NEW YORK (AP) – The Romance Writers of America has withdrawn an award for a widely criticized novel for its sympathetic portrayal of a cavalry officer who participated in the massacre of Lakota Indians at the Battle of Wounded Knee.
On July 31, RWA judges awarded Karen Witemeyer’s “At Love’s Command” the Vivian Award for best love book “with religious or spiritual elements”. Witemeyer’s book centers on Matthew Hanger, a veteran of the 1890 massacre whose Christian faith helps him come to terms with the past.
News of the award for “At Love’s Command” was greeted on social media with anger and disbelief, particularly after the RWA initially said the spiritual category was about characters who “find redemption from their moral flaws and / or crimes against humanity “. Author Delaney Williams, a Native American, tweeted that the RWA honored “stories in which the genocide of my ancestors is used as a conspiracy convention to obtain forgiveness, not from those who are killed, but from a god foreigner”. Another Vivian winner, Sara Whitney, returned her prize in protest.
The RWA then announced that its board of directors had met for an emergency meeting and decided to cancel the award.
“RWA fully supports the rights of the First Amendment,” according to a statement from the association. “However, as an organization that continually strives to improve our support for marginalized authors, we cannot in good conscience support the judges’ decision during the vote to celebrate a book that depicts the inhumane treatment of indigenous peoples and romanticizes real-world tragedies that still affect people to this day.
Witemeyer’s publisher Bethany House released a statement saying he was “saddened” by the response to the book.
“Witemeyer wrote this carefully researched story knowing that it would include some of the darkest moments in our country’s history, including deplorable acts of violence like the Wounded Knee Massacre,” the statement said. “It was neither the author’s nor the publisher’s will to offend, but rather to tell this story for the tragedy it was. That it was perpetuated by ordinary people like the characters in Witemeyer’s novel is a sobering aspect of this tragedy.
In an email to The Associated Press on Friday, Witemeyer wrote: “While I disagree with RWA’s choice to void a fairly won prize, I understand why they felt obligated. to take such a step, and I have no resentment towards them. “
The RWA acknowledged the earlier problems in its statement. In 2020, much of its leadership resigned or was kicked out due to low diversity and the awards themselves were renamed. They had been called the RITA Award, in honor of the association’s first president, Rita Clay Estrada. They were renamed Vivian Award, for Vivian Stephens, a black author who helped found the RWA.
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