In the United States, Black romance novels are also categorized as African-American romances. It wasn’t too long ago when readers were unable to find these love stories in the bookstore with other romance novels. They were shelved in the African-American section.
In 2006, Harlequin launched the Kimani Romance imprint. It published African-American and multicultural category romances until 2018. During that time, it was rare to find Black main characters in other Harlequin lines. This wasn’t the only publisher that “confined many black romance authors to all-black lines, marketed to black readers.”
The romance fiction industry—and romance readers—are gradually realizing that Black romance novels are for everyone.
What defines a Black romance novel?
A Black romance novel has 1) a central love story, 2) an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending, and 3) the main characters identify as Black.*
It’s not necessary for the author to share the same ancestry as the main characters, although many authors who write Black romances identify as Black.
However, if the book is advertised as #ownvoices, the story has a main character from a marginalized or under-represented group. The author and that character must share the same identity.
If a reader does not identify as BAME or BIPOC, why should they read diverse romance?
Why would a reader want to limit their choices? If they want access to love stories that include a wide range of life experiences, then they should read a diverse romance.
The story potentially represents an unfamiliar world but the reading experience will reaffirm their beliefs: romance is universal and we are all worthy of love.
The readers will find stories that stretch their comfort zone, broaden their points of view, and still meet the expectations they have of the romance genre.
The Ripped Bodice: A Romantic Bookstore reports The State of Racial Diversity in Romance Publishing every year. Why do they do it? As it’s explained on the bookseller’s site, “Diverse characters and settings are extremely important. We learn about our world and each other through the media we consume.”
In an article for Bustle, romance author Adriana Herrera says, “Love, connection, hope, and desire are relatable to people of all backgrounds. Stories by authors who are coming from outside of the margins of what has been considered “traditional” romance are doing more than just offering relatability; we’re literally expanding the space for more stories.”
But it goes even deeper than that. Herrera continues, “With each story featuring protagonists from diverse backgrounds the center of romance shifts and the image of who deserves a happy ending evolves. This also has an impact on the definition of beauty and even desirability in the genre.”
Why read a Black romance novel instead of Black literary fiction or non-fiction?
Authors, critics and academics encourage adding Black romance fiction to your reading list. They insist that romance novels about Black characters fulfill a specific role. Reading Black romance, they say, is a form of resistance and activism.
Romance author Jasmine Guillory wrote in “Reading Anti-Racist Nonfiction is a Start. But Don’t Underestimate the Power of Black Fiction” for Time magazine, “To recognize Black lives as ones to celebrate, empathize with and care about, here’s your antiracism work: read more fiction by and about Black people.”
Historian Nicole Jackson looks at it from another angle. In her article, “Black Love as Activism”, she points out that “being able to love in the midst of history’s atrocities was a form of resistance against the violent caprices of slaveholders and dehumanization of the system.” She continues to explain that this kind of love is found in today’s Black romance novels:
“These were representations of Black people loving one another through their flaws and shortcomings, and letting that love buffer the hurts inflicted on them by the outside world.”Nicole Jackson
Scholar Carole V. Bell thinks that Black love stories reminds “us that the Black experience can’t be defined solely by its struggle.” In her article “Finding Black joy in romance novels”, she states that “it’s important to read something that reminds you of the joy and the beauty of Black life, not just our trauma, and for that, there’s no better resource than the growing body of excellent, Black-authored romance.”
Where can I find Black romance novel recommendations?
If you’re interested in adding more Black romance novels to your TBR, but you’re not finding any luck with the suggested book lists that are popping up online, visit the Girl, Have You Read website. This resource helps readers find Black romance novel with author spotlights, new release round-ups and podcast episodes.
You can also find a lot of information with Sistah Girl Next Door. The online community has a blog, book club, newsletter and podcast. While they focus on Black literature written by Black authors around the world, they still have plenty of recommendations for the romance reader.
Another resource to visit is Women of Color in Romance Fiction. It has a database, newsletter and social media to keep you up-to-date on current releases. Although it started out as a place to promote Black women who write romance novels, the site now includes other women of color, as well as Native and Indigenous women.
*Correction update (February 2022): In the original blog post, I defined Black romance as "one or both main characters identify as Black". This definition was wrong.
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