What is Love? Popular Romance in the Academic World
by Kiersten Hallie Krum
Last week, The Center for Books at the Library of Congress played host to the debut of Love Between the Covers documentary film about romance novels and the people who write and read them at the What is Love? Romance Fiction in the Digital World conference sponsored by the Popular Romance Project. How apropos to schedule it during the week of Valentine’s Day when romance and love is front of everyone’s mind. Regrettably, I did not attend the conference but, as is my wont, I haunted the live tweet stream from the conference, which was chock full of fascinating tidbits about romance publishing.
While the conference kicked off with the debut showing of the documentary, it was followed by three, in-depth panel discussions. “What Belongs in the Romance Canon?” discussed what titles are considered “canon” in the Romance genre and why, with a fascinating discussion about the role, or more accurately, the lack thereof, of romances about people of color in that “approved” canon. “What Do the Science of History and Love Reveal?” took a scientific approach to the romance genre through a look at what historical archetypes have been and how that’s changed through the centuries. Yes, centuries. Finally, “Community and the Romance Genre” looked at the unique communities of women that have sprung up around romance novels and the influence those communities have on individual lives and the business of publishing, particularly digital. This panel included an in-depth discussion on self-publishing successes and their focus on the reader above all.
As a tertiary observer of the conference in absentia, I accumulated and culled through the tweet stream to create a Storify document of the great quotes, laughs, insights, and surprises reported first-hand by the attendees. It’s a fascinating amalgamation of information.
Several attendees have written about their first-hand experiences at the “What Is Love?” conference. Over at Kirkus Reviews, Bobbi Dumas gives a detailed breakdown of her experience in Romance Rocks the Library of Congress including an overview of some of the romance luminaries who sat on the panels and their unique perspectives on Romance.
Scholar Anne N. Bornschein gives a specific examination of one of the assertions made in the “What Do the Science of History and Love Reveal?” session (that, contrary to popular belief, modern romance novels do not represent archetypal models of love) in her post Thoughts on Medieval Literature and Popular Romance. Feel my medieval history jones go pitty pat.
Author Margaret Locke also gives a first-person account of her experience at the conference in her post One Romance Writer’s Adventures at the Library of Congress’ Popular Romance Project Conference. Finally, Eric Selinger, Professor at DePaul University and Executive Editor of the on-line Journal of Popular Romance Studies, has shared his opening remarks from the “What Belongs in the Romance Canon?” panel and a few high points of that discussion in this post on Teach Me Tonight.
Naturally, since this is a spotlight on the scholarly study of romance novels that doesn’t patronize or mock the genre, the Washington Post took care of that in their review. I won’t link to here because I don’t want to support such jaundiced, insulting coverage, which is, unfortunately, expected these days. Instead, check out this article in the Boston Globe “Watertown filmmaker spreads word about romance novels” about the documentary “Love Between the Covers” for some background about how the film originated and where in might be seen in the near future.
Scholarly examination of romantic popular fiction is key to repositioning the romance genre in the public and scholarly mindset. Conferences like “What is Love? Romance Fiction in the Digital World” are the vanguard, deposing stereotypes and reframing the genre for the modern world while giving those of us already in the know deep, intelligent, down-right juicy information for our brains to chew on.
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