it made history available to people in ways where it wasn't about just the powerful, because history also depicted the less powerful people who were negotiating lines of power, taking it for themselves and doing things with it or resisting [00:35:00] or whatever. So Epic told the big story, romance told the everyday real story. Which is why romance originally was written in prose.
And then you had romance Epic written in verse for the elites. So there's this incredible tension, that comes to genre where you end up having literature split between drama, poetry, and romance in the 16th century. Then the people started going to fiction. And prose fiction and the novel.
So what we lose when we begin to narrow generically is especially with romance, less, with drama, less with poetry, we lose that ability to absorb whatever narratives you want to tell as a writer from whatever templates you want to write it from culturally, politically, from gender, sexuality, anything. We've lost that so that it becomes defined in a box that it's constantly trying to burst out of.
That's what romance is doing. That's why we're constantly engaging. That's why people are having a hard time and they want to call it pulp fiction. They want to call it trash. They want to call it all of that because it cannot be boxed. That was understood. As a genre, as a mode of writing romance, couldn't be boxed.
That's why it ends up in drama. That's why it ends up in poetry. That's why it ends up in prose. Because romance itself is the premiere narrative of fiction. We need to get back to understanding that, which is how I think we challenge the kinds of problems we're seeing with issues of representation. Issues of diversity, issues of narrative voices, issues, not just of characters, but of narrative voices, issues of disrupting class issues. Some of the most popular romances in the 16th and 17th century represented what we would call working people.
You know, middle-class they call them middle-class prose fiction, dealing with clerks and laboring people and professional, the skilled [00:37:30] people, we lost that. And so I honestly think, and if we could tie it to the evolution of the novel, but I honestly think that's what we need people to understand about romance.
And once we get people to understand that, maybe there'll be more receptive to, Oh my God, this one is set in China and white people aren't centered, but they're there.
Andrea Martucci: At the fringes. That'd be nice.
Margo Hendricks: Or it's not even that they're at the fringes.. They're immaterial to the narrative.
Andrea Martucci: Yes. Yeah. Yeah. They're not driving the action.
Margo Hendricks: Yeah. They're not driving the actual narrative and I think Black romance has done this really well, and it is the difficulty of writing interracial romance. Because Black romance says, no, you know what? White folks you're there, but you're not material to this narrative. You're present, but you don't have a speaking part.
Interracial romance says, both sides have speaking parts. And because of the way in which white supremacist thinking operates, the white speaking part, almost unconsciously de facto gets privileged in ways that the non-white speaking part doesn't. And so writing the narrative from say, the nonwhite POV enables that. Or mitigates to some degree that.
My favorite of last year, I'm going to push Katrina.
Andrea Martucci: You can do that. I do it every other episode, so.
Margo Hendricks: Katrina's Office Hours, like shit, girl. It is an interracial.
Andrea Martucci: But no white people.
Margo Hendricks: (whispers) No white people. It's not an interracial white plus whatever. All right. And what brought it home for me is it's how I grew up.
I grew up in a segregated community, so we had interracial relationships and for me, interracial relationships were Black and Mexican, Black and Asian, and a couple on occasion Black and whites, but that was the dominant discourse.
I had someone say, it was so weird For Your Heart Only my male protagonist is Black and Native American. Identifies as Black, but also tribally enrolled. I don't attempt to represent the [00:40:00] Native American part of his heritage because of how he identifies. My heroine is Black. It's a Black romance, but I had someone said, it was a reader from NetGalley, which is why I won't ever put anything up there.
" So this is not the kind of interracial relationship I want to see." And then there were other criticisms that they jumped into bed together quickly. Like people don't have one night stands.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah.
Margo Hendricks: And I'm like, okay, so the thinking that, and this is what we're starting to see that the interracial romance between and Tasha Harrison's what is it? The laundry. Oh, that
Andrea Martucci: Oh, the Liquor & Laundry series?
Margo Hendricks: Liquor & Laundry series, yeah. Yeah. I'm just finishing. Oh, the one
The one with the college student who's falling in love with his best friend's mom.
Andrea Martucci: Oh no. That's If She Says Yes.
Margo Hendricks: Oh yes. Come on. We discover he's a Latino, that turns that narrative a little, that makes you think a little bit. And we see this rising out of non-white romance authors, where they say look, this is a world where I grew up in and it wasn't always interracial between Black and white.
If that's the only dynamic that we can present, that we're going to be stuck in white supremacist thinking forever, one, and two, we're going to be stuck in a peculiar historical narrative about the relationship between white and non-white people that I think traditional publishing is always going to feed.
I think about the way in which we move out of these narratives. My heroines are always Black. There's a way in which constructing the narratives so that you push it a little bit helps. But I honestly think the more that we recognize that we, as writers can shift the narrative that reviewers and bloggers, people who do podcasts can shift the narratives, not by saying, this is the only thing you can do, but there are multiple ways of deconstructing this history from capital H to histories that may have some impact.
Marker [00:42:17] Andrea Martucci: Margo, thank you so much for being here. This was a fascinating conversation and I learned so much. Can you please tell us where people can find you online and which of your books are available now that they should check out? [00:42:30]
Margo Hendricks: Online, I'm probably most on Twitter. I do have a Facebook and an Instagram. It's Elysabeth Grace is the pen name. I stole it from my daughter to use cause I'm still publishing academically under Margo. I'm going to reclaim Margo at some point. My books are available at Amazon, the Daughters of Saria paranormal romance. Two of them are historical. Two are contemporary. I'm finishing the fourth one where I kill Satan and I wept, I cried. I'm sorry. I cried. Cause I, I wrote a redemptive arc for him and I still killed him. Cause I knew I wasn't going to redeem him.
For Your Heart Only as a contemporary, that is Shakespearian- driven and I'm working on, like I said an Elizabethan romance that has Black twins in Elizabeth's .Court.
And so Twitter is probably the best place. And I wear both sides. I'm Elysabeth Grace, the romance author, and Margo Hendricks, the Black academic who does Shakespeare and early modern stuff.
There's no divide for me. And fuck is my favorite word, and blue is my favorite color.
Andrea Martucci: And so you and Julie Moody-Freeman are actually co-editing a special issue of JPRS and that will be available maybe summer 2021.
Margo Hendricks: We're hoping it's coming out. We just got all the essays in. They're amazing. And in case people don't know, it's the Journal for Popular Romance Studies, in my opinion is doing some fabulous work in terms of presenting readerly essays that don't require a PhD or a BA or an MA or a literary background, to be honest. A lot of good work. The volume, there's transcripts from Black authors: Beverly Jenkins, Vivian Stephens, Sandra Kitt, Alyssa Cole, Rebekah Weatherspoon, who am I leaving out?
Andrea Martucci: It was everybody who was on a Black Romance Podcast, season one?
Margo Hendricks: Yes. And the transcripts will be there so people can actually read what the authors have to say, and then the academics writing are also romance writers, and we just thought it would be really cool to bridge this perceived gap between this.
And I'm discovering more and more academics writing romance. I just [00:45:00] didn't know who they were. Because we do write under pen names. Academia is not a fan of romance, but we're changing that. Let me say this. You attack romancelandia and romance authors for being resistance to white supremacy and business as usual, I'm coming after you if you're an academic. A few academics have learned that Margo Hendricks sheds Elysabeth Grace and say, Hey, I know.
The idea that we have so much to learn from each other. My writing has improved because of romance writing. And it was very hard to write a long academic book, but I also think my romance writing is doing the kind of work that I would like to see more romance writers doing in terms of recognizing that romance is an embracive genre. It is an expansive one. It is a loving genre. That's what I love about romance. It's a loving genre.
And it's capable of all things. It's also capable of doing wrong, but it's a loving genre and the politics of romance really need to be thought about more. So you want to engage me on Twitter.
I'm there, I'm going to get back to writing my little threads on romance and why people get it wrong. I just had to take some time away and at some point I'm going to revise my website and put more historical stuff on there. So that's this year's job.
Andrea Martucci: As I was editing this latter part of our conversation, I was struck by this one moment when Margo asks me to basically form a judgment about what she studies based on stereotypes.
And this is particularly interesting to me because I've been doing a lot of reading about stereotypes and biases, because it's related to the work that I'm doing about stereotypes about romance readers, which is essentially what the Bridgerton research I'm doing is about. Spoiler alert.
Anyway, what's interesting about stereotypes and what you can see happen during that exchange in this episode is that I know what she's asking me to do.
And so I want to be honest about the stereotypes that do occur to me, even though I know that it's wrong to ascribe stereotypes about a group to a particular individual person. I knew what she was asking, but I had this moment where I was like, am I really going to admit that I totally [00:47:30] know what stereotype she's getting at here and then speak it aloud on a podcast that many people will listen to?
In the reading I've done on research studies into stereotypes it's clear that even when people can intellectually challenge stereotypes and do not personally have prejudice or act on bias, those of us who share a culture are socialized to fundamentally share a common understanding of stereotypes that are held about groups of people.
I think it's an interesting moment because it's a micro example of the push and pull going on in our minds. We are inundated with messages that form our understanding of the world and the only way that we can challenge and possibly change those messages and the impact of those messages on our actions is to acknowledge that we are influenced by those things. And of course, I'm talking about like colonialism, imperialism, and white supremacy here.
But I think you can give yourself a big old pat on the back, because if you've made it this far in this episode, and if you listen to Shelf Love regularly, I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that you're someone who is interested in unpacking those messages in romance or media generally. And I appreciate you, and I hope you enjoyed this episode. Every conversation I have for this podcast gives me new insights and food for thought. And I hope that you too were inspired by what Margo shared in this and my last episode.
So thank you for listening to episode 81 of Shelf Love and thank you to Margo for joining me. A transcript and show notes for this episode can be found on shelflovepodcast.com .
Thanks again for joining me today. If you have thoughts on the show, I'd love for you to reach out to me. You can send an email to Andrea@ShelfLovePodcast.com.
This episode is produced by me, Andrea Martucci. Thank you to Shelf Love's editorial advisory board members, Katrina Jackson, and Tasha L. Harrison.
In addition to shaping the editorial direction of this podcast, they also write books. Mentioned in this episode, Office Hours, aKA academic angst by Katrina Jackson. And if you like older women, younger men romance, check out If She Says Yes by Tasha L. Harrison. That's all for this week. Black lives matter. Stay safe, stay mad and keep reading romance.
Did you know that [00:50:00] 82 million households tuned into at least one episode of Bridgerton on Netflix the first month it was available? And did you know that Bridgerton based on a romance novel series by Julia Quinn? Lots of people who have never picked up a romance novel before are dipping in as a result of the Netflix adaptation.
If you are one of those people who don't identify as a romance reader, but decided to read one or more of the Bridgerton novels as a result of watching the show, I am asking for your help. That's right. You.
But who am I? My name is Andrea Martucci and I'm currently working on a research project to discover how Bridgerton fans are engaging with romance novels, and how they perceive the romance fiction genre.
I am the host of a podcast devoted to unpacking romance novels called Shelf Love podcast. And the reason that I'm interested in Bridgeton fans specifically is because this is a once in a decade opportunity where a romance text is part of a larger cultural conversation, which means that lots of new people all at once are giving romance a try.
What I want to understand is how people get into romance or don't and how new readers perceive genre conventions.
So here's how you can take part in this research project. I have a survey that probably just takes about five minutes to fill out. You can find the survey and learn more about the research project by going to bit.ly/bridgertonresearch. That's bit.ly/bridgertonresearch.
You can also find more information on my website, shelflovepodcast.com. That's bit.ly/bridgertonresearch or shelflovepodcast.com.
I'm going to be presenting this research at the Popular Culture Association Conference in June, 2021, as well as discussing it on Shelf Love Podcast later this year.
Thank you so much for helping with this project. I really appreciate you. That link one more time is bit.ly/bridgertonresearch.