Beverly Jenkins is an icon in African American historical romances, and I am thrilled to host her as the first romance author on Genre Bending. Romance novels never fail to leave the reader happy as they turn the final page, but that's not all they have to offer. These stories of love and happily-ever-after always have another layer of complications or insight that make them so much more than boy meets girl.
Beverly Jenkins has been writing for decades, becoming a USA Today bestselling author, garnering stellar critical praise from all the library trade publications, and receiving numerous awards, including five Waldenbooks/Borders Group Best Sellers Awards, two Career Achievement Awards from Romantic Times magazine, and a Golden Pen Award from the Black Writer’s Guild, as well as being nominated for the NAACP Image Awards.
In her novel Breathless (on sale January 2017), a strong-willed beauty finds herself in the arms of the handsome drifter from her past. History, romance, and race combine for a truly deep, emotional, and satisfying read that has already received three starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly.
As a pioneer in African-American romance, Beverly Jenkins is often invited to speak at various venues, including this winter when she'll discuss her work at the University of South Carolina with a class on Slavery, Literature and Popular Culture. Read on for a special message from the author herself on the importance of romance and how her novels have impacted readers.
After decades of being dismissed as fluff, deemed bad for women and referred to by the denigrating term, bodice rippers, romance is finally getting its due. In 2014, The Library of Congress held an all-day conference on Romance Fiction that drew standing room only crowds to hear authors and academics speak on its history, tropes and why it’s the bestselling genre in popular fiction. Classes in romance fiction are being taught at major universities like Bowling Green and Princeton. Romance Writers of America funds academic researchers on the subject, and filmmaker Laurie Kahn’s ground-breaking documentary, Love Between the Covers, has garnered praise and awards nationally and internationally for its positive take on the industry’s communities, authors and readers.
I write romance with an emphasis on the African-American experience. Of the thirty-five novels I’ve published with Avon, twenty-three are 19th century set historicals. The newest, Breathless, the second book in my Old West series, will debut in late January 2017. It has already received a starred review from Booklist and a starred–boxed review from Publishers Weekly. Like its predecessors, Breathless offers a unique look at African-American life, history and culture, while giving readers a swoon worthy love story.
Academics began incorporating my historicals into their course work in 1995 following the publication of my first novel Night Song, and have continued to do so with each newly released title. Why? When I recently posed the question to various professors around the country, their answers varied, but the response incorporating them all is from an email sent to me by Dr. Qiana Whitted, an associate professor of English and African-American Studies at the University of South Carolina. It reads:
For scholars like myself who study the dehumanizing realities of African American slavery, the historical romance novels of Beverly Jenkins invite a deeper consideration of black experiences that cannot be found in the record of slave planters’ journals and ledger books, or even in the narratives of fugitive slaves. My courses on American slavery in literature and popular culture pair these accounts with creative works such as Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Octavia Butler’s Kindred, Charles Johnson’s Middle Passage, and Edward P. Jones’ The Known World. By placing Jenkins’ books on the same shelf with these titles, my students and I are able to explore a fuller, more complex range of black life. Importantly, Jenkins pays special attention to black women and their complex negotiations of pleasure, survival, and resistance. Her work deepens our discussions of the politics of respectability among nineteenth-century race women. It is rewarding to unpack the story’s historical references, while enjoying the interpersonal relationships and vivid storylines of the black women underground railroad conductors and frontier schoolteachers. And so, as vital as it is for my students to study the social and economic dynamics of slavery and Reconstruction, to grapple with the suffering of oppressed African Americans, it has become just as important that we learn how to think critically about the moments of joy, love, and sexual agency within black communities.... It shows them that the act of writing as resistance can take many forms.
I will have the pleasure of personally thanking Dr. Whitted for her response when I visit the University of South Carolina on February 27, 2017. She teaches a class on Slavery, Literature and Popular Culture, and has graciously invited me to discuss Night Song with her students. A public talk is scheduled for that evening along with a reception.
Praise for Breathless:
“Readers will delight in the further adventures of these characters and especially in the lovely romance between two intelligent, deserving people. The historical details are fascinating, as Jenkins brings Geronimo and other true-life figures in for cameo appearances. As Portia participates in suffragette meetings, Jenkins cleverly layers this captivating love story with subtle observations about race and women’s rights.” —Booklist starred review
“Her writing is both sexy and smart, and her characters come to life as real people the reader will want to know better. A thrilling and enjoyable read.” —Kirkus Reviews starred review
“exquisitely written... soars with passion between scenes of gritty action as a feisty heroine and down-to-earth hero shape their future against race, class, and gender expectations... This heartfelt story and its endearing characters and gratifying ending will leave readers breathing a sigh of pure contentment.” —Publishers Weekly starred review