The latest in the ongoing controversy at the National Book Critics Circle: after a “special meeting” on Monday, over 130 members of the NBCC met to vote on whether or not to remove Carlin Romano from its board.
Romano, you’ll remember, is the board member and former NBCC president who criticized a draft of an anti-racist pledge the NBCC was planning to release—writing “I do not admit any culpability. I do not see any erasure. And I don’t think our prize lists are too white,” and then reportedly threatened to sue members who wanted him off the board as a result. This spurred a massive shake-up at the NBCC: former president Laurie Hertzel resigned, along with 14 other board members. In July, over 70 members of the NBCC requested Romano’s removal from the board.
As Publishers Weekly reports, in the end, Romano will stay on the board for the remainder of his term, which ends in 2022.
In order for Romano to have been removed from the board, a two-thirds majority of votes—in this case, cast by the 115 members who attended the meeting and the 54 who voted by proxy—would need to have been attained. The final count found 104 votes for removal, or 62%, with 55 votes, or 33%, against removal, in addition to 10 abstentions.
“Many members spoke passionately on both sides, raising a wide variety of issues,” the NBCC wrote in an email announcing the results to its membership last night. “The two membership meetings held this past week, both with record attendance, indicate that a new era of member involvement is here. The board is eager to return to its core mission in a new spirit of tolerance, civility, and member participation.”
In a statement, Romano told Publishers Weekly that he is “grateful to the authentic NBCC critics who understood that you don’t cancel a fellow critic because you disagree with him. But we plainly have a big problem in the NBCC when so many of our current ‘book people’ members can’t listen to someone who disagrees with them without thinking: ‘Enemy, villain, destroy!’ There’s a lot of internal work to do to restore the National Book Critics Circle to being worthy of the third word in its name, and to stop it from being an instrument of one-sided ideological censorship.”
David Varno, newly elected President of the NBCC, told PW that he felt “intimidation” was “a decisive factor” in the outcome of the vote. “Before the meeting, Carlin threatened people with litigation and made people feel afraid to vote for removal and afraid to state why he should be removed,” he said. “You have to present cause, and in doing so, you present accusations. He made people feel afraid of doing that with threat of litigation . . . because all of that becomes evidence in court. Meanwhile, he freely lobbied on his behalf and emailed in bulk many members of the organization to state his case.”
Update: Romano has responded to Varno’s comments in an exchange with John Maher at PW. Romano denied that he threatened to sue rank-and-file members for removing him from the board, clarifying that he “pledged to sue members of the NBCC Board if they, rather than the NBCC membership, removed him from the Board in violation of NBCC bylaws.” Romano also wrote that Varno’s comments “perfectly reflect what I’ve been fighting against: the idea that if you defend yourself against group denunciations, if you exercise free speech in making your case, you are intimidating and ‘harming’ those who denounce you. I apologize only for not going meekly to my slaughter.”