*Public Events*

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.  Our 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.



All events are free.

We welcome members of the Duke and Durham community to come and be part of our discussion.


Unless otherwise noted below, all events take place at the Forum for Scholars & Publics, 011 Old Chem Bldg., West Campus, Duke University. Seating is limited.


Friday, January 26th, 2018, 12-1pm

UNSUITABLE #18, “The Big Business of Selling Romance” with Caroline Perny, Publicist, HarperCollins Publishers

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?

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 to spend all day talking about books, she promptly went on to get a Master’s Degree in Publishing from Pace University in 2012. For the past five years, she’s worked on the Branding and Publicity team at Avon & Harper Voyager, where she creates dynamic campaigns for science-fiction, fantasy, and romance books, and runs amok with her authors at genre conventions all over the country.


Friday, March 23rd, 2018, 12-1pm

UNSUITABLE #19, “Queer Romance Goes Mainstream” with bestselling author Damon Suede.

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?

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 his blessings more often: his amazing friends, his demented family, his beautiful husband, his loyal fans, and his silly, stern, seductive Muse who keeps whispering in his ear, year after year.


Friday, April 6th, 2018, 12-1pm 

UNSUITABLE #20, “Religion, Race and Readers: Writing African-American Inspirational Historical Romance” with award winning author Piper Huguley.

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?

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 The Washington Post as a best romance novel selection for December 2016. Huguley is also a professor of 19th and 20th-century United States literature at Spelman College, and is at the forefront of efforts within the romance community to encourage publishers toward greater diversity in their books, authors, and staff.

LOCATION: 225 Friedl Building, East Campus, Duke University. Seating is limited.


Wednesday, April 11th, 2018, 12-1pm

UNSUITABLE #21, “When Romance Isn’t ‘Trashy’: Women’s Fiction and Perception” with bestselling, award winning author Barbara Claypole White.

“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.

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 family drama with a healthy dose of mental illness, or love stories for damaged people. Her novels include The Unfinished Garden, The In-Between Hour, The Perfect Son, Echoes of Family, and The Promise Between Us (January 16th, 2018). To connect with Barbara, please visit www.barbaraclaypolewhite.com.




*** SPRING 2017 EVENTS ***

Wednesday, January 25th, 2017, 6:30pm

UNSUITABLE #14, Marketing Fiction in the Digital Age, with Shawn Nicholls (Duke ’02), Associate Publisher, HarperCollins Publishers.

Shawn Nicholls is an Associate Publisher at HarperCollins, overseeing the sales and marketing aspects of the mass market and e-original divisions with a strong emphasis on romance. A 2002 Duke graduate with economics and English degrees, Shawn originally ventured to New York City to parlay a successful career at The Chronicle into a full-time gig as a sportswriter, eventually landing at Sports Illustrated. After many years as a road warrior he turned to his longtime obsession with books, landing at Random House before eventually finding a home at HarperCollins. He’s been a mainstay on the romance circuit ever since.

(This is a Duke DEMAN event.)

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017, 6:30-9:00pm

UNSUITABLE #15, Romance, Shakespeare & Popular Appeal, with Eloisa James, New York Times bestselling novelist, and John Forlines III, Executive in Residence, Department of Economics, Duke University.

Eloisa James is a Shakespeare professor at Fordham University and author of 23 New York Times bestselling historical romances. A reviewer from USA Today once divulged that she “found herself devouring” one of Eloisa’s books “like a dieter with a Hershey bar.” She’s the mother of two and wrote a memoir, the bestseller Paris in Love, about the year her family moved to France. In a particularly delicious irony for a romance writer, she is married to a genuine Italian knight.

John A. Forlines III is Chairman and Chief Investment Officer at JAForlines Global (JFG), a New York-based investment management company. He is also an Executive in Residence in the Department of Economics at Duke, where he teaches classes in behavioral finance and decision making, and Managing Partner of the Forlines Family Office, which is active primarily in charitable support for education in the United States. Graduating from Duke University with Honors in English and Economics, he earned his J.D from the Duke University School of Law, and enjoyed a long career with J.P. Morgan from 1985-2000. He is on the Duke University Athletic Advisory Board and is a Director of the North Shore Wildlife Sanctuary and the Ruth Z. Fleishman Foundation.


Wednesday, February 15th, 2017, 6:30-9:00pm

UNSUITABLE #16, ‘Colin Firth in Clingy Pants’: The Romance Appeal of Pride & Prejudice, with Sabrina Jeffries, New York Times bestselling novelist.

Sabrina Jeffries is the New York Times bestselling author of over 50 novels and works of short fiction (some written under the pseudonyms Deborah Martin and Deborah Nicholas).  Whatever time not spent writing in a coffee-fueled haze is spent traveling with her husband and adult autistic son or indulging in one of her passions—jigsaw puzzles, chocolate, and music.  With over 9 million books in print in over 20 languages, the North Carolina author never regrets tossing aside a budding career in academics (she has a Ph.D. in English literature) for the sheer joy of writing fun fiction, and hopes that one day a book of hers will end up saving the world.

She always dreams big.

You can find Sabrina online at:






Wednesday, April 12th, 2017, 6:30-8:00pm

UNSUITABLE #17, “OMG, it’s me!”: The Importance of Representation in Romance Fiction, and the Difficulties of Getting it Right

Sarah Lyons is a former academic who studied Jane Austen, romance fiction, and feminist narratology. She is currently the Editorial Director of Riptide Publishing, a small queer romance press. Tonight, Sarah will argue the importance of broad representation of sexual, gender, and racial minorities in publishing, and will discuss the process of getting it right…and the pitfalls of getting it wrong.



* * * SPRING 2016 EVENTS * * *

Wednesday, February 3, 2016, 4:40-5:55pm

UNSUITABLE #8, “Feminism, Romance & the Blogosphere” with Dabney Grinnan of All About Romance.

Dabney Grinnan (Duke ’83) is the Publisher of All About Romance, a web site for romance readers. She has spent much of the past decade reading and writing about romance.


Wednesday, February 10, 2016, 4:40-5:55pm

UNSUITABLE #9, “LGBTQ Romance Fiction: A New Subgenre?” with Sarah Frantz Lyons of Riptide Publishing.

Sarah Lyons earned her Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Michigan and was a tenured professor of literature at Fayetteville State University, NC. She co-edited two collections of essays, Women Constructing Men: Female Novelists and Their Male Characters, 1750-2000 (Lexington, 2009) and New Perspectives on Popular Romance Fiction: Critical Essays (McFarland, 2012), and has published academic articles on Jane Austen and on romance authors J.R. Ward, Suzanne Brockmann, and Joey W. Hill. She is founder and past president of the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance and organized and presented at multiple national and international conferences with IASPR, the Popular Culture Association , and Romance Writers of America. As Editorial Director at Riptide Publishing, she works with all genres of queer romance, and has edited books that have received nominations for the Lambda Literary Awards and the Romance Writers of America RITA Award.


Wednesday, February 24, 2016, 4:40-5:55pm

UNSUITABLE #10, “‘Old School’ Romance and the Modern Reader” with Sarah MacLean, New York Times bestselling author.

Location: Old Chem 110, West Campus, Duke University. Click here for directions.

TRNTNew York Times, Washington Post & USA Today bestseller Sarah MacLean
is the author of historical romance novels that have been translated
into more than twenty languages. Sarah is a leading advocate for the
romance genre, speaking widely on its place at the nexus of gender and
cultural studies. She is the author of a monthly column celebrating
the best of the genre for the Washington Post. Her work in support of
romance and the women who read it earned her a place on Jezebel.com’s
Sheroes list of 2014 and led Entertainment Weekly to call her
“gracefully furious.” Sarah lives in New York City with her husband
and daughter.




Monday, March 7, 2016, 4:40-5:55pm

UNSUITABLE #11, “Checking Each Other Out: Romance Readers & the Seduction of Libraries” with Jennifer Lohmann, author and 2010 Romance Writers of America Librarian of the Year, and Lisa Schimmer, 2015 Romance Writers of America Librarian of the Year.

Jennifer Lohmann is a Rocky Mountain girl at heart, having grown up in southern Idaho and Salt Lake City. She was the 2010 Romance Writers of America Librarian of the Year and her book, Winning Ruby Heart, was the first category novel to win RT Book Reviews Seal of Excellence. When she’s not writing or working as a public librarian, she wrangles two cats and a flock of backyard chickens. (The dog is better behaved.) She currently lives in Durham, North Carolina.

Lisa Schimmer is a senior cataloger and the collection development coordinator at NoveList, a readers’ advisory database available to librarians and library users around the world. She received her master’s degree from the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois. Lisa was named the Romance Writers of America Cathie Linz Librarian of the Year in 2015 for her work improving the way in which romance novels are cataloged, directly impacting the library community by giving librarians the tools to find the romances that are right for their patrons. A native Midwesterner, Lisa currently lives in North Carolina with her own personal beta hero, two wee beasties, and countless historical romance novels.


Wednesday, March 9, 2016, 4:40-5:55pm

UNSUITABLE #12, “Researching the Perfect Romance” with Laura Florand, internationally bestselling author.

a-wish-upon-jasmineLaura Florand burst on the contemporary romance scene in 2012 with her award-winning Amour et Chocolat series. Since then, her books have appeared in ten languages, been named among the Best Books of the Year by Library Journal, RT Book Reviews, and Barnes & Noble, received the RT Seal of Excellence and starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and Booklist, and been recommended by NPR, USA Today, and The Wall Street Journal, among others. In 2015, NPR gave her the enormous honor of naming her Chocolate Kiss to its list of the Top 100 Romances of all time.

After a Fulbright year in Tahiti and backpacking everywhere from New Zealand to Greece, and several years living in Madrid and Paris, Laura now teaches Romance Studies at Duke University. Contrary to popular opinion, this means she primarily teaches French language and culture and does a great deal of research on French gastronomy, particularly chocolate. For more information, please see her website: www.lauraflorand.com.


Wednesday, April 6, 2016, 4:40-5:55pm

UNSUITABLE #13, “Black Love Matters: Writing African-American Romance” with Beverly Jenkins, USA Today bestselling author.

Ms. Jenkins is the nation’s premier writer of African – American  historical romance fiction and specializes in 19th century African American life. She’s a USA Today bestselling author, an NAACP Image Award nominee, and has over thirty published novels to date.








* * * SPRING 2015 EVENTS * * *


Monday, February 9, 2015, 5:00-5:55 pm

UNSUITABLE #2, “An Industry Insider’s Perspective on the Rise and Fall of Sub-Genres” with Lucia Macro, Vice President and Executive Editor for Morrow/Avon Books 

Avon Books logoDrawing on her extensive experience in the publishing industry as editor for Berkley, Harlequin, and now Avon, Lucia Macro will discuss the rise and fall of romance sub-genres in the history of the industry and lessons for those creative entrepreneurs looking to forge a future in this industry. [Find a write-up of this event here.]



Wednesday, February 25, 2015, 5:00-5:55 pm

UNSUITABLE #3, “Author Voice: What Are They Talking About?” with Virginia Kantra, New York Times bestselling author 

Virginia Kantra, Carolina HomeOne of the most essential elements for any writer to master in order to forge a career is Voice. In this workshop, New York Times bestselling author Virginia Kantra will examine author voice in the romance novel by looking at examples from bestselling authors with strong voices across and within sub-genres.






Monday, March 2, 2015, 5:00-5:55 pm 

UNSUITABLE #4, “Publishing Without a Publisher” with Courtney Milan, New York Times bestselling author

Milan, Suffragette ScandalIn this entrepreneurs’ workshop, New York Times bestselling author of historical romance, Courtney Milan, will examine the growing popularity of self- or independent publishing and what that means for a writer’s creative entrepreneurship.






Monday, March 16, 2015, 5:00-5:55 pm 

UNSUITABLE #5, “Alpha Masculinities” with Jessica Scott, USA Today bestselling author

Scott, All For YouIn this writing and career workshop, USA Today bestselling author and Duke instructor Jessica Scott will speak about writing from her experience as a Commander in the U.S. Army, and depicting complex alpha heroes in contemporary romance fiction. The program includes discussion about Laura Kinsale’s bestselling, award-winning novel Flowers from the Storm.






Monday, March 23, 2015, 4:45-5:55 pm

UNSUITABLE #6, “Female Sexuality and Female Sexualization in Popular Fiction” with Sarah Wendell, author of “Smart Bitches Trashy Books”

Wendell, Beyond Heaving BosomsThe creator of the Smart Bitches Trashy Books blog and author of Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels and Everything I Know About Love I Learned from Romance Novels, Sarah Wendell, will lead a discussion of the varied models of femininity and representations of female sexualities in modern romance fiction.





Wednesday, April 15, 2015, 4:45-5:55 pm  

UNSUITABLE #7, “Writing What You Love in the World of Big Business” with Jeannie Lin, USA Today bestselling author

Jeannie Lin, The Sword DancerCreative entrepreneurs typically pursue what they love, but within that pursuit, what choices do authors make between being true to their own identity (writing what you love) and guaranteeing financial success? How does one negotiate between a singular authorship and a singular readership and the mass market? In this entrepreneurs’ workshop, USA Today bestselling author Jeannie Lin will discuss the choices to be made in pursuing a singular career.





* * * FALL 2014 * * *



Women, Fiction & Popular Perception

October 20, 2014

The inaugural event of the “UNSUITABLE” series that engages students and the local community in a discussion of women’s interests & popular fiction. [Duke Today’s article on this event.]

Genre romance fiction and feminism are often seen as antithetical to each other. The authors and scholars on this panel will speak on the role women played in the rise of the novel as a popular form of literature as well as about their participation in recent public conversations about feminism and popular culture today.

Guest Panelists:

Jackie C. Horne, blogger of Romance Novels for Feminists

Maya Rodale, best-selling romance novelist and author of Dangerous Books for Girls: The bad reputation of romance novels, explained

Professor Rachel Seidman, creator of Who Needs Feminism?



Jackie C. Horne worked for a decade in children’s book publishing before returning to academia to earn a Master’s degree in Children’s Literature from Simmons College and a PhD in 18th and 19th century British literature from Brandeis University. As an Assistant Professor at the Center for the Study of Children’s Literature at Simmons College, she taught courses on Fantasy and Science Fiction for Children and Young Adults, Multicultural Literature, and Writing Pedagogy. She is the author of History and the Construction of the Child in Early British Children’s Literature (Ashgate 2011), as well as the co-editor of two essay collections in the Children’s Literature Association’s Centennial series. She became (re)interested in romance after researching the genre for an essay about Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series, and began her blog, Romance Novels for Feminists, in 2012.

Maya Rodale began reading romance novels in college at her mother’s insistence. She is now the award winning author of numerous smart and sassy romance novels. A champion of the genre and its readers, she received her M.A. from the Draper Program of Humanities and Social Thought at New York University, and is the author of the non-fiction book Dangerous Books For Girls: The Bad Reputation Of Romance Novels, Explained. She is also a co-founder of Lady Jane’s Salon, a national reading series devoted to romantic fiction. Rodale lives in New York City with her darling dog and a rogue of her own.

Rachel Seidman is a U.S. historian specializing in women’s history. With a B.A. from Oberlin College and a Ph.D. from Yale, Seidman is particularly interested in connecting history to current concerns through civic engagement and community-based research. The author of The Civil War: A History in Documents (Oxford University Press) and several scholarly articles about women in the Civil War, Seidman was previously the Associate Director of the History, Public Policy and Social Change program at Duke University. At Duke she founded and co-directed The Moxie Project: Women and Leadership for Social Change, and directed the Poverty, Ethics and Policy Lab. She continues to work on projects related to women’s activism and poverty in North Carolina in her position as Associate Director of the Southern Oral History Program at UNC Chapel Hill.

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