Mammy Doesn’t Live Here Anymore: On Writing Black Historical Romance Heroines

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Head of a Mulatto Woman by Joanna Mary Boyce

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I’ve had quite a few existential crises in my short time here on Earth, least of which, is the handwringing over how to reconcile my love of  historical romance novels with the lack of representation for women like myself in them.

It wasn’t something I noticed at first until I gradually became as some would say ‘woke’, but once I awakened from my beauty sleep, I realized that none of the people in my favorite genre looked like me. The exception to this seemed to be Addy from the American Girl books that I read when I was a preteen and those weren’t exactly historical romances know what I mean?

Which brings me to my next point and another case of handwringing. How do I as an author write about women like myself (for the record African American) with our history? Now at the time,  I was thinking about writing lighthearted Regencies and I thought to myself: Destiny, you can’t write lighthearted books about slave women. There’s no way!

So that was another reason I put off writing historical romance.

  1. I couldn’t write about women like me
  2. And if I did they would be doomed to suffer!

Now in my defense, I wasn’t quite aware at the time of free people of color and authors like Beverly Jenkins. And it hadn’t crossed my mind that like other authors I could write about black women from different countries in different time periods.

No, I gave up the fight.

But something deep inside me still wanted to write a historical romance and it was important to me that the heroine be like me and, in this case, I meant a Southern-bred African American woman.

And wouldn’t you know some kind of epiphany came over me. If anyone needed love and affection in their life, it was the slave woman and suddenly it didn’t seem so hard to write about.

I’m currently working on a story, which while not taking place in the South (or on Earth for that matter) has most of the trappings of the historical romance genre and the heroine is a black woman. A book that I loved, Talk Sweetly to Me by Courtney Milan, showed me that there was a place for women like me in historicals. I was so enraptured when I first read that book. I literally read it within the hour while waiting in the student building for my bus to come. I liked it that much. It showed me that it was possible that a black woman could be the heroine too.

One of the beautiful things about being a black woman is that there is such a variety of us. We are not carbon copies. We cannot be fit into molds and neither can our ancestors. So the sky is the limit as far as what I can write about and goddess knows I’ll have fun researching!

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