Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Sex and the Ivy League English Department
As an apprentice academic and unpublished romance novelist, I sometimes feel caught between two worlds. People consumed by literary theory and the status of "high" art frequently have a way of blithely dismissing the entire romance genre as melodramatic, sentimental, out-dated, and even socially harmful trash--without ever picking up a Julia Quinn, or Susan Elizabeth Phillips, or Laura Kinsale to test those assumptions out. I've seen it and I've heard it, more times than I can count. Romance readers and writers can be just as tetchy, thanks to years of dismissive comments.
I'll probably follow Eloisa James' lead when I eventually get published--keep it incognito until you're established enough as an academic that you can say "pphhhht" to any potential criticism.
But while I'm hewing to the status quo, a bunch of talented scholars, writers, and readers are coming together to help bring romance into the critical conversation. At Princeton, no less!
From April 23-24, the Princeton University English Department is hosting a conference called "Love as the Practice of Freedom: Romance Fiction and American Culture."
This isn't some bull session for critics outside the genre to cast their judgment on it from on high. Several scholar/romance writers are presenting-- including Mary Bly/Eloisa James and Gwendolyn Pough/Gwyneth Bolton. They've got longtime bestsellers Jenny Crusie and Beverly Jenkins on the list, members of the reading community like Sarah Wendell of the scribbling women's beloved Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, and the President of RWA. And they have scholars doing trailblazing research on current romance fiction along with eminent scholars of romance in other periods, like Margaret Doody--whose work on Austen and Burney I turn to in my own research.
This looks like a great line-up! I'm lucky enough to be free on Thursdays and Fridays and to live close enough to Princeton to attend. I hope to see some other scribblers there. And I'll be sure to update everyone afterward on romance fiction's Ivy League debut.