National Book Foundation's Harold Augenbraum leaving in 2016

Harold Augenbraum, who led the National Book Foundation through the recession, plans to step down

Harold Augenbraum, executive director of the National Book Foundation, will step down from his post in March 2016, the organization announced Tuesday. The National Book Foundation is best known for the National Book Awards, or, as book people think of them, the NBAs.

During his tenure, Augenbraum has initiated a number of other programs. They include 5 Under 35, in which five previous NBA fiction finalists select five emerging fiction writers for their exceptional work and the Literarian Award, essentially a lifetime achievement award, whose recipients include Maya Angelou and Lawrence Feringhetti.

"At every board meeting we’ve tried to convince him to stay," Grove/Atlantic publisher Morgan Entrekin, an NBF board member, told the Washington Post. Augenbraum, who says he'll turn 63 on his last day at the NBF, has not announced what exactly he'll do next.

Four other programs currently run by the NBF include BookUp, an after-school reading program that brings authors to schools and provides disadvantaged middle-schoolers  with trips to the library and bookstores, with a small buying allowance. The Innovations in Reading program has a $10,000 award for projects such as the Little Free Library and Reach, Incorporated, a student tutoring program. NBA on Campus has brought National Book Award winners and finalists to colleges in, among other places, Texas and Minnesota. And in New York, Eat, Drink and Be Literary is a public program of readings and conversations in partnership with the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

For a few years, Augenbraum made the announcements of the NBA finalists at literary sites around the country, including Flannery O'Connor's home in Savannah, Ga., and City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco. That practice was discontinued in favor of making the announcement on national media.

As the leader of the foundation, Augenbraum was responsible for managing the nonprofit's fundraising. The organization has a $1.3-million budget and 6 full-time staff members. "Half of my tenure here was during a downturn in the economy and a consolidation in the book industry — everything from printing to bookselling," he told the Washington Post. "There’s never been a shortage of ideas of what we can do, but supporting them financially had been the hardest part."

The foundation has engaged executive search firm Spencer Stuart to guide the search for a new executive director.

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