Popular romance sells. And it reveals deep truths about people and cultures, fantasies and fears. The statistics are staggering: According to the Romance Writers of America, romance fiction generates over $1 billion in sales annually, and romance is often the top-performing category on the New York Times, USA Today, and Publishers Weekly best-seller lists.
The Popular Romance Project explores the fascinating, often contradictory origins and influences of popular romance as told in novels, films, comics, advice books, songs, and internet fan fiction, taking a global perspective -- while looking back across time as far as the ancient Greeks.
The Popular Romance Project includes four ambitious, high-profile, carefully integrated programs
an interactive, content-rich website created by the Center for History and New Media, allowing the website’s users to see romance novels in a broad context across time and place.
It includes interview clips with romance readers, writers, & publishers, and blogs about everything from Jane Austen to Korean TV dramas! Check it out!
an academic conference on the past and future of romance fiction, hosted by the Library of Congress, February 1o-11, 2015, organized by the Popular Romance Project, the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance, and the Library of Congress.
a nationwide series of library programs built around screenings of Love Between the Covers, starting in the Fall of 2015, and continuing through 2016.
Just as Laurie Kahn’s earlier films, A Midwife’s Tale and Tupperware!, revealed the lives of unsung women and their work, allowing us to see the past in new, more complete and complex ways, The Popular Romance Project carries us into the present, revealing a misunderstood but flourishing worldwide community of romance novel readers, authors, editors, bloggers and fans. With its website, library programs, and symposium, The Popular Romance Project invites us to think deeply about the canonical romance and courtship stories that are repeated and reworked in each era.
In the film Love Between the Covers we meet readers who devour as many as seven books in a week, and writers who regularly write two, three, and four books per year. Some of the romances they love to read are set in the past (most of the “historical romances” take place in the early 19th century Regency period, usually featuring dukes and duchesses). But the romance genre encompasses dozens of other types of courtship stories: mystery/suspense romances with daring detectives and crime fighters, contemporary small town romances (with settings ranging from a main street yarn shop to the Nascar racetrack), Christian/inspirational romances with strong religious themes (and very little explicit sex), romances with vampires, shapeshifters, and other paranormal creatures, gay romances with female couples and male couples, sci-fi romances, African American and Hispanic romances, Western romances (with cowboys, of course), and romances written for young adults.
The romance community has been on the forefront of the digital revolution. They were early pioneers -- and they continue to be pioneers -- of social media, e-books, fan fiction sites, and self-publishing. Authors and readers communicate directly with one another, bypassing the publishers who used to act as go-betweens. Writers invite their readers to write alternate ending of chapters they’ve written, readers suggest main characters for future books, and authors offer prizes and special incentives. Authors even host cruises to European castles and California pajama parties for their fans.
In the romance community, all readers are potential writers. Romance readers who want to make the jump can choose from hundreds of available writing workshops and “romance bootcamps,” they can find a mentor online, or join a local chapter of the Romance Writers of America, where they will get tips and moral support.
The romance business as it exists today began in England, and then spread to Canada, the US, and Australia. Romance writing, however, is universal. Harlequin has recently opened an office in Mumbai, India. And there are communities of romance writers in Bangladesh, South Africa, and Mexico, all deeply rooted in their own cultural traditions.
Popular romance fiction is a remarkable, worldwide phenomenon that’s wired. The Popular Romance Project’s Executive Director, Laurie Kahn, finds it deliciously ironic that tech savvy readers and writers are pushing the boundaries of digital publishing and social networking, all in the service of reshaping archetypal stories that can be traced back hundreds, even thousands of years.
The Popular Romance Project has brought together disparate groups of scholars, writers, readers, editors, romance fans, and the general public. It has launched an entertaining, substantive, lively discussion about how popular romance is created, who consumes it, and how it helps shape private lives and public cultures.
Library of Congress Center for the Book, Center for History and New Media (George Mason University), International Association for the Study of Popular Romance
National Endowment for the Humanities, Mass Humanities, Romance Writers of America, Amazon.com, Harlequin Enterprises, Tavris Fund at Brandeis University/Women’s Studies Research Center, The Nora Roberts Foundation
Board of Advisors
Darlene Clark Hine
Professor of African American Studies, Professor of History and Director of the Center of African American History, Northwestern University
Professor of Gender Studies and Critical Studies, University of Southern California
Professor of Popular Culture, Bowling Green University
Professor of Social and Cultural History, Johns Hopkins University
Former President of the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance
Eric Murphy Selinger
Professor of English, DePaulUniversity and Executive Editor, Journal of Popular Romance Studies
Faculty member, History and Family Studies, The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, and Director of Research and Public Education for the Council of Contemporary Famlies
Eli. J Finkel
Professor of Social Psychology at Northwestern University
Professor of English and associate faculty in African American Studies, Princeton University
Professor of English, McDaniel College
Associate Professor of Management,
University of Pennsylvania