The Romance Writers of America will permanently retire its annual RITA Awards, which it has presented annually since 1982, and introduce a new award, the Vivian, named after RWA founder Vivian Stephens.
The move to retire the RITAs follows a controversy related to issues of diversity at the organization this winter that saw the resignation of its newly-instated president and its entire board of directors, as well as the cancellation of this year's planned RITA Awards ceremony. In January, the RWA announced that it planned to hold the RITAs again "to celebrate 2019 and 2020 romances" in 2021.
“We would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to Rita Clay Estrada, RWA's first president, for honoring us the past 30 years as the award's namesake, and for her service to RWA and romance authors everywhere,” the RWA board of directors wrote in a letter to its membership.
The Vivian, the RWA said, "recognizes excellence in romance writing and showcases author talent and creativity. We celebrate the power of the romance genre with its central message of hope—because happily ever afters are for everyone.” Along with being RWA’s founder, Stephens created the Candlelight Ecstasy line at Dell Publishing, and published the first category romance novel by a black author that featured black characters, according to the RWA.
A proposed format "that aligns with the board's vision for RWA 2.0" will be presented at the organization's board meeting at the end of this month by a "contest task force," the organization said, "guided by the principles of diversity, equity, inclusion, and access"; the proposed format will be posted on the RWA website following the meeting. The RWA said that, to date, the proposed format includes a "clear rubric to enhance and streamline scoring guidelines in addition to judge training that will allow for more standardized judging," a "sophisticated matching process so that entrants can be sure their books go to judges versed in their subgenre," and "a category devoted to recognizing unpublished authors."
“Our goal is to celebrate the very best of our diverse genre,” Alyssa Day, who was sworn in as RWA president following the controversy this year, said. “To do that, it’s imperative we develop rules and resources that ensure the Vivian is inclusive, equitable, and accessible."