Lexington Barbershop

Men in a barbershop.

Mirrors within mirrors.

Romance Novels and Race

Scholars of romance novels frequently cite Jessie Fauset’s ‘There is Confusion’ as one of the first ‘Black audience’ romance novels to be published.

Since this novel debuted 1924, most romance novels have almost exclusively focused on white protagonists and their romantic/sexual interplay – displaying a fraught intersection with race and one that often has mirrored race relations in broader American culture over the decades.

Recently, however, protagonists of color have increasingly been found in popular romance novels and (as a result) begun to adorn their covers.

Kimani Romance had been the largest imprint that published romance novels specifically for Black audiences. In 2012, 7 out of 8 books that featured Black protagonists on the cover were published by Kimani Romance. Harlequin shuttered Kimani in 2018 when the percentage of Black protagonists on romance novel covers was less than 5%.

In 2020, the Black Lives Matter movement changed the numbers dramatically. In 2020, 20% of romance novels now had characters of color on their covers. By 2022, 14% of submissions for publication were from BIPOC authors, and 12% of published authors identified as BIPOC.

The data scientist Alice Liang – https://pudding.cool/2023/10/romance-covers/ – has examined the data behind romance novel covers, and in her analysis notes that The Romance Writers of America, the primary association for most romance authors, now estimates that 27% of romance readers identify as non-white.