Meet The Women Who Are Building A Better Romance Industry

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A trio of black women at Kensington Publishing is challenging the old, predominantly white narratives of who gets to fall in love.

At the offices of Kensington Publishing Corporation, in Midtown Manhattan, I am greeted by a wall of gently cascading water and an African American receptionist who ushers me into a meeting room. Kensington, which styles itself as “America’s independent publisher,” has been churning out fiction and nonfiction since the family business was founded in 1974, and chugs along smoothly still. In 2017, the publisher turned out just over 700 books, with about 35% of them falling under the romance umbrella, which includes historical, contemporary, suspense, paranormal, and so on. It is also the home of Alyssa Cole’s Loyal League miniseries, a trio of historical romances set during the American Civil War, specifically telling the stories of black men and women.

Cole’s stories are striking because of their intensity. Her back catalog may be abundant in novellas, but the Kensington phase of her writing is marked by the Loyal League novels. For the dramatic backdrops to her love stories, she has chosen war and other political upheavals — the civil rights movement and the fight for suffrage, for example — as well as post-apocalyptic settings. While most of her heroines are black women, the cast of characters are ethnically diverse. She admits to having lofty hopes for her books. “Sometimes I hear romance authors say they’re not writing the Great American Novel, and I’m like, ‘Well, if you’re not trying to, that’s on you,’” she says, laughing. “I’m never going to say that just because there are people having sex and love in [my books].” As a testament to her skill, a Kirkus review called her work “masterful” and An Extraordinary Union was named as a top pick of 2017 by publications as varied as Vulture, Booklist, and Publishers Weekly.


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