I’m a creative writing major and a literature minor, so books are my life! I love to read, and I love hearing authors talk about their work; so, I was excited to learn about an interesting series of talks at the Boston Public Library. The one I attended took place on February 3; it was called “Writing Romance Today,” with authors Kristan Higgins and Sarah MacLean, moderated by Caroline Linden.
If you are a reader, like I am, you know that readers are a very specific group of people. They are empathetic towards words on a page, spoken by a fictional character they care about; they find themselves marking pages of that latest biography; or scouring the internet for one more bit of information; or becoming utterly absorbed in a tale that has been spun with pure imagination. I understand that not everyone loves to read: some prefer video games, sports, movies and television. All of those things are wonderful, and provide the same emotions as books do, but in a different way. For me, novels are the world in which I aspire to live. And there are many other people who feel the same way. That is what drew us to the Boston Public Library, which is a beautiful and historical building, one of the oldest libraries in the United States, and a perfect place to hear authors discussing their work.
The day I attended, I noticed that the auditorium was filled with captivated people; about seventy-five were in attendance, and the audience was very attentive, gripping onto every word that these three brilliant women had to say. Some people were taking notes, some nodding and vocally responding, including themselves in a dialogue that would stay floating in the rafters even after we all left. Being in a room with chronic readers is almost as riveting as being inside the pages of a book. And these speakers gave the audience a lot to think about.
Kristan Higgins and Sarah MacLean, as well as the moderator Caroline Linden, are all prominent writers who have dominated the world of romance, contemporary literature, and women’s fiction. All are critically acclaimed (Higgins and MacLean have had New York Times best-selling novels, Linden has won the RITA Award for Best Historical Romance), with many accomplishments. These three women sat down to discuss not only writing, but topics such as feminism and diversity. They also talked about current issues, such as the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements: although they are known for writing romance novels that end with happily-ever-afters, they acknowledged we are living in a world that isn’t looking so happy for women right now.
“Romance is the literature of hope,” Sarah MacLean said, explaining that despite some of the genre’s negative connotations, the importance and the values that so many romance novels hold are still relevant today. They also discussed politics, keeping their views honest, but never insulting, and using humor to make their points: for example, MacLean claimed that she threw out one of her manuscripts after the presidential election. Kristan Higgins then jokingly agreed that publishing just shut down in 2017, because no one wanted to write.
This was a panel that analyzed the significance of women in writing, including a discussion of gender roles and feminism. They looked back on a speech about the Equal Rights Amendment given in 1971 by Gloria Steinem (one of the leaders of Second Wave Feminism), and the spark it ignited among the female author community. They continued on, pointing out that there are still injustices within literature surrounding the romance genre; for example, MacLean highlighted how the New York Times got rid of its Mass Market Paperback bestseller list, which was dominated by mostly women romance writers.
Included in the talk was a discussion of the differences between being a female or male author– how expectations often differ for each gender. They also discussed the processes of writing, and they related anecdotes about hating their work, but knowing that was when it was done. They talked about diversity too: they acknowledged that they were all white women who recognized their privilege and were reaching out to marginalized and minority groups as allies. They wanted to identify the ways to get more diverse fiction onto the shelves, and they spoke about the importance of commending some of the greatest authors of color who are writing today.
Each of these women was precise; their answers to questions were educational, and their stories were dynamic and hilarious. I was so enraptured by the lecture that when it ran long, I hadn’t even noticed that nearly two hours had gone by. All in all, being able to sit in a beautiful auditorium, listening to intelligent women discuss topics that I have grown to be passionate about, led to a sublime afternoon.
You can find more information about upcoming Boston Public Library author talks here. Most events are free and open to the public. http://www.bpl.org/programs/author_series.htm