I should preface the post by saying that this is not a comprehensive view or an objective overview. It’s a strictly personal look that focuses on the writers I read.
1982The fledgling Romance Writers of America presents their first awards. Then called the Golden Medallions, the awards are presented in a mere four categories: Best Category Contemporary and Historical and Best Mainstream Contemporary and Historical. Brooke Hastings whose Winner Takes All (Silhouette #102) wins Best Contemporary Category is the only winner I’ve read.
1983Nora Roberts won the Golden Medallion for Best Contemporary Sensual Romance for The Heart’s Victory; LaVyrle Spencer won for Best Mainstream Historical Romance for The Endearment. Spencer repeated her win in 1983, 1984, and 1985, and Roberts was a dual winner each of the three years. Spencer has since retired from writing, but Roberts is a double nominee again this year.
1986Anne Stuart, another 2008 RITA nominee, enjoyed her first win for Banish Misfortune, the Best Single Title of 1986. I think she’s won seven now, and that doesn’t count her Lifetime Achievement win in 1996. My favorite of her winning books is Falling Angel, which won for Best Fantasy, Futuristic, Paranormal in 1994. It’s one of my favorite Christmas books too.
1987Robyn Carr is best known these days for her Virgin River books (Book 20 in the series, My Kind of Christmas is releasing October 23), but she won the medallion for Best Historical Romance for By Right of Arms, and Sunshine and Shadow, a romance classic by Sharon and Tom Curtis, won for Best Single Title Romance.
1990A new decade saw the Golden Medallions become the RITAs, named for RWA’s first president, Rita Clay Estrada. Jennifer Greene, Lifetime Achievement winner in 2009, won Best Short Contemporary Series for Night of the Hunter. Other winners included fan favorites Julie Garwood, Best Single Title Historical for The Bride and Mary Jo Putney, Best Regency for The Rake and the Reformer, two more that became romance classics.
1994Best Romance of 1993 win went to Susan Wiggs’s Lord of the Night. Anne Stuart won again, this time for Best Futuristic/Fantasy/Paranormal (see Falling Angel reference above), and Jo Beverley entered the RWA Hall of Fame when Deidre and Don Juan became her third Best Regency win. Beverley also won Best Historical Series for My Lady Notorious, the first of her Malloren books. Her 2012 book A Scandalous Countess is the twelfth book in this series.
1995Susan Elizabeth Phillips made her first appearance in the winners’ circle with It Had to Be You, RWA’s Best Romance of 1994. Other favorites who carried home gold included Mary Jo Putney for Best Long Historical (Dancing in the Wind, Book 3 of the Fallen Angel series), Carla Kelly for Best Regency (Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand), and Jennifer Crusie for Best Short Contemporary Series (Getting Rid of Bradley).
1997Nora Roberts continued to collect gold with dual wins for the first book about the Irish Concannon sisters, Born in Ice (Best Contemporary Single Title and Best Romance of 1996). And the book that consistently shows up at or near the top of all-time favorites lists, Loretta Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels, was named Best Short Historical.
1998Susan Elizabeth Phillips repeated Roberts’s 1996 feat when Nobody’s Baby But Mine was voted Best Contemporary Single Title and Favorite Book of 1997. Elizabeth Boyle’s Brazen Angel took Best First Book honors.
Suzanne Brockmann was the big winner this year as RWA celebrated the end of the millennium; she won Best Contemporary Single Title (Body Guard) and Best Long Contemporary (Undercover Princess). Judith Ivory’s The Proposition (still the only book I’ve ever read—and loved--with a rat catcher as hero) was named Best Short Historical.
2001The new millennium began with recognition going to writers who had already proved themselves to be among the best in romance, SEP’s First Lady was declared Best Contemporary Single Title and Jo Beverley’s Devilish, the reward for all those fans who “waited for Rothgar,” won Best Long Historical.
2002Three more authors who have become perennial favorites were winners this year. Rachel Gibson’s True Confessions was named Best Contemporary Single Title and Lisa Kleypas’s novella “I Will” from the anthology Wish List won for Best Novella. Connie Brockway won her second RITA for The Bridal Season (Best Long Historical).
2005Appropriately, RWA marked its 25th anniversary by giving gold to two books destined to join the ranks of classic romances: Jennifer Crusie’s Bet Me (Best Contemporary Single Title) and Laura Kinsale’s Shadowheart (Best Long Historical).
2006Diane Gaston’s A Reputable Rake was honored as the Best Regency of 2005. It carries the distinction of being the last winner in the traditional Regency category. Linnea Sinclair’s win for a science fiction romance (Gabriel’s Ghost) in the paranormal category proved Nora Roberts was right about the big umbrella of romance. And Barbara Samuel added to her RITA count with a win for Lady Luck’s Map of Vegas in the book with strong romantic element category.
Bridgerton fans around the world cheered when Julia Quinn won in the Best Long Historical category for On the Way to the Wedding, the conclusion to a much beloved series. And Roxanne St. Claire won for best novella with “Tis the Silly Season” in A NASCAR Holiday just weeks before her second Bullet Catcher book released.
2008Another win for Julia Quinn as The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever won for Best Regency historical. Deanna Raybourn’s win for Silent in the Grave (Novel with Strong Romantic Elements) sent the uninformed searching for the book that had already ensured some of us lost our hearts to Nicholas Brisbane.
2009Pam Rosenthal made RWA history when her erotic romance The Edge of Impropriety won as Best Historical. Not Another Bad Date won Rachel Gibson her second RITA for best single-title contemporary. Joanna Bourne’s win for My Lord and Spymaster (Best Regency Historical) was her first—but maybe not her last. She’s a finalist again this year for The Black Hawk in the Historical category, which is loaded with wonderful writers.
2011Kaki Warner proved Westerns were in again when she won Best First Book for Pieces of Sky, book 1 in her Blood Rose trilogy. Sherry Thomas moved one step closer to the Hall of Fame with a repeat win in the historical category with His at Night, and Lauren Willig’s win for The Mischief of the Mistletoe (Regency Historical) added the only hero named Turnip to the list of Heroes in RITA-winning books.
How many of my blasts from the past have you read? What’s your favorite Rita-winning book? Do you agree with me that it seems unfair that Anne Stuart with seven RITAs and Barbara Samuel/Barbara O’Neal with six aren’t in the Hall of Fame? (They have to have three wins in the same category to enter.)
This post is an updated version of one I wrote for The Romance Vagabonds in 2008.
And because I made my deadline and am feeling celebratory, I'll have the Radomizer select one person from among those who comment to win a box of books (North American commenters only).