"Her hand lifted again just as the heavily carved door opened.
Her jaw slackened. Standing in front of her was the brawniest man
she had ever seen. He had a rugged, dark brown face. Winged brows
arched over piercing black eyes edged with thick lashes. A neatly
trimmed mustache defined an uncompromising mouth."
- "Forever Yours," by Francis Ray
EVER SINCE the romance industry first seduced America's pulp
fiction readers in the 1950s, the dashing heroes and bosomy
heroines have mostly been white.
Now the strong-willed ebony beauty has taken the spotlight as
black writers like Francis Ray move into the pages of passion,
adventure and happy endings.
Ray is a nurse practitioner in a Dallas school district and a
Texas Woman's University graduate. Tired of waiting for someone
else to write the black romance, she decided to pen her own.
"This is important to me because I like writing about the
positive aspects of African-American life," she says. "I want to be
sure there are things that I and others would be proud to read. We
have some fine black men, but the ones who aren't so fine, who
don't have respect for life and people, get the attention."
Ray is part of a growing movement that has publishing houses
signing a record number of black romance writers, causing many in
the industry to deem the summer of 1994 "the birth of the
African-American romance novel." In the last year, more than 30
black authors have concluded contracts with large and small
publishing houses, compared with only a handful in 1980.
"This marks the first time that African-American women have
been able to write and read something completely frivolous," says
Vivian Stephens, a longtime editor in the romance business and the
black woman whom The New York Times credits with inventing the
"Traditionally, black novels have been victimization books
about `the struggle,' " adds Beverly Jenkins, a black romance
writer and librarian from Belleville, Mich. "It's important to show
that black women fall in love, go to college, have careers - not
all are teen-age moms living on welfare."
Only a smattering of black romance novels have hit the market
since June 1980, when the first one was published: "Candlelight's
Entwined Destinies," written by Rosalind Welles and edited by
There have been black writers such as Sandra Kitt, author of
"Adam and Eva" and "Rights of Spring," who have found success using
both black and white lead characters.
"The editors had no problem with me being black, but I found
resistance to black characters," says Kitt. "When I first started
writing, I didn't know there was a problem with the race of the
characters. I just wrote them how I saw them. Sometimes that was
white, and sometimes that was black."
Kitt says she found it more difficult to sell the books with
black characters. While all of her works have been published, she
is the exception, not the rule.
For Ray, who at age 49 has been writing for more than a decade,
it took nine years to sell her first book, "Fallen Angel," which
was put on bookstore shelves in 1992 by Odyssey Books, a black
romance publishing company in Silver Spring, Md.
But now Ray is on a roll. Last month, Pinnacle Books published
her second book, "Forever Yours." This steamy tale is set in Texas
and concerns a sexy entrepreneur who, trying to hold onto her chain
of lingerie stores, agrees to marry a handsome and rich rancher for
And her third, fourth and fifth books have release dates:
"Sarah's Miracle" in December 1994, "Undeniable" in April 1995 and
her Victorian novel, "The Bargain," in March 1996.
Industry insiders say black romances are being taken more
seriously since the national crossover success of recent works of
fiction by black writers. Terry McMillan's "Waiting to Exhale" and
Walter Mosely's mysteries featuring Easy Rawlins proved it could be
done, says Ellen Edwards, an editor at Avon. …