Seeing Color: How Author Jasmine Guillory Wrote Herself Into Our Hearts

Let’s talk about representation. While this may seem like a conversation we’ve all been having recently with the release of new movies like Hustlers and the rising fame of the diverse characters making them, we rarely address the media forms where representation is still seriously lacking. Book publishing, for example. Not only are the characters failing to accurately reflect their audience, but often the people creating them are not accurately representing themselves.

And this is why romance author Jasmine Guillory is a hero in her own right. The lawyer may be relatively new to the romantic comedy scene, but with the release of her fourth book, Royal Holiday, last week, she has definitely earned our respect. By creating brown characters that reflect real women, Guillory has managed to do what very few have — represent us in a way that’s meaningful and empowering. In a romantic setting. I was shocked too. So let’s talk about representation — the way it should be. Because Jasmine Guillory is doing all the things. 

  1. 1.  The books reflect real women and their real bodies.

    The romance industry has always struggled to differentiate between the women writing, and the women being written. In 1981, the Washington Post wrote that the romance authors who had attended the summit were “not the stuff of which romance heroines are made – at mostly 40 and 50, they were less coquette and more mother-of-the-bride.” There’s something inherently problematic in the way romance authors —mostly women— rewrite themselves into their novels. They change who they are, write experiences that aren’t theirs, and create bodies they don’t have. No women do. But not Guillory. Guillory’s novels challenge what it means to be sexy. Or, at least, what it has meant to this genre traditionally. The characters are real and honest and self-conscious. When reading her novels you can see yourself reflected in the characters — the characters who worry they aren’t small enough, who worry they’re too heavy, who worry they don’t fit the stereotype traditional romance has, in part, created.

  2. 2. Her books have diverse heroes.

    The romance genre has battled its inherent misogyny and racism for far too long. Guillory’s characters are not just women. I mean, yes, they are journalists, politicians, and journalists. They are successfully doing the most. But, most importantly, they are black women. This distinction is made incredibly clear from the moment you pick up any of her glittered books. In an interview with Refinery29 Guillory notes the importance of this decision, “they haven’t been represented enough in books, especially not in romance. I’ve heard too many stories of other writers who had a white character on the cover of their book about a Black person. I wanted to make that clear from the outset.” 

  3. 3. She is a diverse hero.

    The romance genre has been, and continues to be, controlled predominantly by white women. Like the Oscars for film, the Rita awards are hosted each year to honor romance authors. And like the Oscars, the Rita awards struggle to accept diversity. In a statement posted last year, it was revealed that books by black authors had accounted for less than 0.5% of the total number of Rita finalists. The romance industry has struggled with diversity for years, but this recent statistic proves its issue with representation is ongoing. Guillory’s ability to find success in such an exclusive genre is impressive. 

  4. 4. They tell the author’s truth.

    In a genre that has often been criticized for its similarities between characters, plots, and even authors, Guillory’s characters are unique. They are women who must address race relations in a predominantly white society, learn to accept their black bodies, and even tame their hair. In Oprah Magazine Guillory discussed her choices, “in literature, even when there are novels featuring Black women and their stories, they often aren’t written by Black women. Whatever their intentions may be, there are many people telling our stories for us, rather than giving us our own voice. But we do have voices, and we are capable of telling our stories ourselves.” Guillory is representing Black women in literature. Representing herself. So often people write about experiences that aren’t their own. Guillory does. She seeks to use her own voice, to tell her own story, to be authentic.

  5. 5. Her stories tell those untold.

    Not only is Guillory writing her own experience, but she’s using her platform to talk about the beauty in being Black. She explains it best, “there’s [...] a lot of joy in being a Black woman, too, and I strongly believe there aren’t enough stories out there that reflect that.” Guillory’s story is one of joy. One of beauty. One of pride. Her books tell the untold story of the Black woman... and that is awesome. 

This is about so much more than Jasmine Guillory. She is a wonderful example of the kind of literature we should be reading — the kind that values representation, accurate reflection, and inclusivity. But we should expect that from everyone. So next time you pick up a book — whether it’s romantic or comedic — consider this a checklist for yourself. Evaluate who your author is, the kind of character they are creating, and its authenticity. Guillory did it. So can others. Because that’s how you rewrite a narrative.

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