Saturday, April 12, 2014

Funding for Studying Romance: "Unwarranted"

Pamela Regis has described romance as "The Most Popular, Least Respected Literary Genre" (xi) and for years romance readers and authors have been mocked. Now, though, our genre is being used to attack Government spending.

I've been watching the story unfold over the past few months. On the 17th of December, under the headline "Federal government has spent nearly $1 million on romance," Yahoo News reported that funding for the Popular Romance Project had been
highlighted in the 2013 “Wastebook,” an annual report released by Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn that highlights taxpayer-subsidized programs that he argues are questionable or unnecessary, especially during a time when lawmakers are viciously debating spending levels and how to trim the nation’s $17 trillion debt.

The Romance Project is just one of nearly 100 programs targeted by Coburn’s report, which also includes a documentary on superheroes, promotion of a Green Ninja character to educate children about climate change, and a zombie-themed video game for math education.
Someone obviously has their doubts about the seriousness of popular culture (and possibly doesn't believe that climate change is happening). But what strikes me is that out of "nearly 100 programs," the one which gets the most attention involves romance. Presumably that's because romance is seen as a particularly frivolous subject.

Details of the "Wastebook" report were also published at The Blaze under the headline "Here Are the Top Six Most Ridiculous Things the Gov’t Spends Tax Dollars On." Their selection of programs was different but yet again, romance was on the list and Breitbart's Frances Martel decided to focus almost entirely on romance.

Romantic Times immediately attempted to stage a fight-back, with Elisa Verna arguing that
romance is important. It's important to readers, to the publishing industry and to how we connect with and make sense of our culture. It's important because it promotes female sexual agency in a positive way.
Specifically addressing the funding for the Popular Romance Project, Eloisa James was quoted as saying that
The National Endowment for the Humanities recognized the importance of documenting women’s lives [and] women’s industry. Documentaries are expensive … especially if you’re following people for three years. It’s a huge, huge project capturing an industry. The website is merely the vocal piece for what will be the film. It’s a very intellectual pursuit and study of a huge business.
On the 19th of December, however, Fox News was reporting "'50 shades of no': Critics slam taxpayer-funded romance novel website." While it included a rebuttal from the NEH, it also quoted Matt Philbin, managing editor at Culture and Media Institute's Media Research Center, who felt that "This is a perfect example of an unaccountable government arbitrarily wasting our money. A $1.4 billion private leisure industry obviously doesn't need federal assistance." Of course, it wasn't the whole of the romance publishing getting a subsidy, but I suppose that's just an inconvenient detail.

Debates about government funding will probably continue indefinitely but I had hoped that this would be the end of the story as regards the funding of the Popular Romance Project. No such luck.

At the end of January USA Today published an article by Windsor Mann: "Romancing Uncle Sam: Nothing is Too Stupid for Washington to Subsidize" and that article was quoted on 10 April 2014 when:
U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Ranking Member of the Senate Budget Committee, [...] released a letter sent to National Endowment for the Humanities acting chairman Carol Watson regarding certain projects her agency has funded, including an expansive “Popular Romance Project.”
Sessions asked the NEH to
identify any additional romance projects and the amount of funding for each project NEH has funded the last five years. In addition, please explain how these films or projects have deepened the understanding of the humanities or contributed to public support and confidence in the use of taxpayer funds.
I can't help but wonder if romance being used as a weapon to humiliate the NEH has potentially serious implications for popular romance scholarship.

Adams, Becket. "Here Are the Top Six Most Ridiculous Things the Gov’t Spends Tax Dollars On." 17 December 2013. The Blaze.

Mann, Windsor. "Romancing Uncle Sam: Nothing is Too Stupid for Washington to Subsidize." 30 January 2014. USA Today.

Martel, Frances. "Feds Spent Almost $1 million on Romance Novel Website." 17 December 2013. Breitbart.

McKay, Hollie. "'50 shades of no': Critics slam taxpayer-funded romance novel website." 19 December 2013. Fox News.

Moody, Chris. "Federal government has spent nearly $1 million on romance." 17 December 2013. Yahoo News.

Regis, Pamela. A Natural History of the Romance Novel. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2003.

United States Senate Committee on the Budget Republicans. "Sessions Questions National Endowment For The Humanities Over Dubious Expenditures." 10 April 2014.

Verna, Elisa. "In Defence of the Popular Romance Project." 17 December 2013. RT Book Reviews.

Friday, April 11, 2014

So You Want to Write a Ph.D. Thesis on Romance...

--Eric Selinger

A few days ago I woke up to an email inquiry about how to turn a research interest in popular romance fiction into a dissertation.  The inquiry came from a Turkish graduate student, but the set of problems that she faces--wondering where to start; a supervisor who doesn't know the genre or the field, etc.--seems pretty common all around the world.  
If you're in her shoes, what should you do?
The first thing I'd suggest is to keep reaching out to others in the field.  In the "Academic Links" column on this page, for example, you'll find a set of organizations you can join, starting with the RomanceScholar listserv, which will put you directly in touch with a range of professors, independent scholars, graduate students, librarians, romance authors, and others, all around the world.  Queries get answered, and offers to help are common. You can also find leads to other scholars, established and emerging, by looking at the romance blogs listed on this page, and by reading through the interviews and blog posts at the Popular Romance Project, which I help to edit.  If you're a social media person, you can follow me on Twitter (@JPRStudies), and join the Facebook group of IASPR, the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance.

No matter the mode of contact, we're a pretty friendly community, and it's not uncommon for us to get messages out of the blue.  Go ahead and reach out--what can you lose?

There are also a number of online scholarly materials that both you and your supervisor can peruse, to get your bearings.  I'd encourage both of you to take a look at the Romance Scholarship Bibliography, which will let you see what has already been published on any number of topics in popular romance fiction studies, with links to all of those that you can jump to and read online.  (Many dissertations are linked here--take a look, especially at the recent ones!)  Spend some time reading over at the Journal of Popular Romance Studies, the free, peer-reviewed journal of cutting-edge scholarship on love in global popular media.  And look through Teach Me Tonight for notices about and links to new or freshly available journal articles.  A lot of good work has come out in the last five to ten years, and that should be the context for your research.
In that column you'll also see three books by contributors to Teach Me Tonight:  Pamela Regis's Natural History of the Romance Novel (2003), Laura Vivanco's For Love and Money: the Literary Art of the Harlequin Mills & Boon Romance (2011) and New Approaches to Popular Romance Fiction: Critical Essays (2012).  These are not the only useful books on romance fiction, by any means, but if you're interested in the ways that the genre can be read from a literary studies perspective, as opposed to sociologically or historically or politically, they will be helpful to you.

  • I got my own start as a romance scholar by reading Pam's book, and others have found it equally useful, especially the first couple of chapters, which set forth her basic conceptual model of the genre. 
  • My courses on popular romance fiction are currently built around Laura's book, which provides an expert guide to finding the literary artistry in popular romance novels--it does a fine job tracing the history of their reputation as formulaic or thoughtless fiction, too.
  • As for the third book, which I co-edited, it contains over a dozen very helpful essays, but the most important material for you as a new scholar might be the Introduction, which traces the history of popular romance studies as an academic field from the 1970s through about 2010, with some attention to how that study has developed differently in the US, UK, and Australia.  (For non-Anglophone romance scholarship, you'll probably need to consult the online Bibliography.) 

The next step I'd suggest is for you to think long and hard about what subset of romance fiction you want to study.  There was a time when you could aim to write about "the genre" overall, but that time has probably passed, and your supervisor is unlikely to give the thumbs up to a project that's too general.

Is there a particular trope or convention that you want to look at, the way that historian Hsu-Ming Teo looks at Orientalism and popular romance in her fine book Desert Passions?  Do you want to focus on a particular romance subgenre, like the Regency romance, or paranormal romance, or Amish romance?  Do you want to look at a particular publishing house--Avon, or Harlequin Mills & Boon, or Bold Strokes Books--or a particular author?

Several romance scholars, including Lisa Fletcher and An Goris, have written about issues of corpus selection:  how to choose the books that you plan to address.  Get to know what they say, ask questions of those already in the field, and be prepared to face tough questions from your supervisor about why you've chosen these books out of the thousands which are published every year.

I'm sure there's more to be said, and I hope to rustle up some voices in the comments to add to this post, or to reply with posts of their own.  Watch for those, good luck, and welcome to the field!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Free Access to Articles on Disability in Romance

For a limited period only, access to the Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies is free. It's a great opportunity to get hold of:

Baldys, Emily M. “Disabled Sexuality, Incorporated: The Compulsions of Popular Romance”. Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies 6.2 (2012): 125-141.

Cheyne, Ria. “Disability Studies Reads the Romance.” Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies 7.1 (2013): 37-52.

Schwab, Sandra. “‘It Is Only with One’s Heart That One Can See Clearly’: The Loss of Sight in Teresa Medeiros’s The Bride and the Beast and Yours until Dawn.” Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies 6.3 (2012): 275–289.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

PCA/ACA 2014 - The romance menu

Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association Conference: 16-19 April

Where available I've included links to the abstracts of the papers, a brief quote from each, and links to further details about each of the presenters.

Romance I: Sex, Death and Reading Minds
Romance II: Love and God; Life and Art
Romance III: A Conversation with Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Romance IV: Modern Love/Love and Modernism
Romance V: From Print to Digital
Romance VI: The Reader and Her Romance
Romance VII: Reading the Romance Turns Thirty (1): a Roundtable Discussion with Janice Radway

Romance VIII: Reading the Romance Turns Thirty (2): a Roundtable Discussion with Janice Radway

Romance IX: Histories, Geographies
Romance Session X: Romancing the Other
Romance XI: Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy
Romance XII: Lesbian and M/M Romance
Romance XIII: Reading the Romance Turns Thirty (3): the Impact of RTR on Popular Romance Novels, Novelists, and Scholarship and Open Forum

A roundtable on the influence on Janice Radway’s Reading The Romance on the romance genre, its novels, novelists and scholars. Also the Romance Area’s annual Open Forum in which we discuss the on-going development of the field of Popular Romance Studies.

Romance XIV: Mid-Century Romance: Teens, Gothic and Adventure
Romance XV: New Romantic Configurations

Other papers of interest include:

Sex, Love, Romance and... Academic Writing?: Relationships in Popular Culture as a Springboard for an Extended Academic Research Project ["This presentation will describe a classroom-tested sequence of writing assignments that leads undergraduates (sophomores-seniors) to compose 15-25 page academic papers on sex, love, and romance in the mass media"] - by Gwen Hart, Buena Vista University

Passionate Virtue: conceptions of professionalism in the medical romance ["these texts, which strive for 'realism' on their own terms, negotiate contemporary threats to nostalgic professionalism, such as commercialism, consumerism, and third party usurpation of physician autonomy"] - by Jessica Miller, University of Maine

Relearning Modern Day Vampire Mythology through Popular Paranormal Romance Novels ["discussing some of the current adult vampire paranormal romance series that modify our traditional notions about vampires"] - by Jessica Haggerty, Western Governors University

Reading Our Lives: the Cultural Work of Contemporary Women's Book Clubs ["Using the survey Janice Radway developed for the study which culminated in her groundbreaking work Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature, I designed a lengthy reader survey that I distributed to [...] eleven women's book clubs"] - by Liana Odrcic, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

The Princess Bride: A Myth for Modern Times ["True love is transformational.  True love kills us and resurrects us.  The lovers in this film individually and together must go through their own symbolic deaths and resurrections"] - by Jan Peppler, Pacifica Graduate Institute

Fifty Shades of Hope: Finding Healing Erotic Power in a Cultural Phenomenon ["The cultural phenomenon created by the Fifty Shades books as well as the books’ narrative will be explored as evidence of a cultural move towards embracing erotic power as well an illustration of how relationships can be transformed by erotic mutuality"] - by Julie Clawson, independent scholar

Sunday, April 06, 2014

CFP: "Trash", Representing the Middle East and North Africa

American Representations of the Middle East and North Africa

The 2014 Midwest Popular Culture Association Conference is currently organizing a panel on American Representations of the Middle East and North Africa. This conference will be held at the JW Marriott in Indianapolis, IN on 3-5 October 2014. Topics can include--but are certainly not limited to--any historical or contemporary representation of the Middle East in American popular culture, including sermons, songs, plays, paintings, travel accounts, memoirs, novels, movies, and the media. Please upload a 250 word abstract on any aspect of culture treating American Representations of the Middle East and North Africa to the Middle Eastern Culture area at The deadline for the submission of an abstract is 30 April 2014. You can find more information about the conference can be found at

Please note the availability of graduate student travel grants: Please email Stacy Holden at with any questions that you may have.

Picking Through the Trash: PIVOT: A Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies and Thought

Even when claiming a love of trash culture, many of us take care to emphasize that this admiration happens at a distance. Phrases like “guilty pleasure” often accompany the admission, for we are aware we might be saying too much about ourselves, or aligning ourselves too closely with something whose main attraction might be its ability to be consumed easily, rapidly, and in large quantities. Yet designating someone or something as being trash or trashy reflects as much on the cultural commentators as on the given object. In this sense, “trash” is a political term, premised on notions of hierarchy and exclusion, even when we try to collapse these through kitsch or camp reclamations. [...]

Authors are requested to submit full articles of 6,000-8,000 words by Friday July 18, 2014 to

More details here.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Call for Papers: Teaching Tainted Lit

Janet Casey (a Professor of English at Skidmore College) has recently written to the Middlebrow Network to seek additional contributions to a volume she's editing:
I am currently editing a collection entitled TEACHING TAINTED LIT: POPULAR AMERICAN FICTION AND THE PLEASURES AND PERILS OF THE CLASSROOM.  I have an interested publisher but am open to acquiring one or two more essays before submitting the final product to readers this summer.   Please get in touch with me if you have any interest:  The original CFP is as follows:

Taking as its premise the idea that popular fiction has secured a solid position in higher education classrooms, this collection seeks to explore its pedagogical implications.  Possible topics may include: unusual or insightful uses of the popular in the context of college English; historical or contemporary struggles over the teaching of popular texts; the politics and intersections of popularity and canonicity as they pertain to the classroom; anxieties and pleasures (on the parts of students and/or teachers) located in reading the popular; differences in attitudes about studying historical and contemporary popular texts; relations between teaching the popular and the perceived crisis in the humanities; teaching the American popular outside the U.S.; issues of publication and dissemination that affect teaching (e.g., working with magazines; problems associated with out-of-print materials).  Essays that focus on a particular text and its pedagogical ramifications are also welcome, especially if they put broader questions into play.  Personal/anecdotal postures invited.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Fiction / Romance / Truth in "For My Lady's Heart"

A nicely thoughtful post by Noah Berlatsky this morning over at The Hooded Utilitarian, all about issues of truth and fiction, romance and the real, in Laura Kinsale's novel For My Lady's Heart.  I haven't read the novel in years, but recall loving it, and wishing it were in print and teachable; evidently it's been available for two or three years now as a Kindle book, and also in paperback, but my syllabus hasn't caught up.  Perhaps I'll give it a shot this summer, or next fall, when I get back to teaching romance.

I'm also struck by how casually and effectively Berlatsky uses two of Pam Regis's "8 elements" to talk about some of the structural features of the novel.  It's a throwaway line, only a sentence ("the declaration and marriage come somewhat early on in the book"), but a sign, also, of how that terminology has made its way from academia into more general interest discussions of the genre.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

20 March: Workshops in Washington

Love That Dares
Thursday, March 20, 2014 from 1:00 PM to 7:00 PM (PDT)

The George Washington University in Washington, DC is holding a free event about diversity in popular romance which, while aimed at their students, is open to the public.

Three Workshops on Diversity in Popular Romance

1pm:   theme: GLBTQ romance
hosted by: Sarah Frantz (Riptide Publishing)
book club selectionBlessed Isle, by Alex Beecroft

2:30:   theme: African-American popular romance
hosted by: novelist Beverly Jenkins 
book club selection: her own Deadly Sexy

4:10:  theme: People with disabilities in popular romance, with
hosted by: Emily Baldys (Zane State)

Reception to follow

If you want to attend any or all of these you need to book in advance via this website and Heather Schell, who's involved in organising it, says that as it's
an interactive event, [...] attendees are expected to read the assigned novel (all are available on  Each workshop will also include a brief writing exercise. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

CFP: MLA Convention 2015

The MLA Convention 2015 will take place in Vancouver from January 8-11 and Maria Teresa Ramos-Garcia has posted two calls for papers related to romance:
Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy in the 21st Century

Why has the paranormal become so prevalent in romance? How are romance conventions, expectations, and readership altered in this subgenre?

Fifty Heirs of Grey

How has the success of Fifty Shades of Grey influenced the reading and writing of romance novels, as well as the marketing of erotica?
If you're interested in presenting a paper, send a 300-word abstract to Maria ( by 15 March 2014.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Out Now: Issue 4.1 of the Journal of Popular Romance Studies

As Eric Selinger observes in his introduction to the latest issue of the Journal of Popular Romance Studies,
we have three essays on the subgenre of erotic romance:  two on the most famous recent contribution to that subgenre, E. L. James’s Fifty Shades trilogy, engaging it via the sharply different perspectives of fan-fiction / fandom studies and the history of white masculinity; one on the groundbreaking collection Macho Sluts (1988) by Patrick Califia, which situates this volume of lesbian BDSM fiction at the crossroads of public history (the feminist anti-pornography movement of the 1980s), queer activism, and romance genre conventions.

There is also a special section dedicated to Love in Latin American Popular Culture:
And, of course, there are a number of reviews:

Monday, January 27, 2014

Popular Romance Project Survey

This came over the RomanceScholar listserv today, and I thought I'd pass it along to our readers here as well.  Feel free to pass it along, Tweet it, etc.; the wider the distribution, the more useful the results!
The Popular Romance Project ( website is expanding and needs your feedback! The Popular Romance Project explores the history, study, consumption, and production of popular romance through articles, interviews, and more, and has featured the work of IASPR members including officers Eric Selinger, Pamela Regis, Sarah Frantz, An Goris, Jayashree Kamble, and Chryssa Sharp. 
The new website will greet visitors with questions about popular romance, inviting them to learn more about how romance novels and love stories have grown from the epic tales and poetry of the past to today's billion-dollar industry. Take our survey (10 minutes) to let us know what questions grab your attention and get you clicking:

Thursday, January 16, 2014

New Article: Sex, Power and Desire in the Romance Novel

Maria Nilson's "From The Flame and the Flower to Fifty Shades of Grey: Sex, Power and Desire in the Romance Novel" has been published in Akademisk Kvarter/Academic Quarter 7 (2013): 119-131.
Reading these books [i.e. the Fifty Shades trilogy] mainly as romance, Nilson focuses on how James uses well known and established romance traits from, for example, the so-called “bodice-ripper” novel and chick lit, in order to create a hybrid. These traits are visible in both how James describes her protagonists and in how the relationship between them is portrayed. Nilson argues that the Fifty Shades trilogy is, rather than a new kind of romance, a compilation of well-established traits.
The article is available in full, for free, here.