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Author Alyssa Cole Talks Romance And Politics

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

The women behind Romancing the Runoff raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to flip Georgia blue. Who are they? Well, their mission statement reads, we are romance authors who care about the future of this country and are inspired by fellow romance author Stacey Abrams to help elect two Democratic senators. Yes, among voting rights activist Abrams's many accomplishments is this. She has authored eight romance novels, and that connection between politics and romance is not a coincidence, according to our next guest. One of the organizers of Romancing the Runoff, Alyssa Cole, is The New York Times bestselling author of books like "An Extraordinary Union" and "How To Catch A Queen." And she joins us now.

Welcome to the program.

ALYSSA COLE: Hi. Thank you for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It is wonderful to have you. You recently wrote an op-ed called "I'm A Romance Novelist Who Writes About Politics - And I Won't 'Stay In My Lane.'" Why do you think it's so important to intertwine politics with romance novels?

COLE: With romance, I feel like you can really dig into some of the emotional aspects of politics. And I know a lot of people try to say that emotions and politics don't mix, but in reality, all politics is driven by emotion. Whether people acknowledge it or not is the difference. And with romance novels, as characters are exploring their relationships, you can also have them exploring the world that they live in and the politics of those worlds.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: One of the things that romance allows for is for characters to live their full lives - right? - to have joy and agency and, yes, love and sex. They are complicated, layered. Is that why there's such a big demand for romance novels written by Black women?

COLE: I think the demand has always been there from readers, and I think the reason that historically, it has not been in demand from publishers is - to get political for a minute and why I say that romance itself is political, particularly when you're talking about diversity - who is considered a whole person, who is able to live their full lives - and I'm sure even now you could find an editor or a publisher who thinks that people don't want to read about Black couples, and that's not seeing someone as a whole human being.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So with all that said, I'd like you to reflect on your friend Stacey Abrams for a moment because being an accomplished romance novelist and a political powerhouse, you're suggesting, is a natural fit. They are, dare I say it, bedfellows.

COLE: Stacey Abrams, if she hears this, is going to be like, I don't know this woman (laughter). But I will say, as far as romance novels and politics go, for people who are engaged in progressive politics, there is the link between the idea of optimism. One of the things that gets the reader through the book is knowing that at the end of the book, there will be some kind of resolution that leaves them feeling satisfied and uplifted. And I think people who read those kinds of romance novels and who write those kinds of romance novels are also seeking that in their real life and, given the state of the world today, have had more opportunity to actively try to impact the world in the way that they enjoy reading about.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What struck me about the similarities between Stacey Abrams being a romance author and also getting people to vote is that it is about optimism. It is sort of believing there can be a happy ending in terms of getting people to literally vote. That seems to be the connection that you're getting at.

COLE: Yes, I feel like a lot of romances are about resilience. And another thing I would say contributes to it is that romance writers work hard - knowing how to utilize your resources for the biggest effect and how to tap into community, to build community.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There's been a lot of discussion online among Democrats about how Black women, quote, "save the country." And I've also heard a lot of pushback to the framing of that idea. What are your thoughts on the role Black women like yourself played in Georgia and the reaction to that?

COLE: I think the thing is Black women, in many ways, are saving the country, but they're saving themselves and their families, and they shouldn't have to. You know, we see - after Georgia turned blue and then after the runoff election, we see people coming up with all kinds of jobs for Stacey Abrams and what she should be doing and where she needs to...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Vaccine czar. Yeah.

COLE: ...Direct her talent. And it's like, have they even thought about what she wants? I don't think so. They're just thinking of how her labor can be mined. And some people see it as a compliment, but it really isn't, at the end of the day, if you're not thinking about what she actually wants for herself moving forward. When it comes to Black women, there is this weird dichotomy in society of whether you're really listening to people or whether you just see them as objects to occasionally work for you and then be put away.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Alyssa Cole is a bestselling author. Her latest book is "When No One Is Watching."

Thank you very much.

COLE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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