National Book Critics Circle in turmoil as officials resign, citing racism, privacy breach
The president and five other board members of the National Book Critics Circle have resigned amid allegations of racism and violations of privacy.
Laurie Hertzel, who had served as president since 2019, announced over the weekend that she was leaving the 24-member board. Her departure came two days after another board member, Ugandan American writer Hope Wabuke, posted screenshots on Twitter of an email exchange that included correspondence from Hertzel and board member Carlin Romano.
The NBCC had been crafting a response to the worldwide protests against police racism and violence.
“As members of the NBCC board were trying to work out the wording of a statement in support of Black Lives Matter and against racism, especially in our own realm of publishing, private exchanges were made public on Twitter, which made it impossible to continue with this discussion in good faith,” Hertzel wrote.
“I, along with five of our board members resigned, though not in a coordinated fashion. I can only speak for myself when I say that such a breach of confidence precludes the sort of deliberations that are essential to the NBCC’s mission as a critical organization.”
Romano, a former NBCC president, had raised objections in his email to the proposed statement from the NBCC board, notably that “white gatekeepers” in the publishing sector “stifle black voices.” Romano responded that many black writers had benefited from “good-willed white editors and publishers” and that he had seen “far more of white people helping black writers than of black people helping white writers.”
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Romano, whose name was redacted in the screenshots posted by Wabuke, confirmed to the Associated Press that he had written the email shown but declined further comment. As of Sunday evening, he was still listed as a board member on the book critic website bookcritics.org.
Wabuke also tweeted that she had resigned from the NBCC.
“It is not possible to change these organizations from within, and the backlash will be too dangerous for me to remain,” she wrote.
Like virtually every other major publishing institution, the National Book Critics Circle is predominantly white. It was founded in 1974, has hundreds of members nationwide and every March presents awards for books in categories that include fiction and best first book. Winners this year included diverse works, among them Edwidge Danticat’s “Everything Inside” for fiction, Chantel Miller’s “Know My Name” for autobiography and Morgan Parker’s “Magical Negro” for poetry.
Edwidge Danticat and Patrick Radden Keefe were among the 2020 winners
The NBCC has not announced a replacement for Hertzel, and no board member is currently authorized to speak for the organization.
The falling-out at the NBCC continues an industry reckoning that predates the recent protests. The year began with several board members of the Romance Writers of America leaving or being forced out because of criticism over the group’s lack of diversity.
One of the year’s bestselling novels, Jeanine Cummins’ “American Dirt,” was strongly criticized for offering a stereotypical portrait of Mexican immigrants. The publisher, Macmillan, has promised to hire and publish more books by Latinos.
Last week, two top officials at the Poetry Foundation resigned after more than 1,000 poets endorsed an open letter calling for a boycott of the foundation’s Poetry magazine unless the officials stepped down and the Chicago-based organization devoted “significantly greater allocation of financial resources toward work which is explicitly anti-racist in nature.”
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