Romantasy was added as a category in the Goodreads Choice Awards in 2023, a fact mentioned several times at the inaugural Romantasy Literary Genre Festival, held March 22–24 at the Otherworld Theater in Chicago. More than 100 people celebrating the relatively new but rapidly growing genre attended the festival, which included author signings and Q&As, live podcast recordings, a drag tournament called Drag’N Brunch, and daily showings of Twihard!, a musical parody of Twilight. Books were sold on site by local indie bookstore Women & Children First.

The festival kicked off on Friday with a cocktail hour, mixer, and the weekend's first performance of Twihard! Saturday, the first full day of the festival, began with the recording of the Whoa!mance podcast, hosted by Isabeau Dasho and Morgan Lott, who moderated an author panel with authors Samara Breger, Tamara Jerée, Megan Mackie, and Melanie K. Moschella. During the 90-minute conversation, the authors discussed their creative processes, genre crossovers, worldbuilding, escapism, beloved tropes, queer monsters, and more.

A recording of Femmes Reading Filth, a podcast hosted by Emily Bouroudjian and Jessica Mull, took place on Saturday night, with Breger as its guest, discussing her novel A Long Time Dead. Q&As were held throughout the weekend, with Jerée discussing their debut, The Fall That Saved Us, and centering queer and nonbinary characters in romantasy on Saturday and Lana Harper discussing her novel Payback’s A Witch on Sunday. The festival wrapped up on Sunday night with Portal-Prov!, an improv spin on Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses series.

The festival was organized in just three months. Olivia McCoy, the publicist for the festival, was working on the publicity campaigns for authors Breger and Moschella, when they pitched Moschella’s Raek Riders series to the Otherworld Theater’s feminist sci-fi fantasy book club. The theater was interested, but wanted the New Hampshire–based Moschella to attend in-person—and when the theater learned that the series was launching around the same time that their Twihard! production was scheduled, organizers decided to make the weekend an entire festival dedicated to romantasy, bringing in not only Breger and Moschella, but Chicago-based authors Harper, Jerée, and Mackie.

Jerée said that they loved being in “such a unique space” in conjunction with the musical, and appreciated that the festival brought together two mediums: performance and literature. They and Breger noted with approval how queer writers were “an integral part of the festival.” Breger observed that there are two prominent strains of romantasy—one that is very heterosexual and the other that is more diverse, both in terms of sexuality and race and ethnicity. She said that she believes the latter branch of the genre is growing, “though the most-read books continue to be very white and heterosexual.” Jerée sees online comments from readers who complain that there aren’t enough sapphic books in the genre, but noted that there are many queer romantasy titles from small and indie presses, adding that people who don’t know this might be looking at the popular titles at bookstores that might not have caught up yet. “We’re here,” Jerée said. "We’re definitely out there.”

During the Whoa!mance podcast recording, the authors were asked if they believe romantasy is here to stay. Moschella thinks so, noting that the authors all grew up with the works of Cassandra Clare and Stephenie Meyer, as well as the Harry Potter books, and that readers who grew up on such titles want something similar, but more adult. Jerée agreed, but argued that genre rigidity is breaking down, with more authors combining aspects of different genres into the same works.

One attendee, Ivy Dally, noted the importance of romantasy as escapism amid the difficult realities of the world today. “It’s heavy, and there’s a lot of suffering,” she said. “I think as humans we can only handle so much bad news for our mental health. We need to have a place to go where we know it’s going to be okay in the end—that’s what romantasy promises.” Dally added that it is empowering to read about characters overcoming obstacles, and how, while the element of romance is omnipresent, many romantasy novels feature women saving themselves, rather than being saved by men. "I still love a story where the guy can come and save you in the end," she said, "but it’s more empowering for women to read women who can save themselves—and the world while they’re at it.”

Moschella said that the great thing about the fantasy genre more broadly is that “you make up a world and then you make the rules of that world and can create a more accepting culture than what exists here.” To that, Jerée added that there is so much room for lesbian stories, for instance, in the romantasy genre. Breger noted that “fantasy has had a closer relationship with queer stories than most other genres,” and was happy that the festival showcased not just indie authors, but queer ones.

As of yet, there's no word on whether the festival will become an annual event, with organizers still needing to look at final attendance numbers and gauge reception, but authors and attendees alike spoke positively about the event. Mackie hopes that the festival continues and grows because she believes “more events that celebrate this kind of literature are needed, especially in Chicago.”