The audience rose and applauded when it was announced that Kennedy Ryan’s self-published novel Long Shot had won the 2019 Rita Award for Contemporary Romance: Long, as this was the first time in the annual Romance Writers of America awards’ 38-year history that an African-American author has won a Rita award.
This groundbreaking accomplishment was repeated a mere six award announcements later when M. Malone became the second African-American author to win a Rita Award for her self-published romance novella Bad Blood.
The evening kicked off with an opening from NY Times best selling author Sarah MacLean wearing a kick-ass blue tuxedo who emphatically stated that “Happy Ever After has always been revolutionary” and then went on to ask the audience, “what better way to change the world than to live our triumphant happiness in love?’
In addition to award presenters, additional speakers included Sandra Kitt, the first African American romance writer published by Harlequin, and Radclyffe, a ground-breaking author of lesbian fiction who went on to start an award winning LGBTQ+ publishing company, Bold Strokes Books.
LaQuette, the President of the New York Chapter of Romance Writers if America, welcomed the crowd to her city and then shared her own experience with romance fiction. She told her story of loving romance as a teen, but then growing disenchanted as she failed to find a reflection of herself as a black, curvy young woman from Brooklyn in the pages of the books she was reading. She encouraged editors and agents to look beyond the stories they were familiar with, as well as calling published writers to mentor those who had different stories to tell, but she also called out readers to “look beyond stories not centered on your experience.”
Throughout the evening book covers from the 1970’s to the present were flashed on the screen to show how romance has broken ground throughout the decades. These images can be found at rwatrailblazers.com.
Below is a complete list of this year’s award winners:
Paranormal Romance: Dearest Ivie by J.R. Ward
Contemporary Romance: Long Long Shot by Kennedy Ryan
Young Adult Romance: Cry Baby by Ginger Scott
Historical Romance: Short A Duke in the Night by Kelly Bowen
Contemporary Romance: Mid-Length Advanced Physical Chemistry by Susannah Nix
Romantic Suspense: Fearless by Elizabeth Dyer
Erotic Romance: Three-Way Split by Elia Winters
Romance Novella: Bad Blood by M. Malone
Mainstream Fiction with a Central Romance: How to Keep a Secret by Sarah Morgan
Historical Romance: Long A Wicked Kind of Husband by Mia Vincy
Romance with Religious or Spiritual Elements: The Saturday Night Super Club by Carla Laureano
Contemporary Romance: Short The Bachelor’s Baby Surprise by Teri Wilson
Best First Book: Lady in Waiting by Marie Tremayne
At the end of the event, RT award-winning erotic romance author Cecilia Tan said, “This year’s award ceremony shows that the current RWA Board has really listened to the concerns of the members and our changing world. And the winner proved that times have changed.”