Around noon yesterday, Romance Writers of America (RWA) members received an email notice informing them that Damon Suede, President of RWA, and Carol Ritter, Executive Director, had both offered their resignations, and those resignations had been accepted by the board.
This announcement came on the heels of two-weeks of escalating turmoil resulting from growing allegations of racism and non-inclusion within the organization that just two days ago caused the 9,000 member organization to cancel their annual RITA Awards as a recall petition to vote out the current president was presented to the board signed by 1,000 voting members. In addition, all five of the major New York book publishers, and more than 25 literary agencies, announced that they would not be supporting the organization at their annual convention in July slated for San Francisco until the organization was able to make substantial changes.
Below is the complete statement from RWA:
“The events of the past two weeks have been the most painful and tumultuous in the history of Romance Writers of America (RWA). While these events stemmed from a recent ethics matter, they have their roots in significant failures of RWA over the course of several years to meaningfully address issues of diversity, equity and inclusion, and deficiencies in our communications and transparency with our membership. That’s on us. We have lost the trust of our membership and the romance author community, and we are taking steps to rebuild that relationship. We have a difficult road ahead, but we are committed to traveling it together and building a stronger, more inclusive organization with all of you — and for all of you. We have already begun some of this work by:
Hiring an expert, independent law firm to conduct an audit of the recent ethics matter that will include interviews with key individuals as well as findings and recommendations on improving our process. The Board has committed to fully sharing these findings and recommendations with the membership.
Bringing on a diversity, equity and inclusion consultant who could assist RWA with diversifying Board and staff recruitment, as well as design and structure future membership programming and events. The process of identifying and vetting potential consultants has just begun, and the Board will provide updates to the membership and seek input as it moves forward.
Cancelling the 2020 RITA Contest.
Launching an evaluation and potential revamping of our awards programs from top to bottom with the help of experts and member input.
We know that this is just a start to a longer process of reform for RWA, and that process is going to require new leadership, which is why the Board is announcing some leadership changes, including the departure of RWA President Damon Suede. Damon has offered his resignation, effective immediately, and the Board has accepted it. Damon, who has served on the RWA Board of Directors since 2015, as President-Elect from September 2019 through late December 2019, and then as President for the past two weeks, has been a passionate advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion issues for his entire life. We thank Damon for his service and wish him all the best in the future. The Board of Directors has made a decision to not immediately fill the office of President while the Board – working transparently with its membership – determines an appropriate recruitment and selection process. The Board also has accepted the resignation of RWA Executive Director Carol Ritter, who has decided to step down from the role she assumed in November. Carol, who has been a steady senior member of RWA management for well over a decade, has offered to stay on over the coming months to support a smooth transition to new staff leadership; the Board has accepted this offer. Carol has been instrumental in keeping the operations of RWA running, and we are deeply grateful to her for the commitment and leadership she has brought to our association. The Board will appoint an interim Executive Director upon Carol’s departure and will form a search committee to identify Carol’s permanent replacement. We know we have a lot more work to do to restore the trust we have lost – and we are going to do whatever it takes to get there so that we can focus on the mission of this organization: to promote the professional and common business interests of romance writers. Our goal is to ensure the successful future of this association so it can be an even stronger, better and more inclusive professional home and advocate for romance authors. We may not always get it right, but we will do our best, we will be honest and transparent, we will own our mistakes, and we will listen to our community. We hope you will join us – collaboratively and productively – in rebuilding an RWA that serves its diverse and talented members well into the future. We believe this community is worth saving. “
Most members were glad to see both the President and the Executive Director had resigned, saving the membership from a lengthy recall process and even more public scrutiny, but many also expressed their chagrin that the RWA note did not include an apology to author and former RWA board member Courtney Milan. This fiasco had started because RWA had sent Courtney Milan a formal notice on the day before Christmas Eve informing her that she had been unanimously censured and suspended from the organization for a lengthy back and forth on Twitter this summer involving a small publisher and two of their editors whom Milan had called out for racism. This was surprising because Milan had previously been on the RWA board and worked to make changes in the organization regarding racism. She had also been one of the creators of the RWA Ethics Committee, the same Committee who had just censured her. After tremendous negative reaction from the membership, the next day RWA announced via tweet that they had had an emergency meeting on Christmas Eve and had decided to rescind the previous decision while awaiting legal review.