RWA 2020: No Happy Ending in Sight, Just Hollow Women

Update: 12 February 2020 – the entire RWA Board has now resigned.

We are the hollow (wo)men
We are the stuffed (wo)men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

“The Hollow Men,” T.S. Eliot, 1925 (edits mine)

Oh, hey, look. T.S. Eliot predicted the current RWA “board!”

I use quotes because I can’t fathom the complete lack of leadership, awareness, or comprehension they’ve displayed in the past few weeks. February 2020 is looking to be as long as January 2020 in RWA-time, so let’s catch up.

I’m tired already.

As of this morning, 11 February 2020, resignations of RWA membership are being posted, shared, and tweeted. I’m a little surprised that “RWA Resignation” isn’t trending nationally.

Much of the anger that has resurged is due to past RWA president Leslie Kelly sharing that she has resigned from RWA after offering to serve as assistant to past president Dee Davis to re-establish the Leadership Development Committee:

Their goal was to find a qualified president for the RWA Board of Directors, one who met the bylaws’ requirements and was willing to serve. After working with Interim Executive Director Leslie Scantlebury,  an individual it is important to note “for whom we both have great respect,” Scantlebury took their offer to the current Board of Hollow Women (not their official title):

I was surprised–though not hugely–to learn that our offer was declined. Apparently, the board has “personal concerns” about us. (source)

(I suspect they were mostly concerns about me, since I spearheaded the 1st letter from former BoMems. Bless Dee, who said we were a package deal.)

In my opinion, this current board allowed their personal anger and resentment against people who’ve spoken out against them to outweigh their responsibilities to RWA. I consider that a severe violation of their fiduciary duty to the organization. (emphasis mine)

And so, I’ve finally reached the point so many of my friends and colleagues have. We can’t keep throwing life-rings out to those who don’t want to stop themselves from drowning I have now joined the ranks of those who’ve realized that RWA is probably beyond saving. (source)

Fiduciary duty is the legal obligation one voluntarily undertakes to work and act in the best interest of another party. In this case, what Kelly is saying is that the current Board of Directors has acted in their own interests (and has done so repeatedly, if you’re asking me) instead of in the interests of RWA. Their duty as board members is to work in the best interests of RWA. That’s the volunteer job one undertakes as a board member. This board does not appear to be acting according to their fiduciary responsibilities.

Remember us – if at all – not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow (wo)men
The stuffed (wo)men.

Further anger ignited the still-smoldering month-old conflagRWAtion after Suzanne Brockmann recounted the multiple requests for her 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award speech in advance prior to the Denver RITA awards, and her insistence that she not be censored again:

And Sarah MacLean’s recounting of the behind-the-scenes machinations that interfered with the team of writers who created the 2019 RITA Award ceremony, which was outstandingly excellent.


Speaking of the national conferences, RWA also announced the new 2020 Conference Registration rates. Registration will open March 10, 2020. (No, I am not attending.)

RWA 2020 registration fees looked like this before now:

RWA Member Early registration: $499
RWA Member Regular registration: $549
RWA Member Late registration: $649
(Source, via Courtney Milan)

This year, March 10-March 11, RWA member registration will be $199. (I just typoed $1.99, which made me snort. Like it’s an ebook on sale.)

RWA Special registration: $199
RWA Member Early registration: $350
RWA Member Regular registration: $425
(Source, via Lorelie Brown)

Per board minutes posted by Lorelie Brown:

Rationale: Policy requires that Board set conference registration fees. Due to an expected lowered attendance at conference, we would like to offer a more appealing registration fee. (source, emphasis mine)

It is entirely my opinion that attending RWA this year would be damaging for one’s professional reputation, unless one wants to be visibly affiliated with an organization whose board refuses to perform its job, and in which a portion of its members eagerly and loudly embrace white supremacy out loud, in letters to past and present boards, and in forums hosted by that organization.

Brown also pointed out that the absence of discussion in that meeting as recorded in the minutes has damning implications:


Former board member Adrienne Mishel echoed that the lack of discussion and the unanimous votes of the current RWA board is another example of failure of fiduciary duty:

Also of note: the current list of resignations of the RWA board since 24 December 2019. That’s a painful list to read.

On the chapter level, more terrible news. Seressia Glass has shared:

That would be the same CIMRWA whose officers took the time to speak with me in my four-part podcast series RWA: One Month Later about their work on the recall petition against then-president Carolyn Jewel (who resigned) and then-president-elect Damon Suede (who also ultimate resigned after the petition was verified by RWA). That CIMRWA.

(NB: I’ve written to confirm the dissolution, as it may be discussion at this time. Will update when I have confirmation.)

Updated, 11:26am 11 Feb 2020: Laurel Cremant has confirmed to me that the vote to dissolve the chapter was put to the membership on 10 February, and that confirmation of the results of that vote should be available by the end of this week. They’ve also shared the letter they sent to their members:

You can read their full letter to CIMRWA membership online as well.

During our February 9th, 2020 board meeting, the CIMRWA board motioned to bring the action of the dissolution of CIMRWA to our chapter members.

This decision was not made lightly, but with the full understanding of the values and mission that CIMRWA was founded on. As well as respect for our members, their integrity and their emotional health. (emphasis mine)

Oh, hey, T.S. Eliot covered this feeling I’m now experiencing, too:

The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms

The potential loss of CIMRWA, of Las Vegas Romance Writers, of the entire board of RWANYC, and of every chapter that may be revising their upcoming agenda to address whether to be an RWA chapter at all, is a crushing collection of lost kingdoms. That may be more overwrought language than I typically deploy, but seriously: what an incredible loss this is.

Lost time, lost work, lost progress. Farrah Rochon said this morning:

It may be that right now is the crest of the latest wave, and another tipping point for those who are tired of bailing water from a floundering ship and are leaving it behind. Is what has happened enough to make a member want to put RWA in their rearview mirror? (All the transport metaphors! All of them!)

Why stay aboard? Some, like Dee Davis (and absolutely zero criticism is intended here) are preserving their membership to vote in the August elections, despite increasing anger and frustration:

Some want to try one more time to combat the seeming resistance to change, to see what may happen under Leslie Scantlebury’s interim term, or to support whatever comprehensive changes the promised DEI consultant (sending strength to that person, whomever they are) might make. I get that feeling. As discussed in the podcast series I produced and as I said in my original post, it wouldn’t hurt so much if it didn’t matter, and it wouldn’t be so enraging if RWA wasn’t important.

As HelenKay Dimon and I discussed in her interview, RWA still has industry connections, though it still doesn’t seem to be using that industry advocacy regarding Dreamspinner’s lack of payment. RWA’s missions of advocacy, education, and community could be served again.

Some might stay because their local chapter is a major part of their support system and career, but if chapters are dissolving or closing because of members’ unwillingness to associate with RWA National because of the actions of the board since 23 December 2019, then what keeps those members as part of the organization on the national level?

To quote Dee Davis, there are people who “want RWA to be worth saving:”

I’m a stubborn and tenacious person (bet you knew that) and I get the feeling of, “Ok, one more try. One more.”

On the other side: the fact that as more and more members resign, those who are left as voting members are more likely those who will embrace or silently support the white supremacy and bigotry that got us in this situation in the first place.

To quote Courtney Milan in her interview, where she predicted a lot of what’s happening this week:

I think a lot of white people, including some very well-meaning white people, are going to see all the people of color leaving, and they’re going to say, well, we have to prove that this place is safe, so I’m going to stay here and make it better. And I’m going to tell you that what you are doing at this point is reinforcing white supremacy….

I think you’re going to have to figure out how to get out of RWA, if RWA can’t get itself out of this nosedive. And I don’t think it can!

if RWA doesn’t figure out how to get rid of white supremacy, it’s a white supremacist organization. And right now it doesn’t look like they’re even trying.

Yes. Exactly that. It doesn’t look like this board is even trying.

I’ve been waiting for a sign that the current board is going to try something. I don’t think they’re even fixing to try, much less trying to fix. And I don’t see effort to do anything but preserve power for a limited time while acting against their fiduciary responsibilities.

As it currently stands, it will cost potential future board members time, energy, and books written, completed, and sold. It will cost members time, energy, and work to try to fight and explain again and again why what someone said was racist, was bigoted, was rooted in blithe privilege. The amount of words some people have written to combat and educate the bigoted members in email, in loops, and on the RWA forums would create at least a 10-book boxed set at this point.

I’ve personally spent hours trying to compile and contextualize all of this mess, too, which is increasingly feeling like a waste, because it’s dispiriting to watch the yield of the efforts of dedicated people I admire amount to obstruction, refusal, discouragement, and despair.

As I wrote in my post, “Where Does RWA Go From Here?”

RWA can’t maintain its current membership nor its leadership and at the same time say it’s going to rebuild. Rebuilding requires people in leadership positions who are trusted by current and prospective members. And it requires trust in fellow members of the community….

RWA can’t serve a large portion of its current membership and have a future that includes marginalized writers. Genuine change is not possible if the organization can’t identify and articulate who it serves and prioritizes, and then address and rectify the harm it has done.

Since I wrote that on 10 January 2020, one month and one day ago, I still don’t know who the current board of RWA serves, except themselves.

And so RWA will most likely slowly deflate as members leave, and instead of Romance Writers of America, it will be a collection of Really White Authors.

I’ve tendered my resignation of membership to RWA this morning.

You knew this ending was coming right?

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but with a whimper.


Well, now, cue up the JoJo and your old Tina Turner movies because the RWA Board has resigned, setting a special election for 13 March 2020.

The motion to hold the special election can be read in full on the RWA website, but there are a number of questions, and such a playlist to be built because nineteen songs are competing for space in my brain.

First, there are no candidates, no leadership committee, and no specific policy to follow for said election, as HelenKay Dimon said on Twitter.

Jamaila Brinkey pointed out that there is no information given on who will run the election, how to declare candidacy, or if there are any viable candidates:

The board can’t change bylaws without membership approval, so even then the remaining membership is rather stuck.

My reaction is jaw dropping anger and seismic impatience, to be honest. As Laurel Cremant said, the organization was pretty much hemorrhaging members, but now,  NOW they’re doing something.

To quote Madelina Rivera, this really is “the epic flounce.”

I’m absolutely gobsmacked. This is so too little, far too late. This could have been done MONTHS ago. This could have been fixable months ago! But much like convincing publishers to spend money is a LOT harder than convincing them not to, it’s also going to be a challenge, I think, to convince members who just resigned to pay dues again.

This action by this former board of still hollow women only reinforces my belief that they weren’t going to fix anything, and weren’t going to try to fix anything, either. They held on too long, made everything worse, then left. Absolutely disgraceful and an utter lack of understanding of fiduciary responsibility.



General Bitching...

Comments are Closed

  1. 41
    Ms. M says:

    @Sveta I co-sign everything Ava said and salute her efforts– I would probably just have dropped a link rather than put in all that work! But yes, I absolutely think many of us would read your thoughts on marginalization via movies and romance novels. I like learning about other people’s experiences. And as a Russophile who is a WASP on one side, I might even be your target audience 🙂 I would be especially interested in your thoughts on who fits into American whiteness– it’s such a singularly weird concept that I had to leave the US to even begin to perceive and deconstruct.

  2. 42
    Elise says:

    I can only imagine how painful and frustrating this is for the authors and chapters involved with RWA. This final resignation is the flounce to end all flounces. I only hope something wonderful emerges from the ashes of this fire. Can we take bets on when they pull the plug on the national conference?

  3. 43
    Ava Jarvis says:

    Thanks Escapeologist and Ms. M and folks who are finding good things in my words.

    I was not educated in the soft sciences as it were, being a software developer, a field that is slowly coming to realize that maybe ethics matter after all? (One of many reasons to not trust electronic voting apps, ethics is not even considered in most projects.)

    But what I ended up doing, somewhat by accident, somewhat by intention, and somewhat by need, was reading and listening widely to many different viewpoints across marginalized folks, and then doing a lot of late night thinking forever. I partly needed to really learn intersectionality because I live at the intersection of over five major marginalizations (Vietnamese, disabled, neuroatypical, poor, religous-non-christian, trans and queer) and I could not otherwise figure out why society, even with folks who shared some of my marginalizations, hurt me so much all the time.

    So Sarah’s advice to read widely and diversely really is the bedrock for how we help each other.

    But in particular, you have to learn what other people go through, even if it is uncomfortable. This is why I subscribe to Black nerd culture podcasts and listen to National Native News and still read all manner of blogs authored by marginalized folks all over. It’s the kind of thing no one should ever stop learning about. It is a life work.

    For my health I will step away from all this for a while. Everything is in the air yet again with RWA. Truth is IDEK WTF happens from here.

  4. 44

    […] RWA 2020: No Ending in Sight, Just Hollow Women. – A thorough update from the folks at Smart Bitches about the mess at Romance Writers of America. […]

  5. 45
    Mochabean says:

    Many thanks to the folks on here doing the work — I know it is hard, you didn’t have to do it, and it is appreciated.

  6. 46
    LL says:

    I just don’t even understand what I read here..

    So Leslie K. and Dee Davis quit because they offered to organize the next election for the board, and the board declined that?

    And no one seems to be able to explain what the board’s reasoning for rejecting the Davis/ Kelly proposal was?

    Then a little while later the whole board resigned, (I guess because of push back over Leslie and Dee resigning publicly?) but set up a special election?

    I’m not a member, and never will be. But this has sort of reached a level where it just nonsensical anymore.

  7. 47
    Taylor says:

    I am sitting here cheering the discussion of intersectionality in this thread. I love this site, and a big part of the thoughtfulness of the comments sections. It’s encouraging. @sveta, I’d read your book. @Ava Jarvis, thank you.

  8. 48
    Adularia16 says:

    I’m just now catching up and my head is spinning. Such a disgraceful and sad end to an organization I admired so many many years ago. You, the editors, contributors and founders of the site do such a wonderful job of keeping everyone up-to-date.

  9. 49
    Msb says:

    “ It’s one tiny corner of the wide, wide, world — but so emblematic of the troubles we’re up against right now, illustrating how connected we are …”
    That’s exactly right. This is a struggle everyone is facing to some extent. I can’t express how much I admire and thank everyone who has fought the Good Fight in Romancelandia, or on any other battlefield. It’s everyone’s job.
    “The hollow women” is a good name, but post-flounce, I’d call it fecklessness cubed.

  10. 50
    Verna Leep says:

    Who are all of the NWLs? I want to know so I don’t buy their books. Probably wouldn’t anyway, but I want to make sure I don’t support bigotry. Love Carolyn Jewel’s writing, but after reading excerpts of the audit, I’ll never read her books again.

  11. 51
    Ava Jarvis says:

    Hey so here is a brief summary of various things I found interesting about the audit

    – Mention of damage done to RWA and to Nathan Pleather and to the NWLs whose complaints were weaponized against Milan…. Absolutely no mention of any harm done to Milan. As far as the report is concerned, Milan cannot possibly have been harmed. This is so false as to be horrifically egregious. Welcome to the face of white supremacy; at least everyone can see it, usually I just get to see it in private when NWLs in SFF who assumed I was their pet Friend of Color basically said WoC have no feelings or careers to hurt in the first place. Ahaha I’m going to cry

    – The secret ethics committee members’ identities were not revealed in the report, good luck finding out exactly which NWLs decided to participate in this sketchy shady fucked up business. No good justification given in report to do this

    – Despite the report being so flimsy there is likely enough evidence to sue RWA if anyone wishes to try

    – The audit report recommends in future completely suppressing all ethics complaints and to ban members who discuss receiving harassment etc in public which of course includes harassment that results in professional harm to marginalized authors

    I could not read the Nathan Pleather excerpts further because they became legit triggering to me and my trauma has not yet let me sleep tonight/today

    Basically? RWA is done. It is full of toxic white supremacy which is obviously still in full control of the organization even after the hollow board resigned.

    If the newly elected President, if that process is even allowable, does not move to dissolve RWA, we can only expect it to be a white supremacy rogue cannon that will in future extend its tendrils to hurt people both inside and outside the org, until it runs out of money.

    Can you imagine an RWA that faces no consequences after what has happened not allowing members to use its resources to sue reviewers members don’t like?

    Any president candidate who chimes with “there’s a small possibility RWA can be saved and if at all possible I will do it because I am optimistic always”, fuck, if they win, any future fucking blood is on their hands.

  12. 52
    Ava Jarvis says:

    Oh yeah, one last thing. The consequences for the audit not revealing who was on the secret shadow ethics committee?

    That means in the upcoming election no one will know if the person they are voting for was part of this shadow committee.

    Even if the new President wasn’t part of it, they might not be given the info to not give more power to these hidden members. These members ending up on that committee at all means they probably have the credentials and standing to be on the board.

    Yeah, RWA needs to go down. This is poison.

  13. 53
    Ava Jarvis says:

    Ugh. Last thing. But it’s good so I want to include it. Apparently this is a good audit because the auditors had their hands tied but were able to scrawl, in lawyer language, that there is so much smoke that people need to check for fire. For instance, they are using long direct quotes from the instigators that contradict what else is said, and they did not have to do that. So big smoking guns just there alone.

    It’s evidence also that RWA has been lying to their lawyer. That is gonna be fun when their lawyer reads this.

    So (a) the audit is absolutely legal ammunition, and (b) it indicates how deep the rot is and unsaveable the org itself is, and (c) the audit is more than enough evidence RWA cannot be saved.

    I try sleep now. Claire Ryan is going to put together all this audit info for people to more easily read, but it’s a LOT so that will take a while.

  14. 54
    Linda says:

    Honestly, it sounds like the best course of action is to start a new organization or organizations for those who have left RWA rather than try to clean up the mess that’s left. Sad, but schisms like this are bound to happen in this highly socially polarized world. 🙁

  15. 55

    Fwiw, I finished reading the audit report a couple of hours ago and I didn’t interpret the audit recommendations to be “no ethics reporting ever.” What I saw was the firm outlining five different ways to handle having a Code of Ethics and also recommending that staff review the complaints first, since it’s A) a stable group of people; B) in-depth training can be part of job responsibilities; C) because training will be part of the job, they’ll be able to spend more time with it than a volunteer giving up time on their career possibly could; and D) they’re accountable to the board in a way volunteers aren’t. All other things being equal, this is a better system than the one currently in place. (I don’t think there’s inequality in the question of bias; I think there’s a wide perception of bias in both the staff, the board, and membership that makes all those groups not trusted.)

    RWA was a huge part of my life for a long time and I’m sad to lose my experience of it. It’s a loss. But my experience was cushioned by privilege and for that reason, I don’t at all regret letting it go. I have zero desire to be a part of an organization where I have a more welcoming experience than other members because I’m white and cishet. At this point, the *only* reason I’m still an RWA member is to remain a member of my local chapter, which is completely committed to diversity and has been for some time. (I don’t imagine we’re doing things perfectly — we’re human — but we’re committed to always trying to do better and to learning what’s needed.)

  16. 56
    msb says:

    Apparently the audit found that everyone involved with handling the Tisdale etc. complaints is too stupid to walk and chew gum at the same time. If so, one wonders how any of them could get organized enough to write a book, much less organize an extensive effort to silence an author of color.
    Nomad Velour made an astonishingly offensive analogy about Courtney Milan without offering any facts whatever to back it up.
    English grammar in action: “Board members were told to “trust”
    the [shadow Ethics] Committee to have done its job.” Told by whom?

  17. 57
    Ava Jarvis says:

    I feel like they were just really lucky with their evil plot, and failed in only one thing: a lot of this fallout does stem from the instigators assuming they had legally gagged Milan from speaking about what they had done.

    Had they managed that, none of us would have known what happened. And RWA would have continued on, being the white country club of writing organizations, and continuing to undermine and damage the careers of marginalized authors.

    They almost got away with it.

    Just think of how incompetent they were, and how strong white supremacy is, that they still very nearly got away with it.

    Yes, that does indeed have larger implications for the world as well. Just think of the USA, or the UK.

    This isn’t about a schism due to people not compromising. This is about the underlying structure of our world that lets injustice like this happen, that stacked the deck against the most vulnerable and calls that fairness. Anybody calling this just a problem of people not bring good centrists is complicit in this injustice.

    In an alternate timeline, no one here is sure why the next RITAs have no placing books from authors of color, queer authors, Jewish authors, disabled authors; but hey for some reason Hitler meets Gone with the Wind is doing so well…

  18. 58

    Such a great post, Ava Jarvis. That’s it in a nutshell.

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