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Women, History & Popular Fiction


UNSUITABLE is an events series that engages students and members of the Durham community in a discussion of women’s interests and popular fiction. It is run in conjunction with "Publishing & Marketing Popular Fiction: A Case Study of the Romance Novel" course at Duke University.

All events are free and open to the public. Seating is limited.


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Spring 2018 Events


UNSUITABLE #18 - Caroline Perny
"The Big Business of Selling Romance"
Romance novels account for 34% of all fiction sold annually and have spawned some of the largest blockbuster franchises of our time. But what’s the real reason readers gobble them up? Strong heroines? Sex-on-the-page? The Happily Ever After? Muscly guys on the covers? Romance is both a niche market and a multi-billion dollar industry. How does a publishing company garner publicity, spur sales, and ultimately get respect for a genre that inspires both derision and adoration?


UNSUITABLE #19 - Damon Suede
"Queer Romance Goes Mainstream"
At its origins in the 1970’s, mainstream genre romance emphasized the love stories of heterosexual, cisgendered couples. LGBTQ romance was often categorized as “erotic” romance, even when the level of sensuality was similar to mainstream non-erotic romance. But recently, authors of genre romance featuring gay, lesbian, transgender, and bisexual protagonists have risen to the top of mainstream romance lists in contemporary, historical, paranormal and other categories. What part did authors, readers and publishing houses play in bringing this about?


UNSUITABLE #20 - Piper Huguley
"Religion, Race, and Readers: Writing African-American Inspirational Historical Romance"
For decades, genre romance novels featuring heroes and heroines of color were considered niche market fiction, and likewise for “inspirational” romance featuring characters facing spiritual challenges. Now Christian fiction accounts for a massive proportion of the US fiction market, while authors of African-American romance are still fighting for equal recognition in a largely white industry. What role are both readers and publishers playing in increasing diversity in romance fiction, and how does an author of Christian African-American romance fight that battle as both writer and scholar?


UNSUITABLE #21 - Barbara Claypole White
"When Romance Isn't 'Trashy': Fiction and Perception"
“Women’s Fiction” is a broad category including contemporary blockbusters like Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love and Nicholas Sparks’s The Notebook, as well as light popular comedy like Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’ Diary and rich historical narratives like Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale. If all of these novels include central love stories, why aren’t they considered part of the huge romance genre? What determines how a novel will be packaged and sold: quality of writing, author platform, the seriousness of issues in the story, cover images, publicity and marketing departments, booksellers, or reader expectations? One author shares her experiences writing and publishing women’s fiction in the new millennium.


UNSUITABLE #22 - Erin Gloria Ryan, Charlotte Sussman, and Adriane Lentz-Smith
"From Harassment and Assault to Happily Ever After"
As we grapple now with seemingly endemic sexual harassment and abuse across government, entertainment, education, medicine, sports, and other industries, we’ll look at the origins of the enduring trope that promises a woman a future full of romantic bliss and financial security—if only she submits against her will. Featuring senior editor at The Daily Beast Erin Gloria Ryan and professor of feminist literature Charlotte Sussman. Moderated by professor of African-American History Adriane Lentz-Smith.

Co-sponsors include Duke’s Forum for Scholars and Publics, African & African American Studies, History Department, Gender, Sexuality & Feminist Studies, Religious Studies, Kenan Institute for Ethics, Innovation & Entrepreneurship, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, #Artstigators, and the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute.

Spring 2018 Speakers

Caroline Perny

HarperCollins Publishers

Caroline Perny is a Publicist at HarperCollins Publishers and lifelong booklover, born and raised in New York City. She graduated in 2011 from Binghamton University with a degree in English & Comparative Literature, and once she realized that working in the publishing industry allows you ...

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Damon Suede

Damon Suede grew up out-n-proud deep in the anus of right-wing America, and escaped as soon as it was legal. Though new to romance fiction, Damon has been writing for print, stage, and screen for two decades. He’s won some awards, but counts ...

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Piper Huguley

Spelman College

Piper Huguley seeks to make new inroads in the publication of historical romance by featuring African American Christian characters. She is a two-time Golden Heart® finalist. Her newest series, "Born to Win Men," starts with A Champion’s Heart, named by ...

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Barbara Claypole White

Originally from England, bestselling author Barbara Claypole White writes and gardens in the forests of Orange County. As an OCD advocate for a nonprofit that promotes advocacy over adversity, her passion is to chip away at the stereotypes of invisible disabilities—whether she's crafting ...

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Erin Gloria Ryan

Erin Gloria Ryan is a contributing editor to the Daily Beast and a contributor to Crooked Media and HLN's SE Cupp Unfiltered. She has just finished writing on the new season of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia...

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Charlotte Sussman

Duke University

Charlotte Sussman is Associate Professor of English at Duke University. She is the author of Consuming Anxieties: Consumer Protest, Gender and British Slavery, 1713-1833 (2000) and Imagining the Population: British Literature in an Age of Mass Migration, 1660-1838 (2005). She has published ...

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Adriane Lentz-Smith

Duke University

Adriane Lentz-Smith is Associate Professor of History at Duke University. She researches African American history and the history of the US & the World. Her 2009 book, Freedom Struggles: African Americans and World War I, looks at the black ...

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