LJ Talks to Kwana Jackson | Romance Preview 2020

Kwana Jackson advocates for diversifying the romance genre under the hashtag she coined, #WeNeedDiverseRomance. LJ recently caught up with Jackson to talk books, libraries, and the future of her favorite genre.

Kwana Jackson, who also writes as K.M. Jackson, has long penned romances that merge the sweet and sultry aspects of love. In May, she released Real Men Knit (Berkley; LJ 4/20), about the Strong brothers and their neighborhood yarn store, under the name Kwana Jackson. Jackson advocates for diversifying the genre under the hashtag she coined, #WeNeedDiverseRomance. LJ caught up with Jackson to talk books, libraries, and the future of romance.

LJ: Real Men Knit is your first book with Berkley and also your first under the name Kwana Jackson. Were you excited or nervous about this move?
I was thrilled to make the move to Berkley and [am] particularly proud that Real Men Knit was slotted with the rest of Berkley’s mainstream romance titles. This makes a strong impact in not othering romance by a Black author and not giving the subtle message to a large segment of the reading population that our stories are not universal. I believe all stories of love are universal and we can learn from everyone’s experiences.

Family and community connections play important roles in many of your books—what about these themes works so well within the romance genre in general and especially within your titles?
I think romance readers come to the genre looking for an emotionally satisfying read with the assurance that despite things looking like they will not work out, somehow they will. I populate my books with families and full, diverse communities, and I think this helps to give readers more of that emotional hook. Folks tend to be more "real" when they are with their families and people who have known them their whole lives. It’s a great way to see another side of a character. Though I’ll admit I don’t always do it consciously, but more as writing what I find satisfying. I’m a fan of the genre first and if I’ve made myself happy with a story then I’ll hopefully satisfy my readers, too.

How do you see COVID-19 impacting romance?
I would hate for the answer to be that COVID-19 means a boom for the romance industry. This pandemic is tragic all around. That said, I’m glad to have romance during this time, as these stories give readers a much-needed mental escape during a very real time of need. I have heard from some readers who say Real Men Knit has been a light for them during this time, which has meant more to me than anything else.

Interacting with readers virtually has surprisingly been an experience with an upside. I see more of these kinds of interactions going forward, even after things open up. Being able to talk with so many more readers online has been wonderful.

What strides are you seeing in romance in terms of inclusivity? How can libraries and librarians help?
It amazes and saddens me that it was five years ago that I first typed #WeNeedDiverseRomance, and I’m still typing it today. I started the hashtag as a memorial to my late grandmother to highlight inequalities in the industry... and though things seem to be better, with publishers taking on more diverse authors, race relations in the United States seem to be at an all-time low. There is still room for improvement and librarians can help. There is space on the library shelves for both traditional and self-published authors. Without equal exposure, readers have a hard time knowing the self-­published writers are there.

Real Men Knit features the memorable characters of the Strong brothers. Can we expect more stories about the Strong family?
Yes. Lucas, our firefighter brother’s, story is up next in 2021. I would love for Berkley to have me write all of the brothers’ stories because I already have plans in my head for Noah, the dancer, and Damian, the curmudgeon everyone loves to hate. I’m eager to tell each of their experiences.

This interview was originally published as part of the Romance feature, "Choosing Love," in Library Journal's October 2020 issue 

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