Damon Suede’s tale is not at all unique. A mediocre white man using his privilege and his connections rather than merit to climb to the top of an organization is American as apple pie. What makes Damon Suede’s story so compelling to me as a blogger is that he was able to do this in an organization that is run by women for women.
But now we come to the end of this tale. The one thing I want to mention before we get started is that I got a good explanation from Caro on how the RWA works and how Damon Suede was elected in the comments of the last part. It really brought some much needed context to this overall shit show.
Now that I have that out of the way, on with the last and final installment of February’s monthly tea: Damon Suede.
I watched in real time, my eyes glued to my phone as Romancelandia exploded. The people who were immediately on top of it, and who in my opinion still are the unsung heroes of this whole debacle, were the members of the Cultural, Interracial, and Multicultural Special Interest Chapter of Romance Writers of America.
Despite being attached to the RWA, CIMRWA was led by women of color who were on the front lines alongside Courtney Milian trying to force the Romance genre into being more progressive and to make the RWA especially a better and safer place for BIPOC.
The moment the judgement was published by Alyssa Cole, CIMRWA jumped into action by filing a recall petition not once but twice. This all happened during the holidays, and to the surprise of a lot of people, RWA members jumped at the chance to recall Damon Suede.
Also, since this was the end of the year, a lot of people’s memberships needed to be renewed.
To be clear, the RWA membership fees are fucking expensive. Associate membership starts at $25, but if you want access to the forums, advocacy, and workshops you have to pay $99 a year even if you haven’t published a book. Then on top of that you have local chapter fees and the expenses for the National Conference to deal with. Add that all together and you are paying a pretty penny.
At the time of writing this, the RWA is sitting on three million in revenue.
All of this really made authors sit down and think long and hard on where their hard-earned cash was going, and whether this was an organization worth dropping all that money on every year. For a lot of people, the answer was no – especially when members of the organization were only giving vague PR statements in response to the criticism.
Members started canceling their memberships and resigning from the organization in droves. However, when CIMRWA realized that their first position was invalid and had to redo the entire position, the leadership of CIMRWA begged people to stay on long enough to vote Damon’s ass out.
According to the RWA bylaws, 10% of the 9,000 members have to sign for the petition to be accepted, and such was the response that by January 6, 2020, the RWA had no choice but to accept the recall petition.
On January 9, 2020, Damon Suede officially resigned as President of the RWA. His resignation was effective immediately. Unfortunately, Carol Ritter, the Executive Director, also stepped down from her position. Unlike Damon, however, she stated that she would be staying on for the next 30 days “to support a smooth transition to new staff leadership,”
Now before you start to give the RWA any props for doing the bare minimum, let me give a little context here: It was a few days after New Years and everyone in the publishing world that had taken the holidays off had gone back to work. More importantly, the publishers such as Harlequin, Avon, Entangled, and HarperCollins were realizing that being attached to a racist organization was not good for business, and they started to publicly pull all support from the RWA. The final nail in the coffin was when they pulled out of the National Conference,
With public pressure mounting, Damon Suede had no choice but to resign. What I still don’t know for sure is if he resigned before or after the general recall vote.
At this point, the public never heard Damon’s side of the story, and they never got an explanation or an apology for his actions. Damon Suede was silent, and after his resignation even his husband Geoff Symon had stopped publicly talking about it. For three weeks, Damon Suede faded out from the conversation. His part in this was done, and now Romancelandia had turned its full attention to the board and the staff of the RWA.
With the heat and the spotlight off of him, Damon Suede decided that it was time for him to come out from his hidey-hole. Apparently, his batshit fans still think that he was a victim in all of this and that he was completely in the right to go after big bad Courtney Milian. They are just heartbroken that Damon won’t show his face at Romance events anymore and were whining about it on his Facebook page.
Cue the tiniest of violins, folks!
Damon Suede, just like Donald Trump and so many others of their ilk, is a narcissist to his very core, and he couldn’t resist the opportunity to try to recover his shattered reputation. So he began to reply to all the comments. Carol has given us some nice screencaps for your enjoyment.
Oh I thought DS would’ve vanished into nothingness online after how everything went down, but he apparently replied to a supportive post @ him on FB. 💀💀💀 pic.twitter.com/N6eApr8ZGE
— carol (@bookish_notes) January 28, 2020
If you were looking for an apology or a truthful and sincere explanation for what happened that week in December, then I’m sorry but I must disappoint you. He never gives an explanation as to why he created a new committee (and no one is buying the “conflict of interest” bullshit), he never explains why he acted on a complaint from a publisher when the RWA does not take complaints from publishers, nor why he ran for President-Elect when he clearly did not meet the criteria at the time.
Damon puts all the blame on the organization and does not take responsibility for anything that happened under his short leadership. Not only that, he is apparently deluded enough to think that he can go back to the status quo once things settle with the RWA. In a comment on his Facebook page he says, “I’m not going anywhere.” Damon doesn’t seem to comprehend that his reputation is irrevocably broken.
The marginalized authors hate his guts. Yet, Damon thinks that the Nice White Ladies that are left in the RWA will just welcome both him and his husband with open arms.
However, what he doesn’t realize is that it’s not going to be as easy as that. We know without a doubt who and what Damon Suede stands for, and thanks to the helpful headshots he posted on his website, we even know what he looks like. The only way Damon can repair his shattered reputation and continue his career is to change his pseudonym, change his genre, and start over from scratch.
A lot of us thought Damon would do exactly that. However, all of these comments from his Facebook page are proof that he has no intention of laying low or starting over in a different genre. He has somehow convinced himself that his brand can recover from this, when in actual fact most authors wouldn’t even spit on him if his ass was on fire.
The current situation with the RWA is dire. There is currently no President or President-Elect, there is no secretary or treasurer, no one is coordinating the workshops, and there is no leadership in either the ethics or policy committees. At the time of writing, the entire rest of the board just resigned as well. Lesley Kelly and Dee Davis offered to step in as chair of the Leadership Committee to help find a new president. By state law, a trade organization is legally obligated to have a President. So, finding a new President is CRUCIAL! The board basically said, “Thanks, but no thanks.” A few days after Leslie Kelly went off on some ‘Nice White Ladies’ on a scathing twitter thread, the board announced that they were resigning.
Right now, there is only Leslie Scantlebury, the Interim Executive Director of the RWA – who only took the position at the beginning of February – plus a skeleton crew of staff.
A few weeks ago ‘Smart Podcast, Trashy Books’ podcast did a series of interviews, a month to the day from when Damon Suede dropped the initial judgement on Courtney Milan. One of those interviews was with RWA spokeswoman and publicist Jessie Edwards. Courtney Milan and Helen Kay Dimon, former President of the RWA, were also interviewed in individual episodes about the ongoing trainwreck.
The final straw for a lot of members was that interview with Jessie. It became obvious that Jessie was the RWA whipping girl who had no idea what she was doing, because all she could give were vague stumbling statements about how ‘RWA would have to regain the trust of its members’. There was no real explanation and no real defense for their actions.
Damon Suede and Geoff Symon are still in their hiding holes and have yet to dare to venture back onto Twitter. And in the end, it looks like the 40 year old organization started by a black woman will go down in flames.
There are so many moving parts, and the lord knows that I managed to only touch the tip of the iceberg. Every day, the situation with the RWA evolves into something more dire. I could never keep up with it, but lucky for all of us Author Claire Ryan is a saint and has compiled all the information in an easily accessible timeline. I urge you to check it out because she updates it in real time.
Note: Thanks to E.B. for doing a wonderful job editing this post!