An open letter published today and signed by 30 members of the National Book Critics Circle calls for sweeping changes to the organization’s structure and practices, with a specific set of recommendations meant to address inclusion, accessibility, and anti-racism.
The letter advocated for adding more Black voices to the board and for the creation of term limits for board members. It also suggested hiring a consultant who can give input on the division of labor between the board, calling into question whether the same board members should read for the NBCC’s yearly awards while also managing its day-to-day operations.
In the short term, the signatories suggested creating an advisory board who can help guide current members, surveying the membership to determine its needs from the organization, and overhauling the election process to give space to new voices. It also included several ideas for diversifying the membership, including establishing a sliding scale for membership fees, holding membership meetings online while using an ASL interpreter or live captioning, and holding more programming aimed at making the literary world more accessible.
In order to allocate more resources toward this work, the letter said, the 2020 NBCC Awards should be canceled.
“We own our piece in upholding, participating in, and benefiting from an extant system of oppression, and we invite the board and all the membership to do the same,” the signatories wrote. “We cannot be excused from the work of examining the system itself, our complicity in it, or the labor required to tear it down.”
The letter follows an extended shakeup at the NBCC: The organization’s board largely disbanded in June after Carlin Romano emailed fellow board members to critique a planned anti-racist statement the organization was planning to release, and the ensuing disagreement led former president Laurie Hertzel to resign along with 14 other members of the board. In July, the remaining board appointed 15 people to board positions, including five that had just resigned.
In late July, more than 70 members of the NBCC requested Romano’s removal from the board, a process that is legally governed by the organization’s bylaws; in response, the board scheduled a vote on the issue, which will take place this Monday, August 24.