Romance Author Virginia Kantra on Why Your Story Matters | Librarians' Day, RWA 2020

Love was in the air the weekend of August 28–30, despite the turmoil rocking the romance industry for the better part of 2020. Following the May cancellation of the prestigious RITA Awards, now retired and replaced by the Vivian, the Romance Writers of America (RWA) forged ahead to produce a memorable annual virtual conference.

Love was in the air the weekend of August 28–30, despite the turmoil rocking the romance industry for the better part of 2020. Following the May cancellation of the prestigious RITA Awards, now retired and replaced by the Vivian, the Romance Writers of America (RWA), the world's leading nonprofit writers' association dedicated to the success of published and unpublished Romance authors, forged ahead to produce a memorable annual virtual conference. The event featured beginner to masterclass writing workshops, inspiring author panels, and informative how-to sessions for marketers, publishers, and librarians.

RWA Keynote Speaker Virginia KantraTwo-time RITA Award winner and keynote speaker Virginia Kantra (Meg & Jo) led off on Friday, Librarians’ Day, a conference tradition since 2007, with a speech of wisdom and encouragement that set the tone for every panel thereafter. RWA president Alyssa Day introduced Kantra as "a strong believer in the strength of family, the importance of storytelling, and the power of love."

Crediting her career as a writer to the librarians who steered her toward Georgette Heyer and Mary Stewart as a young reader, Kantra explained, "The library was where I got my first job, it was my safe place, my enchanted kingdom, it was my home." Addressing the impact of the COVID-19 shutdowns, she rallied writers who might feel their stories are not important or relevant in this moment, stating, "It's now more than ever that we need to be lifted up and united…. We need stories in our lives to escape; it’s the only way we can travel. We need stories where strong women triumph, we need stories where justice is done, we need happy endings and we need stories that bring us together and show us what we have in common, which is why librarians and storytellers are essential workers."

"If You're Going Through Hell, Keep Going"

Drawing on the history of the Bubonic Plague that ravaged Europe in the 14th century, when librarians were sequestered in monasteries copying illuminated manuscripts, Kantra reminded the story gatekeepers that their role then and now is “keeping the faith and light of the world alive until the world is ready for them again.”

Writers, Kanta said, “are dealing with a different contagion, another kind of miasma in the air…the pressure of the world around us right now, it’s out there, it’s pressing in.” And for anyone questioning how important one’s story is at such a time, Kantra talked about her late father, who kept a meticulous diary “from 1969 to 2010 about traveling with his family, about sharing the adventure of his life with his wife of 65 years.”

It wasn’t until after his death that she discovered the extent of his project, which he never finished and never made public. “I have become the curator of my dad’s story…Stories about love matter. They connect us. To my fellow storytellers who may be out there listening, I say to you, please don’t wait until you’re dead for someone else to fish your stories off your computer…. Your story matters.”

In a world hungry for connection, Kantra reminded us that “there can be no connection unless there is vulnerability…Readers come to you [librarians] looking for the stories that will be meaningful to them. You hold the password for so many…you put our stories into readers hands…. Thank you, thank you for keeping the lights on, we are so grateful you are here.”

Additional panels of the day included a presentation on creative marketing for online book discussions and library displays with author Kilby Blades (Friended); Roseann Backlin, owner of the romance bookstore, Love’s Sweet Arrow; and RWA Librarian of the Year Steve Ammidown, Browne Popular Culture Library, Bowling Green State University.

The panel “Authors To Know” featured romance novelists C. Chilove, Nina Crespo, and Elizabeth Schechter, who discussed programs popular in libraries, go-to and newly discovered writers, and the appeal of the various subgenres; for instance, paranormal vs. cowboy romance. Closing out Friday was a program on the "Top Trends in Romance," which range from social issues to found families and super sf—because everyone has a story to tell.

 

 

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Annalisa Pešek

Annalisa Pešek (apesek@mediasourceinc.com) is Assistant Managing Editor, LJ Reviews
[photograph by John Sarsgard]

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