Hill, Donna 1955–
Donna Hill 1955–
Nearly sixty percent of paperback fiction books purchased in America today are romance novels, according to rwanational.org. Yet romance writers are often discredited due to their choice of genre. Romance writers who are minorities have traveled an even rockier road, as opportunities for publication are fewer and farther between. Donna Hill has surmounted not only the obstacles placed before an African-American romance writer, but she has also combated the stigma against romance novelists to succeed as an author of mainstream fiction.
Hill was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York with her parents, Floyd and Dorothy. The oldest of three children, she was reared in a traditional, middle-class family. She went to Catholic school for 12 years and attended church every Sunday with her family. Even as a child, Hill demonstrated a flair for the romantic. “It all began in grammar school when I used to write love letters for my girlfriends to give to their boyfriends!” she was quoted as saying on www.romantictimes.com. Still, it took some time before Hill seriously considered writing.
It wasn’t until she was married with children and working as an office manager at an architecture company that Hill began thinking about following through on her desire to write. One day she went to church and prayed for direction. After the service Hill went home and wrote her first short story—a romance. Once written, Hill next had to determine what to do with the piece. Hill went to a library and located a book on how to submit articles for publication in magazines. She sent her manuscript to Black Romance, and within a few weeks, received a response. The return envelope, however, was similar to the one in which she had submitted her story, so Hill assumed it had been rejected. But she was wrong, and Black Romance published her story, “A Long Walk,” in 1987.
The response to Hill’s debut story prompted an invitation from Black Romance to head an advice column. She accepted and began writing a column called “Woman to Woman” while retaining her full-time job. Hill also wrote a column called “Just Between Us” for Jive and wrote short stories for both magazines. After a year with the magazines, Hill’s editor told her that her
At a Glance…
Born Donna Hill on August 6, 1955, in Brooklyn, NY; divorced; children: Nichole, Dawne, Matthew. Education: Pace University, studied Business Management, 1986–88.
Career: Charles Young Architects, office manager, 1985–88; Jive magazine, Black Romance magazine, writer, advice columnist, 1987–88; Kianga House, director, 1988–92; Brooklyn Teen Pregnancy Network, executive director, 1992–94; Queens Borough Public Library System, public relations representative, 1995-; author: Rooms of the Heart, 1990; Indiscretions, 1991; Temptation, 1994; “The Choice,” Spirit of the Season anthology, 1996; Deception, 1996; Intimate Betrayal, 1997; “Masquerade,” Love Letters anthology, 1997; “Just Like That,” Rosie’s Curl and Weave anthology, 1998; A Private Affair, 1998; Quiet Storm, 1998; Charade, 1998; Chances Are, 1998, “Round Midnight,” Winter Nights anthology, 1999; Pieces of a Dream, 1999; Interlude, 1999; “It Could Happen to You,” Della’s House of Style anthology, 2000; “Eye of the Beholder,” Welcome to Leo’s anthology; If I Could, 2000; A Scandalous Affair, 2000; Rhythms, 2001; co-wrote screenplay, Fire, 2000.
Member: Black Writers Alliance; Novelist Inc.; Romance Writers of America.
Awards: Community Service Award, Department of Children’s Services, 1993; Career Achievement Award, Romantic Times Magazine, 1998; named Honorary State Senator by mayor of Lake Charles, LA, 1999; received Key to the City of Lake Charles, LA, 1999; Gold Pen Award for Best Romantic Anthology, 2000; nominated for Career Achievement Award, Romantic Times Magazine, 2000.
Addresses: Agent—c/o Steele Perkins Literary Agency, 26 Island Lane, Canandiagua, NY 14424.
stories were becoming too long and suggested that she think about writing a book. Following her editor’s advice, Hill began writing a story about reunited lovers and adultery, using the architecture company she worked for as a backdrop for the story. In 1989 she took her novel to Harlequin, the romance publishing giant. Hill soon learned, however, that even stories of love are bound by reality.
A Harlequin editor told Hill that the publishing company would consider her book under one condition— the characters could not be black. Hill wondered, as she told Contemporary Black Biography, “If they wouldn’t take my black characters, then who in the world would?” But Hill would not give up. She next went to Crown Publishing, but the company rejected her manuscript under the pretext that if they were going to publish black romances, the stories had to be better than anything else.
After two disheartening rejections, Hill came across an ad in a magazine for a publishing company named Odyssey that was looking for black romances. This could have been the breakthrough she was looking for, but she lost the magazine. “I couldn’t believe it! I thought, ’What kind of twist of fate is this?’” Hill told CBB. However, fate was on her side. Her editor obtained the address, and for the third time, Hill sent her manuscript to a publishing company.
In 1990 Odyssey published her novel under the title Rooms of the Heart. A year later Hill’s second book, Indiscretions, a story that intertwined love, law, and murder, made history when it became the first black romance to make a bestseller list, appearing on Emerge magazine’s listing. Hill told CBB that when she first saw the list, she didn’t even notice the name of her book: “When I looked again, I thought, ‘Wow, I wrote a book called Indiscretions! And then it hit me…. It was definitely a shining moment for me.”
In the following years, Hill added more than a dozen novels and novellas to her credit, and in 1999 her book Intimate Betrayal was adapted for television and aired on BET. In 2000 her novella “Masquerade” and novel A Private Affair also came to life on BET. For Hill, watching her work being translated on screen was overwhelming, but the experience was thrilling. She told CBB, “It was exciting to be selected at all… to be selected three times was phenomenal.”
Hill, who has been commended for incorporating social issues like domestic violence and rape into her romances, has also been steadfast at portraying African-American characters in a positive light—especially men. She told CBB that she has striven to portray men as three-dimensional beings who are our everyday fathers, uncles, and brothers, not the hardened or buffoon-like images of African-American men often presented by society.
With 19 romances to her credit, Hill decided that she wanted to tackle broader issues. In romance novels, Hill could raise issues, but she could not develop or explore those issues to the extent that she would have liked. So in 2000 she wrote If I Could, her first mainstream novel, which according to Publisher’s Weekly is a “… serious-minded drama featuring three African-American women at crucial points of their lives.”
Hill’s transition into mainstream fiction was not without its challenges. For Hill, the most challenging aspect of writing If I Could was convincing bookstores that she could write in genres other than romance. “Romance artists are so stigmatized,” Hill told CBB, noting that she was viewed as a romance writer trying to do something else, rather than simply as a writer. In respect to her readers, Hill found herself straddling a fine line between switching genres and keeping the bulk of her faithful romance readers. It seemed she managed the transition with grace, for If I Could made the Essence Bestseller list.
It was not long before Hill once again immersed herself in the waters of mainstream. A year later, her second mainstream novel was published. Rhythms debuted in August of 2001 and followed the lives of three women: Parris—a character who Hill created in Temptation and revisited in A Private Affair —and Parris’s mother and grandmother. Going beyond the boundaries of most books, Rhythms inspired a CD that features spirituals, blues, jazz, and R&B. An Ordinary Woman is Hill’s next book, slated for release in October of 2002. In this mainstream work, Hill took an inside look at the effects of infidelity.
In addition to her writing, Hill has embarked on numerous other ventures. Co-creator of Image Nouveau (imagenouveau.com), an online resource for full-scale manuscript editing, marketing, and publishing services, as well as web design and development, Hill provided an avenue for other writers to finalize and promote their works. “I wanted to find a way or an outlet for new writers to get their work in shape for publication, to offer an inexpensive means to help promote it, and provide venues for new, as well as seasoned, authors to meet their readers,” she told CBB. Hill, who partners Image Nouveau with her fiancé, Robert Fleming, plans to develop a publishing arm of the business.
Hill has shared her talents through lecturing, coordinating literary panels, and writing book reviews. Meanwhile, she has maintained a full-time job as a public relations representative for the Queens Borough Public Library System. Although not a household name, Hill was amazed by the reaction of people she has met. Hill told CBB “You have no concept of the impact you can have on people by your choice of words.”
A self-proclaimed homebody, Hill has devoted much of her time to family. While her mother and siblings have moved to New Jersey, Hill has remained in New York with her three children, Nichole, Dawne, and Matthew. She also enjoys time with her fiancé, who in addition to being her business partner, is a writing professor at New York’s New School University, as well as a published author.
Hill, who once wrote five works in one year, has always experienced an emptiness each time she completed a writing project. Nothing could fill that emptiness until she developed new ideas and began a new book. “When you finish it’s the well being dry. You fill yourself back up with new characters, ideas, and concepts until you’re full again, and then you pour it out,” she told CBB. Hill’s passion to write has not only driven her to continue writing, but to always write something new and different. As Hill told CBB, “You’re only as good as your last book.”
“A Long Walk,” Black Romance magazine, 1987.
Rooms of the Heart, Odyssey, 1990; Genesis, 1998.
Indiscretions, Odyssey, 1991; Genesis, 1998.
“The Choice,” Spirit of the Season anthology, 1996.
Intimate Betrayal, Arabesque, 1997.
“Masquerade,” Love Letters anthology, 1997.
“Just Like That,” Rosie’s Curl and Weave anthology, 1998.
A Private Affair, Arabesque, 1998.
Quiet Storm, 1998.
Chances Are, 1998.
“Round Midnight,” Winter Nights anthology, 1999.
Pieces of a Dream, 1999.
“It Could Happen to You,” Delia’s House of Style anthology, 2000.
“Eye of the Beholder,” Welcome to Leo’s anthology.
If I Could, Kensington/Defina, 2000.
A Scandalous Affair, 2000.
Rhythms, St. Martin’s Press, 2001.
Publisher’s Weekly, October 9, 2000.
Image Nouveau, www.imagenouveau.com
Internet Movie Database, www.us.imdb.com
Romance Reader, www.theromancereader.com
Romantic Times, www.romantictimes.com
Additional information for this profile was obtained through a personal interview with Contemporary Black Biography on November 2, 2001.
—Shellie M. Saunders
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