(Bloomberg) -- A professional organization for romance authors filed bankruptcy, blaming the high cost of its annual conference and a membership crisis triggered by the suspension of a prominent writer who accused another member of allegedly using racist stereotypes in her book.

Romance Writers of America Inc. filed Chapter 11 on Wednesday saying it lost thousands of members in recent years and can’t cover expenses related to keynote conferences it planned to hold at Marriott hotels in Philadelphia and Austin. 

The nonprofit trade association said it already has a plan to get out of bankruptcy and intends to distribute its disposable income to the hotels and other creditors.

RWA was embroiled in controversy after it suspended Courtney Milan, a romance author and former board member, in late 2019. Milan criticized another writer’s book for using racist stereotypes and RWA’s response resulted in widespread backlash, with the phrase #IStandWithCourtney trending on Twitter, according to Vox. 

The association didn’t reference Milan in court papers Wednesday. But its filing said its membership dropped to 3,000 members from roughly 10,000 “predominantly due to disputes concerning diversity, equity, and inclusion issues between some members of a prior RWA board and others in the larger romance writing community.”

The Covid-19 pandemic also contributed to a decline in membership which hurt RWA’s finances, according to court documents. 

The organization had entered into agreements with conference centers in 2018 to hold its keynote event through 2026, current RWA President Mary Ann Jock said in a court filing. It ended up filing Chapter 11 because the Philadelphia Marriott recently accelerated obligations under an existing conference agreement, demanding immediate payment of $1 million, which the association can’t afford, she said. 

Carollynn H.G. Callari, RWA’s lawyer, said the organization doesn’t expect bankruptcy to impact its day-to-day operations. The Chapter 11 filing was necessary to restructure the group’s legacy obligations, including its conference contracts, she added.

RWA has “dedicated time and resources in recent years to improving the diversity and equity represented in our membership and programming, and will continue to do so to ensure members’ needs are met with respect and responsiveness,” Callari said in a written statement.

RWA said it reconstituted its board in 2021, in an effort to address DEI issues. Incorporated in 1981, RWA provides networking opportunities for romance writers. 

The case is Romance Writers of America Inc., case number 24-32447, in the US Bankruptcy Court in the Southern District of Texas.

--With assistance from Steven Church.

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