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The Voice of the Black Community

Arts and Entertainment

Novelist Kennedy Ryan breaks down barriers with prize
RITA Award for nationís top romance writers
 
Published Thursday, August 8, 2019 2:23 pm
by Ashley Mahoney | The Charlotte Post

COURTESY KENNEDY RYAN
Novelist Kennedy Ryan of Charlotte earned the 2019 RITA Award for her book “Long Shot” as Best Contemporary Romance: Long.

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Kennedy Ryan is bringing women of color out of the romance novel margins and into the forefront.


Ryan, the 2019 RITA award recipient whose novel “Long Shot” won Best Contemporary Romance: Long, entered the Romance Writers of America competition to address the genre’s lack of recognition for authors of color. She and M. Malone, winner of the Romance Novella award for her work “Bad Blood,”are the first black award recipients in the 37-year history of the competition. Both authors self-publish with Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing.


“Honestly, I kind of entered on principle,” said Ryan, a Charlotte resident who writes under a nom de plume. “I had heard a lot of chatter about how white the RITAs were.”


Ryan, a first-time applicant, did not expect to win in a field of nearly 2,000 novels in 13 different categories.


“A lot of people talk about how they’ve entered the RITAs for 10 years, 15 years, over and over and over again,” Ryan said. “This was actually my first time entering the RITAs. You hear people talk about how they’ve been entering for years and years, so I didn’t really have much expectation that I would be even a finalist.”


Ryan found it ironic that more writers of color were not being recognized by the organization whose founder Vivian Stephens is a woman of color.
“There was a sense of outrage that there had never been a black woman to actually win it,” Ryan said.


While Ryan, who studied journalism at UNC Chapel Hill, initially ventured into publishing novels through a traditional publishing house, she turned to self-publishing for creative freedom.


“I heard a lot of chatter about that, and the lack of diversity, which has been a real issue in romance anyway,” she said. “I think that’s also why you see a lot of authors of color self-publishing, because you don’t have that gatekeeper. You don’t have an editor who may have inherent bias and decide that your stories won’t sell because so much of their readership won’t ‘relate to your characters,’ who won’t ‘relate to your stories.’


“When you self-publish you take away that gatekeeper. You take away those barriers. You are in control of your own creative content, and you have a direct line to readers who are interested in reading stories about who look like themselves.”


Ryan observed from the “chatter” on social media that black authors weren’t winning because they weren’t entering.
“I knew that wasn’t true,” said Ryan, a top 25 Amazon Bestseller. “I knew there were a lot of black authors who were entering. At the same time, I had never entered. I said, ‘well I can’t complain about a process I’ve never engaged in.’”


When she received the call that she was a finalist, Ryan said she felt “blown away.” However, she accidently erased her acceptance speech from her phone at the awards ceremony.


“They tell you to write one just in case,” Ryan said. “The ceremony starts at 7 p.m., and it was 4 p.m., and I still hadn’t written anything. As I was getting my makeup done, I wrote something on my phone, and then when I won, I guess I was so nervous, I deleted it. When I got to the stage, I go down to look at my phone, and it’s gone. I’m just like, ‘OK, so now what do I do?’ I just had to come off the top.”


Ryan felt overwhelmed by the sense that the moment was not just about her.


“I get choked up just thinking about it,” she said. “All of these authors of color just kind of poured into the aisle as I was walking up. They were hugging me, and there was a sense of, ‘this is not just about you. It’s about something that is much bigger than you or your story.’ Just seeing their joy and their tears that it had happened after so long. You just feel a sense of honor and responsibility.”


Ryan ventured into romance as a means of escape. While she cherishes her role as a journalist, wife and autism advocate on behalf of her son, Miles, she needed an outlet. Now, she feels a responsibility to showcase diverse characters and stories through her writing.


“I want to challenge readers, mainstream readers, who haven’t given authors of color a chance, because they feel like they can’t relate to the characters, simply, because they’re black, or simply, because they’re gay, or simply, because they’re different from them. I relish the opportunity to have conversations about this, to just clearly articulate the fallacy of that, and to challenge mainstream readers to stretch the same way we have had to stretch our entire adult lives.”


For more information about Ryan and her upcoming releases, “The Power Duet”—Fall 2019: http://kennedyryanwrites.com

Comments

It was a spectacular book.
Posted on August 9, 2019
 
Long Shot was one of the best books I read last year! Kennedy Ryan deserves this honor.
Posted on August 9, 2019
 
I am so proud of you and to know that Tammy and Johnnies cousin has reached such a high level, blessings to you
Posted on August 9, 2019
 

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