Friday, April 17, 2009

There Goes The Neighborhood

You really deserve some credit, because you're the readers who inspired Eric Murphy Selinger of DePaul University, RomanceScholar listserv and, and William A. Gleason of Princeton University to gather scholars from around the world to take part in

Love as the Practice of Freedom?:
Romance Fiction and American Culture,
a first-of-its-kind, two-day conference on romance
scholarship to be held April 23 and 24, 2009 at Princeton University!
You can attend! Check out this link to score the deets!

Yep. Romance novels are goin' to the Ivies, my Bellas, and YOU helped make it happen.

You may remember Eric and Bill from fall 2006 during RBTB "Back to School Week: Scholars on Romance." Click on their names to read their posts. The guys were part of a group of academics or, as they're technically called, smarty pantses, who came to RBTB to talk about how important romance novels really are.

A few months later, Bill brought his Princeton "American Best Sellers" class to RBTB for a day in which you - and scores of romance writers, scholars and industry folks - chatted with young students of literature who wanted to know "the truth" about romance fiction. We all were really jazzed to find so much common ground - and that these young, open minds would have new, correct info and food for thought about the genre we love so much.

Turns out, Bill Gleason and Eric Selinger have known each other since grad school, so Eric enlisted (some might say, "shamelessly coerced") Bill to help him propose to Princeton U a conference gathering scholars in many disciplines to talk about their research on romance fiction. The result of the proposal is next week's, "Love as the Practice of Freedom, etc."

Five Princeton departments are sponsoring "Love as the Practice of Freedom? Romance Fiction and American Culture" -- The Department of English, the Program in American Studies, The Center for African American Studies, the Program in the Study of Women and Gender and the Center for the Study of Religion. According to Selinger and Gleason, "the first half of our conference title is borrowed from the influential 1994 essay of the same name by African American scholar, poet, and activist bell hooks.

"As hooks-a self-acknowledged romance novel reader...explains in the essay's concluding paragraph: ‘The moment we choose to love we begin to move against domination, against oppression. The moment we choose to love we begin to move towards freedom, to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others. That action is the testimony of love as the practice of freedom.'

"Our conference not only hopes to examine the ways in which romance fiction might be understood to resist rather than perpetuate oppression (a view in contrast to the stereotypical assumption that the genre is racist and sexist), but also seeks to liberate romance scholarship from some of the critical bonds of its own past."

See how sweet them smarty pantses say stuff?

You can see a full list of all the scholars, authors and industry folks who'll present, as well as a list of the days' events at the conference website.

As for me, I'm feeling puh-rit-ty full of moi-self, considering Mssrs. Selinger and Gleason kindly invited me to sit on the closing panel of the conference, "Romance Reads the Academy."

I, of course, take this as a green light to prepare a pithy little treatise expounding upon the importance of acknowledging as integral to the continuation of the romance genre the bastardly alpha male in all his lengthy/girthy glory.

That's because Bill and Eric nixed my original idea of making me the Official Romance Hostess of the Princeton U Romance Dance Partay. So sue me, but I'm not so sure those brainiacs wouldn't enjoy my showering them with anatomically correct chocolates and a couple Ellora's Cave condom pops apiece.

Actually, I suggested Princeton cutiegrad David "Wm. Carlos Wms. Spoofer" Duchovny and I act as co-hosts, but we still haven't heard back from Duchovny's peeps. Apparently he's not sure he's on-board with my idea of his modeling for the weekend the "Practice the Freedom: Practice Safe Lovin'" boxer briefs I've designed as the official attendee gift of the '09 Princeton conference.

Seriously -- as Bella amyskf would say -- about which subjects would you like me to address the Academy? You're familiar enough with the romance scholars who hang online, and many of you have some questions and opinions about the scholarship movement. Any thoughts? Messages? Requests? Ideas for subjects you think could be studied? Bones to pick? Kudos to offer?

Um, it's not like I'd quote all your 'user-generated commentary' in my presentation instead of actually writing one. That'd be so unlike me...

Of course, much of this post originally was published in a post at


Manda Collins said...

Woohoo, Michelle! You're gonna rock their collective worlds:) I would looooove to go to this conference, but alas, NJ is just too darn far for me to justify. Not to mention that there's no way I could even pretend to justify it to my employers who have put a spending freeze in place for all faculty development activities (read: supercool academic conferences). So I'll just have to watch Twitter and live vicariously through others.

Good try on the Duchovney request:) Perhaps he'll hear about this conference and be eager to attend the next one..or at least accept the honorary boxer-briefs. I mean, come on!

Something I've noticed that you might want to talk about is the proliferation of headless heroines/heroes on romance covers. I prefer them because I don't have any preset idea in my head about the h/h and can plug in what I think he/she looks like. Sort of a visual Derridean gap.

Have lots of fun and take plenty of pictures!

Portia Da Costa said...

I just wanted to wish you all the best for the event. It sounds both fascinating and challenging.

I know you will knock 'em dead!

Tiona said...

How cool, QB! I'm totally stoked for you! Yes, it is an amazing turn that the romance community has finally been acknowledged as good instead of repressive. Indeed, love instead of hate should always be accepted. I think a good subject would definately be about length versus girth.
Sadly, the convention is way out of my reach, and I don't know exactly how I would explain a trip like that. I barely got off for a local rock concert, hehe. But, have fun and I'm sure you will be great. Can't wait for the pics!

Unknown said...

Have fun Michelle!! I’m sure you’ll be great. And it falls in nicely with all the buzz lately about romance being up in numbers while most are down.

Vivi Anna said...

Wow Michelle, that's vera vera coolio!

I'm sure you'll be lovely, charming, and articulate, like you are every day.

amy kennedy said...

I'm so proud, I'm almost speechless. Almost. I hope there are transcripts...and pics. I love the name for the conference--I'm all about lovin'.

There was an article in our local paper romance books and how well their sales are still doing in this economy, but while the author is writing about that she's also dissing romances and basically making fun of them--even as she admits to NEVER reading one. So, either she's lying and feels that all the cool kids would find the commentary more betterest if she disses said romances, or she really never has read one.

Frankly both scenarios are baffling.

So, er, I guess I have no question, just a soap box.

amy kennedy said...


ev said...

Damn it I have to work and it is within driving distance of me. And Sarah will be there too.

If you haven't read Beyond Heaving Bosoms yet, do it before you leave for the conference. Then talk about man-titty. Or Virgin Widows. Or man-titty. And how much we lurve it- the man-titty, not the Virgin Widows.

orannia said...

Congrats Michelle! You're going to be fabulous :)

ev said...

I am glad that we were all very helpful to them when they visited the site. Anything to advance, with good PR, the reading and writing and buying of Romance of any type!

And if it helps one more person who reads it, NOT to be emabarrassed or ashamed of what they read, then we have done good!

David B. said...

As someone who has a bit of an insider's view of how this conference came to be, I am proud to report that Michelle played an integral part. I suspect Eric and Bill are okay with my saying that without Michelle, this conference may not have been developed at all.

I'm a bit biased, for sure, but I'm so impressed by and proud of how Michelle's energy and talents continue to provide positive energy for romance fiction. There's just nobody I know who provides that kind of entertaining, energizing content. She has built a community and a brand unlike any other on the web.

What she has accomplished is nothing short or remarkable, and this event and her participation in it are a testament to all the hard work she's put in for a long time.

She has many fans, but I'm her biggest. I hope you're all okay with being second.

MPS (AKA Dave, her husband)

amy kennedy said...

What he said.

Michelle Buonfiglio said...


Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Buongiorno, Bellas! I can't believe this conference is upon us. It doesn't seem exactly like yesterday, but I absolutely remember how excited we were to have Bill, Eric, et all, round this joint for Back to School week. I just wanted everyone to understand that what you'd known all along -- and I came to late in the game -- was being recognized by scholars; romance novels matter.

My pleasure in hosting that day and Bill's class' visit came not from the 'validation' of academia for our reading -- that wasn't why they were invited -- but from all of your welcoming them into our home, the grace with which you did so, the same grace and class with which you've helped build RBTB.

It will be hard for me not to simply talk about you for the entire presentation. But as I craft it, I'll be pulling from the years of commentary you've offered, because it's thoughtful, considered opinion based in your knowledge of the genre. Of course, we all get facts wrong occasionally, but overall, I've come to trust the guidance you give me daily; I learn every day from you.

When I was moving RBTB to myLifetime, I rec'd a kind of desperate email from one romance scholar. Please, she wrote, don't peel down the 'old blog.' The commentary from viewers is just too useful.

And she remains correct. Because the commentary here, while often fun and off the cuff, rarely is irresponsible. You generally get your facts right, and gently correct one another when you -- and by you , I mean most often I -- get things glitchy. :)

I'm just so proud of how you helped make this conference happen, and how you've influenced romance fiction in general. Grazie mille.

Vanessa Kelly said...

Hi Michelle - I sooo wish I could go to this conference. It sounds fabulous! I'm sure you'll knock their socks off.

I wonder if anyone will be talking about romances as novels that deserve as much respect as any other literary genre? IMHO, many of the romances I read are as well-crafted and deal with as many thought-provoking themes as any literary novel. One only has to look at a book like Spymaster's Lady to realize that. But academics seem to focus on romance novels as "constructs" or as anthropological artifacts, rather than as books that can stand on their own literary merits. Mysteries, on the other hand, seem to get way more respect from the academy than romances do.

Just a thought. Have fun!


Anna Campbell said...

Michelle, I think this is a fantastic initiative! And you'll wow em, kiddo! Just wish I could jump on a big old Qantas jet and come and play with you all!

Miranda Neville said...

Brilliant Michelle. Be sure to give us all a complete report. I am groping for a pithy thought about how the fact that the majority of romance readers are women proves that if women ruled the world it would be a much better place. You can say it better than me.
Or, romance novels? Great stories, great sex, happy endings. What's not to like?
I'momentarily emerging from deadline hell. How back to my hole

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Hi, Manda! I was chatting about your headless cover comment w/ some friends last night and we said, 'hmmm...never thought our Manda thought about such things as nekkid mens on covers n such; learns sumthin new all the time." :) Funny thing is -- now brace yourself, cause this;ll seem odd coming from me -- I find those covers a little, well, objectifying of mens. No. shut up! Stop laughing, Manda! I'm serious! sheesh. But I think y ou're right that that's what's being 'gone for." I wish you could be at the conference, too. It'd be fun to hang together.

Thanks, Portia.. You can be assured I'll include some boy on boy and most likely some spanking talk. :)

oo, principessa! I'd love to work in a rock concert. Who'd you see? And you're right: that's the neatest thing to see when talking to so many long-time romance readers; nary a one's been repressed by romance reading. Empowered's more the like.

Great point, LeeAnn! Maybe romance really is reaching that tipping point we were talking about a couple years ago...

yikes, vivs; you maybe wouldn't recognize me most days.

You know, ames, some times i get the sense that even some folks who like romance are afraid of what the cool kids think and so write about it as if they've got the CK in mind...And, really, don't you think we should add the tag line, 'come on in and pull up a soap box' to the rbtb brand?

ev writes: And if it helps one more person who reads it, NOT to be emabarrassed or ashamed of what they read, then we have done good! ev, that's all it's ever been about round here, hasn't it. Thanks for reminding me. :)

Hi, Vanessa! You're making me laugh, cause even some scholars agree that all you have to do to suck the life and fun out of any subject is invite the academy to the table. One of the neato things we see in the 'new' romance scholarship -- at least much of it -- is a re-thinking of the scholarship, a starting point of respect for the genre and a healthy amount of cynicism or flat-out, out-of-hand rejection of previous 'axe-to-grind' 'scholarship' about romance fiction. That's what makes this conference exciting. The foxes kind of are in the henhouse, as it were, and get to teach the academics about romance fiction from (nearly) our points of view. But as Bill and eric state, they also hope to shake up things, cause even scholars need to be set off kilter to keep fresh -- as do we all.

btw, LOVED "Mastering the Marquess!" What a book!

Anna, you would be the belle of the ball! Gawd, just imagine...

Miranda, I like them both just the way you said em! Can't wait to see what you're writing for us!

Vanessa Kelly said...

Michelle, I love that the foxes are in the hen house! And I'm so glad you loved Mastering The Marquess - thanks!

Manda Collins said...

Michelle, you've def got a point about the headless hero (esp. the nekkid ones) objectifying the men. Awful but it makes me think of the old "just put a bag over her head" comment made by sexist pigs everywhere.

But! (You knew there would be a but!) But, I think the fact that the headless hero is on a book cover makes ALL the difference. If we were plastering our bedroom ceilings with posters of headless mens, then I would say it's straight-up objectification. But on a book cover, when it's representing a hero who within the covers of the book has no visual representation, then I think it gets more complicated. Everybody's minds-eye is different and we hear all the time (esp. with the tv movies of Nora Roberts movies lately) that this actor or actress doesn't match what this or that reader thought they'd look like. I think the headless hero/heroine on the cover is the publisher's way of getting around that. And of using sex to sell, of course:) And it's probably a lot more complex than either or both of those explanations. With some objectification thrown in for good measure.

The headless heroine seems like a simple placeholder to me. But I'm not sure how I feel about the placeholder argument these days. In some ways it makes sense that the reader would want to put herself in the heroines shoes, but I think reading is more complicated than that. What can I say? I'm a complicated lady!

Vanessa Kelly said...

Manda, you're complicated AND smart - the semiotics of the headless hero!

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Yeah, really, Vanessa. She cracks me up with that, our Miss Smarty Pants does.And here I just thought she was all into symbolism as communication and stuff. :)

But I gotta say, Manda, the placeholder thing works just fine for me. I mean, if I don't like the physical description of a heroine, I just changer her to seem more like, well, me or somebody I'd like to look or be like.

Still, I understand some readers actually enjoy reading about heroines in general, like, for inspiration and that kind of thing. Well, to each her own, I always says.

Elizabeth K-W said...

I live close enough, in CT, that I'll be there. I love the fact that an Ivy is hosting this.

amy kennedy said...

Ooh, Elizabeth, how exciting. I wish I could be there. And I agree--but it should be an ivy. If it were in a romance it would definately be an ivy. Right?

Caridad Pineiro said...

I'm so bummed that I can't go because I'll be down at RT. I hope you hold this again so I can attend! Have a wonderful time.