Recipients of the Academic Research Grant
Below is a list of RWA Academic Research Grant recipients and summaries of their projects.
Kelly Choyke (2016)
Joanna Gregson and Jennifer Lois (2016)
Jonathan Andrew Allan (2015)
Beth Driscoll, Lisa Fletcher, Kim Wilkins (2015)
Jessica Taylor (2015)
Amanda Bidnall (2014)
An Goris (2013)
Jayashree Kamble (2013)
Stacy Holden (2012)
Heather Schell (2011)
Joanna Gregson and Jennifer Lois (2011)
Conseula Francis (2010)
Pamela Regis (2010)
Catherine Roach (2009)
Sarah S. G. Frantz (2008)
Stephanie Harzewski (2007)
University of Missouri-Columbia (2006)
Eric Selinger (2006)
Jayashree Kamble (2005)
Kelly Choyke, Ohio University
The Power of Poular Romance Culture: An Ethnography of Feminism, the Romance Genres, and Womanhood in North America
RWA awarded funding to Kelly Choyke's project, which explores how romance novels connect women across racial, economic, and cultural boundaries.
Joanna Gregson, Pacific Lutheran University, and Jennifer Lois, Western Washington University
Shifting Identities and Re-Imagined Careers: Romance Authors and the Self-Publishing Revolution
RWA awarded funding to Joanna Gregson and Jennifer Lois's project to support the transcription of interviews with authors, editors, and literary agents about their perceptions of and experiences with self-publishing.
Jonathan Andrew Allan, Ph.D., Brandon University
The Optimism of Happily Ever After
RWA awarded funding to Jonathan Andrew Allan's project "The Optimism of Happily Ever After." His proposed research seeks to explore one of the most critically maligned aspects of romance, the happy ending, or, the emotionally satisfying ending, via Affect Theory.
Drs. Beth Driscoll, University of Melbourne, Lisa Fletcher, University of Tasmania, and Kim Wilkins, University of Queensland
The Genre World of Romance in 21st Century Australia
RWA awarded funding to Drs. Driscoll, Fletcher, and Wilkins' project "The Genre World of Romance in 21st Century Australia." The researchers plan to create detailed case studies of three authors at different stages in their careers. The case studies will include analysis of the creative processes for one particular book by each author using textual analysis of the books and in-depth interviews with each author. They will also include interviews with the other significant players involved in the creation of and publication of each book. This research will present romance writers and their books in a wider artistic and commercial context.
Jessica Taylor, Ph.D., University of Toronto
Professional Business Women: Romance Writers, Feminism and "Women's Work"
RWA awarded funding to Jessica Taylor for her project "Professional Business Women." Taylor researches how writers, who can choose to define their work any number of ways, sometimes pitting the creative and artistic against the professional and commercial, can negotiate interesting blends of the two. She studies how writers think and talk about what they do as work and its value and significance.
Amanda Bidnall, Ph.D.
Domesticating the Mass-Market Romance Novel: A Prehistory
Amanda Bidnall was awarded the research grant for her project to identify the historical reasons behind the "persistence, expansion, or marginalization of particular conventions of popular romantic fiction in the first half of the 20th century." The research project aims to "identify literary conventions and narrative patterns circulating in romantic fiction in light of the fluctuating circumstances of romance writing, publishing, and reading" and "provide a historical explanation for the decline or persistence of particular conventions or treatments of romance as the genre solidified in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s."
An Goris, Ph.D., University of Leuven
Is There an Author in this Genre?
An Goris was awarded the academic research grant to support her book project, "Is There an Author in this Genre?" This book will examine the complete works of five contemporary romance authors and explore how the romance novelist contributes "to the institutional and paratextual evolutions of the romance genre" and in this process "takes on the characteristics of the individual 'author' . . . more traditionally associated with high literature and art."
Dr. Jayashree Kamble, La Guardia Community College
Making Meaning in Romance: an Epistemology of Popular Romance Fiction
RWA awarded partial funding to Jayashree Kamble's "Making Meaning in Romance: an Epistemology of Popular Romance Fiction." Kamble's work has the potential to advance and expand the study of the romance novel significantly by taking a cross-disciplinary approach and bringing "popular romance scholarship into dialogue with the broader field of cultural studies." This work promises an "interpretation of both canonical romance authors . . . as well as a powerful approach to the interpretation of any romance novel."
Dr. Stacy Holden, Purdue University
Not Deserted After the Storm: Images of Arab Political Systems in Romance Novels
Holden's project will analyze the desert kingdom of the sheikh to provide insight into the political imagination of Americans. Her research will respond to the following question: How do authors of romance novels represent Middle Eastern polities in romance novels published since 9/11? Holden will pay attention to three factors: the political institutions characterizing these polities, the ways that political process plays itself out, and the relations of the ruling sheikh to the West. To answer these questions, she will not only analyze romance novels, but also interview authors and readers. Holden contends that the descriptions of fictional kingdoms in the Middle East provide a means for American readers to assuage their fears about this region.
Dr. Heather Schell, George Washington University
Harlequins in Translation: the Turkish Experience of the American Romance Novel
Dr. Schell's project will examine the popularity of Harlequin romances in Turkey which, while a country with a secular government, is predominantly an Islamic culture. Schell will survey and interview Turkish women who read the romances in translation to learn how they receive and perceive these novels written by and for North American women. She intends to study this data and seek the answers to questions such as: “What accounts for the appeal of these books? Do relationship-dominated books challenge or reinforce international readers’ expectations of gender norms? Do they shape the readers’ beliefs about U.S. culture? Are these books seen as supporting or challenging Turkish cultural values?”
Employing an ethnographic methodology that involves field work, observation and interviews, Gregson and Lois are amassing data that they will then study to uncover the ways “writers construct romance, gender, and sexuality through their writing as well as how they experience their careers as women in ‘the most popular, least respected literary genre’ (Regis 2003: xi). This topic is one facet of their larger study, which Drs. Gregson and Lois position as the first social-scientific study of romance writers. “The primary objective of our research will be filling this gap in the scholarly literature by giving writers’ experiences the systematic, social-scientific attention they warrant.”
During the summer of 2010, I plan to research, write, and submit for publication a scholarly article that will serve as the basis for a larger book project. Looking at the historical romances of popular writer Beverly Jenkins, I ask the question, how can you write about black female sexual agency in a time when black political agency was, most often, precarious or, more likely, non-existent? Is it possible to accurately portray and honor the liberation struggles of American blacks while at the same time keeping female pleasure and agency at the center of the narrative? I argue of Jenkins' novels, particularly the novels featuring the Le Veq men, that black female pleasure becomes both a means to and a mark of liberation. The black heroines' acceptance of pleasure, both material and sexual, in these novels is not shameful or dangerous or an impediment to the liberation of black people; their pleasure is the impetus to that liberation. Funding from RWA will make it possible for me to forego teaching during the summer term, allowing me to focus all my professional attention on this project. After completing and submitting the article on Jenkins' work, I plan to work on a second article/chapter on the fiction of popular erotica writer Zane. While, on the surface, Jenkins' and Zane's work couldn't appear more different (Jenkins writes well-researched, intricately plotted genre romance; Zane publishes sexually explicit stories that often seem to aim for little more than titillation), in fact, they are connected in their foregrounding and celebration of black female pleasure and sexual agency. Specifically, Zane's two novels that feature Dr. Marcella Spenser, and , are surprising in that you expect them to be cautionary tales about the dangers of excessive female sexuality. The sexual addict and the "nervous" woman with a split personality, don't, however, come to any real narrative harm. What does happen, though, is that both of these protagonists come to a place where they "own" their sexual agency. While I don't plan to complete the writing of this chapter this summer, funding will allow me to research these novels alongside Jenkins', and allow me the opportunity to formulate my arguments about the connections between them. The larger book project will argue that traditional romance novels, like Jenkins', and explicit erotica, like Zane's, exist on a literary continuum, and serve a similar function for readers--all of this literature provides for black women the "uncommon pleasure of knowing that it is all about you."
My career-long project, which began with A Natural History of the Romance Novel, is to define, analyze, and write the history of the genre based on as synoptic a knowledge of the entire history of the novel as I can muster.
The romance is a world-wide phenomenon, but I would argue that American romance holds a place near the center of the genre’s concerns, and its history deserves a separate treatment. I wish to write that history.
The proposed project will involve first identifying the novels of American authors that contain the eight elements of the romance novel laid out in my earlier book. From this will emerge the first identification of America’s national canon of romance. Analysis of these novels with an eye to identifying the essential components of an American romance, which is to say, those characteristics that the author’s nationality and its attendant culture imbue it with, will define our romance tradition.
Catherine Roach, The University of Alabama
Book Lovers: Love, Desire, and Fantasy in Popular Culture Romance Narratives
My new project, underway now for a year and a half, is a general audience academic book investigating the significant role that romance fiction plays in contemporary popular culture and the currently changing nature of this romance narrative. The working title is Book Lovers: Love, Desire, and Fantasy in Popular Culture Romance Narratives.
Overall, I seek in this book to highlight genre romance fiction as a highly significant and influential case study that allows us to examine the wider cultural narrative of romance and changing gender and sexual norms throughout the culture, particularly for women. My goal is to move away from the somewhat unproductive debate in academic romance scholarship over critique vs. defense of the genre, while also widening that scholarship beyond the standard feminist or literary approaches. While still drawing on those perspectives, I seek to place romance fiction in the broader context of the romance narrative in popular culture and to adopt a cultural studies/gender studies perspective to ask questions about meaning, power, agency, and fantasy in how the romance narrative plays out in the publishing industry, in the individual reading and writing experience, and in the realm of popular culture in which the romance story holds
such vast sway.
Sarah S. G. Frantz, Fayetteville State University
"The Rare Tears of a Strong Man": Power Exchange and the Construction of Masculinity in Popular Romance Fiction
The cathartic tears that well up in the climactic scene of Joey Hill's erotic romance—a novel that explores in a richly layered narrative the themes of sexual power exchange and the contruction of gender—represent the appeal and explain the success of the Alpha male of popular romance fiction. These tears, symbolizing both the dominance and the submission of masculine authority and emotions, embody the core of my analysis of popular romance fiction. With the help of grant support of the Romance Writers of America, I propose to write and publish three academic articles that explore in greater depth the historical foundations and the narrative and ideological constructions of the meaning and emotional power of these "rare tears of a strong man" in popular romance fiction.
Stephanie Harzewski, University of Pennsylvania
The New Novel of Manners: Chick Lit and Postfeminist Sexual Politics
Romance Writers of America would like to congratulate Dr. Stephanie Harzewski on the acceptance of her book, for publication. Harzewski was the recipient of RWA’s 2006-2007 Academic Research Grant for a proposal titled, “The New Novel of Manners: Chick Lit and Postfeminist Sexual Politics.”
Harzewski applied for RWA’s academic grant so that she could continue her work on this project. “The financial support of the RWA Research Grant allowed for a reduced teaching load that enabled me to revise and expand my dissertation into a book manuscript. I utilized the time also by interviewing more authors and publishing industry professionals about how chick lit can inform our understanding of the history of the romance and general fiction book markets.”
University of Missouri-Columbia
Librarian’s Perception of Romance Readers & Romance Novels
The Romance Writers of America's (RWA) 2004 Statistical Report reports that only 14% of romance novels were obtained in libraries (p. 6). Public libraries pride themselves on being places where patrons can find entertainment as well as information, and where they can find stories of all kinds. The RWA statistic, however, suggests that public libraries are not effective purveyors of romance reading. Why aren't more romance readers finding their books in public libraries? Two potential causes stand out: either public libraries are not making romance novels available, or public librarians are not making romance readers comfortable enough to borrow romance novels. To learn more about why readers are not using public libraries for romance fiction, we propose a nationwide, mixed-methods study of libraries' provision of romance fiction and librarians' attitudes toward romance fiction and romance readers. The broader issue of why romance readers do not use public libraries will be addressed through two narrower questions: (1) What is the current availability of romance fiction in public libraries? (2) What are the attitudes of librarians and library staff toward romance fiction and romance readers? This project has the potential to have a significant effect on public library services to romance readers nationwide. Results from this survey will raise librarian's awareness of intentional or perceived bias against romance readers. It will help librarians plan romance-friendly programs and activities, create communities of romance readers, and develop an understanding of a large group of readers who are not, by all accounts, receiving optimum library services at the current time.
Eric Selinger, DePaul University
Teach Me Tonight: The Art of Reading Romance Fiction, One Book at a Time
I took the mission of the grant to heart: not simply to support my own research, but to nurture and promote the serious academic study of romance fiction by others as well.
My first step was to ask my university to host a listserv, RomanceScholar so that we could exchange ideas and spread the word about opportunities to publish and present our work. Within a week, it had 50 members; in two, it had doubled; and the list currently has 165 subscribers in the US, UK, EU, Australia, and New Zealand.
After the listserv had been up for several months, I suggested to several of the most frequent contributors that we start a collaborative blog about romance fiction specifically from an academic perspective. Teach Me Tonight now features seven named contributors—Sarah S. G. Frantz, Linda Hilton, Gwendolyn D. Pough, Pamela Regis, Sandra Schwab, Laura Vivanco, and myself—and has received over 13,000 page visits.
Teach Me Tonight and the RomanceScholar listserv have also enabled me to contact other professors who teach courses on romance fiction, and to solicit material from them for another website hosted by DePaul. Resources for Teaching Popular Romance Fiction offers syllabi, lesson plans, paper topics, and other materials that those teaching the genre, especially for the first time, will find useful. They also enabled me to target interested academics when it came time to call for papers on romance for the 2007 Popular Culture Association conference.
While at work on these ancillary projects, I have continued to work on the essays I proposed to the RWA last year. The first piece I will complete was not on that original list—but it will, I hope, make it easier for the others to find a home in academic journals. As I thought about submitting my work to the journal Contemporary Literature—not a hotbed of romance fiction scholarship, I can assure you!—it occurred to me that the best way to “break the ice” for romance fiction there was to write about the dramatic changes now taking place in romance fiction criticism, of which my own work is a part. I therefore proposed, and had accepted, a major review-essay on the last ten years of work in romance fiction criticism: a piece that will look at such books as Pamela Regis’s A Natural History of the Romance Novel, From Australia With Love, the history of Australian popular romance by Juliet Flesch, Lynn S. Neal’s Romancing God, a study of evangelical women and Christian / Inspirational romance, Empowerment versus Oppression: 21st Century Views of Popular Romance Novels. edited by Sally Goade, among others.
Jayashree Kamble, University of Minnesota
Love in the Time of Globalization: A Reassesment of Popular Romance
Romance fiction has become an increasingly visible object of academic analysis in the last two decades, from Janice Radway's Reading the Romance (1984) to the recently published Natural History of the Romance Novel (2003) by Pamela Regis. My own dissertation is spurred by the multiplication of the form into numerous subgenres, ranging from futuristic science fiction, to contemporary suspense, and historical intrigue, each one adapting the romantic plot for different purposes. I propose that determining why readers prefer some of these categories to others will contribute to understanding the appeal of the genre as a whole. My dissertation will also examine the effect of the rapidly growing romance community--notably, book clubs, on-line chat groups, conferences, and global readership (with the non-Anglo/American romance reader as the primary object of analysis)--on the writing, marketing, and the reception of the genre. My hypothesis is that romances operate in complex ways to assess not just romantic relationships but contemporaneous political, social, and economic concerns, and are currently influencing perceptions of the same on an unprecedented scale through their expanding readership.