by Beverly Jenkins
When I began my career in 1994 with Avon’s publication of Night Song, academics paid very little attention to romance as a genre. The stories penned were often viewed as not worth the paper they were printed upon and the readers were given even shorter shrift. Now, twenty years later, my historicals have been included in college curriculums from Spelman and Princeton to the University of South Carolina.
What’s changed? Mainly attitudes in how the genre is perceived, and in my case, the opportunity for professors and students to explore popular fiction that deals with the intersection of race, genre and class in a non-traditional way. Yes, African-Americans have served in our nation’s armed forces since the French and Indian Wars and yes, there were African- American female doctors in the 19th century and yes, a free Black middle class existed during slavery. By adding historicals such as mine to college reading lists, students not only get a great story but are forced to alter long-held perceptions and beliefs about who African-Americans are and their roles in American society both past and present.