President’s Letter for NBCC Members

by Kate Tuttle | Oct-01-2017




Dear NBCC Members:

I hope summer treated you well, and that you're enjoying nice fall weather, wherever you may be. The NBCC board met in New York last month, and I wanted to share the minutes from that meeting - you'll see them below - and to remind you of some upcoming NBCC business.
First, a few key dates: the awards for books published in 2017 will be presented Thursday, March 15, 2018. The finalists' reading will take place the previous evening, Wednesday, March 14, 2018. Both events are free to the public, and will take place at the New School. Our annual gala will be held immediately following the awards presentations on March 15 - tickets will be available for purchase closer to the date.
 
John Leonard Prize
This is the fifth year of the NBCC's John Leonard Prize, awarded to an outstanding first book in any genre and selected by the general membership. To be eligible, a book must have been published in the United States in 2017, and it must be the author's first book. (A first novel by author who has already published a book of short stories or a memoir, for example, would NOT be eligible.) Last year, Yaa Gyasi's "Homegoing" received the prize.
We invite members to join an all-volunteer committee of Leonard readers who commit to read the entire slate of Leonard finalists (probably 5-7 books) and vote for the winner, to be announced in January. The Leonard committee is open to any NBCC member. Look for an email with more Leonard details in the next week.
 
The Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing

The NBCC awards the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing each year to recognize outstanding work by a member of the NBCC. The citation is awarded in honor of Nona Balakian, a founding member of the National Book Critics Circle. Nominees for the Balakian Award must be NBCC members in good standing, and may submit up to 5 book reviews for a total of 5000 words.  The deadline is December 17. Compete guidelines are HERE.
 
The Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award
The Sandrof Award honors outstanding contribution to American letters. Named after the first president of the NBCC, the award is given annually to a person or institution-a writer, publisher, critic, or editor, among others-who has, over time, made significant contributions to literary culture.  Recent recipients include Margaret Atwood, Wendell Berry, Toni Morrison, Rolando Hinojosa-Smith, and Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar. The deadline for nominations is December 1. Please submit your ideas, along with a few sentences about why the proposed candidate should be considered, to committee chair Michael Schaub at mschaubtx@gmail.com. There's more information HERE.
 
NBCC Members' Choice
Every year NBCC members are asked to nominate titles to be finalists for the book awards in fiction, nonfiction, biography, autobiography, poetry and criticism. Any title that receives 20 percent of members' votes automatically becomes a finalist. It's been a decade since a book was honored that way-Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma" in 2006-but we hope you'll take the chance to participate. Look for a SurveyMonkey nomination form in your email in November.
 
NBCC Board Elections
We are now accepting nominations for eight open seats on the board of directors. Board members serve three-year terms and participate throughout the year helping to run our all-volunteer organization and discussing books under consideration for awards. If you are interested in running for a board position, please don't hesitate to contact me at kate.tuttle@gmail.comfor more information. To nominate yourself for a board position, e-mail board member Tom Beer at TomNBeer@aol.com with a statement outlining the contributions you hope to make to the board as well as your relevant qualifications. We will send out another call for nominations closer to the December 1 deadline.
 
Membership Issues, Concerns, etc.
We've heard from many members lately about problems with paying your dues, issues receiving emails, and other concerns. We want you to know we hear you and we're working on some technological changes that we hope will fix all problems. In the meantime, if you have anything to report or any questions needing answers, please feel free to reach out to Yahdon Israel, our new VP of membership, at yahdonisrael@bookcritics.org.
 
One last thing...
Don't forget to follow the NBCC on various social media platforms - it's a great way to see what's going on and to interact with other members. Look for @bookcritics on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. 

I hope that you all have a good fall, with many good books and book reviews on the agenda. As always, if you have questions, concerns, or suggestions please feel free to email me at kate.tuttle@gmail.com.
Sincerely,
 
Kate Tuttle
NBCC Board President

 
 
 
Minutes of the NBCC board meeting, September 16, 2017, at the New York University Institute for the Humanities.
 
Board members present: Laurie Hertzel, Kerri Arsenault, Daisy Fried, Michele Filgate, Clay Smith, Elizabeth Taylor, Carlin Romano, Marion Winik, Anjali Enjeti, John McWhorter, Dan Akst, Mark Rotella, Michael Miller, Walton Muyumba, Jane Ciabattari, Yahdon Israel, Tess Taylor, Tom Beer, Kate Tuttle, Mary Ann Gwinn
 
Via video: Katherine Powers, Lori Feathers
 
The meeting opened with committee reports. Yahdon Israel, membership chair, said member numbers are down about fifty people from spring levels - at that point  there were 721 full members, 200 "friend of " memberships and 98 student memberships. Full membership is down about 50, to about 470; other categories are maintaining.
 
He blamed part of the decline in part on continuing problems with Pay Pal and the web site  - people are still not receiving notifications when their memberships have expired.  A more general issue is uncertainty among members concerning what benefits they are getting for belonging to the NBCC.  Yahdon said he is putting together a spreadsheet of members by location, which could generate opportunities for regional programming and meet-and-greets.  This could also result in a system in which editors are matched to reviewers in their cities.
 
President Kate Tuttle announced the dates for March awards week. The readings will be on March 14;  awards night will be March 15. Kerri Arsenault noted that AWP is later this year and falls the week before NBCC awards week.
 
Treasurer Marion Winik gave the treasurer's report. We have about $16,000 in the bank. Taxes and annual reports have been filed. She said members could now link their reimbursements to Pay Pal, and said she would walk people through how to do that, but she's still willing to send a check via snail mail.

Online VP Jane Ciabattari gave the online committee report. She was very complimentary of new online committee members and their hard work:  "A special thanks to our hard-working new online committee. Laurie Hertzel, Bethanne Patrick, Michele Filgate and Anjali Enjetiare curating Critical Mass. (Anjali also is in charge of our Constant Contact version.) Yahdon Israel jumpstarted our Instagram (he's also on our Twitter feed). Kerri (Arsenault), Anjali, Daisy (Fried) and Laurie (Hertzel) keep Facebook going." She encouraged other folks to get involved with online activities, including  a themed series of blog posts for Critical Mass.
Other online highlights:

Facebook: 8.5K likes, up from8.4K in March.  @bookcritics 16.5K, up from16.2Kin March. InstaGram @bookcritics: 983 followers, up from 864 in March.
Critical Mass highlights: NBCC finalists' announcementin January drew just shy of 30,000 page views.
The #ResistanceLit NBCC Reads series drew13,811pageviews, an average of about 1,000, with T.J. Stiles on Vonnegut's Mother Night  coming in at 1667 and Jonathan Lethem on Philip K. Dick's The Penultimate Truth at 1396.
The annual 30 Books in 30 Daysseries of finalists reviewed by board members drew 25,496 pageviews and was cross posted on Lit Hub (top was Clay Smith's review of our fiction winner, Louise Erdrich's LaRose).
The announcement of the NBCC awards and video of the ceremony gathered more than 14.5 pageviews.  The speech by Margaret Atwood (6588), which was cross posted on Lit Hub, also was popular.
Announcements of NBCC summer events have also drawn well-the BEA panel (1910), NBCC/Zyzzyva cocktail party in San Francisco (900) and Brooklyn Book Festival Bookend event (2328)
This summer four of ourEmerging Criticscontributed to a blog series onSummer Reading for a total of 3200 pageviews.
The weeklyCritical Notes roundups, curated by our new online team, drew up to 2500+ pageviews, with most reaching at least 1500; Critical Notes, a cut/paste email version of these roundups, builds further visibility for members' work.  

 Michele Filgate gave the events report. The Sept. 14 Center for Fiction panel "At Home in the World: On Writing, Immigration, and Belonging" went very well, with capable organization by Jane Ciabattari. Walton Muyumba moderated, and panelists included former NBCC board member Rigoberto Gonzalez.  Michele said she has reached out to members in Chicago and Washington, D.C. about doing events in those cities. Tess Taylor suggested cocktail parties at book festivals; Walton Muyumba said that when John Freeman was president, he worked through book editors in different cities to get events organized.
 
VP of technology Bethanne Patrick was ill and could not attend. Kate Tuttle said she is working on ways to revamp the web site and will offer a report at the January meeting.
 
Elizabeth Taylor, chair of the Emerging Critics program, reported on success with two Skype seminars for this year's class of critics. Tom Beer conducted one on professionalism in book reviewing, and Michele Filgate led a seminar on how to make your professional life manageable. Liz has lined up Ron Charles, former board member and book critic at the Washington Post, to give a session on craft and Kerri Arsenault will give a webinar on interviewing. Several board members said they would love to attend such a session. Other board members commented on how the emerging critics program should approach the fact that editors increasingly want off-the-books-page features such as author interviews, rather than reviews themselves. This raises the issue of how much of this coverage is real criticism, versus promotion.
 
Carlin Romano suggested a seminar on ethics, and said he could provide the emerging critics with copies of two ethics surveys the NBCC has conducted, the first in 1987, the second about twenty years later.  
 
Anjali Enteji said that a discussion of ethics would be helpful for emerging critics. In an era when critics may work for a number of different editors, they may miss out on foundational knowledge about and instruction in ethics.
 
There was a general discussion of fundraising efforts for the NBCC, based on the comment that the organization has the same amount of money in the bank that it did 20 years ago. Tess Taylor suggested a Skype conversation about various fundraising strategies, including grants and corporate sponsorships.
 
Yahdon Israel addressed the need for continuity in positions held by various NBCC board members. He said that when he took on the VP awards job, Michele Filgate sent him a jobs/task sheet by date, and that it was very helpful. Everyone agreed that it would be smart for all officers and board chairmen to put together such a sheet to pass on to their successors. Yahdon said the worst thing is when "something doesn't get done and no one knows about it."  Tom Beer said sharing the job descriptions among all officers could help ensure that this doesn't happen.
 
Dan Akst said he believes that the NBCC needs a part-time employee to help the organization run more smoothly . It was pointed out that we do have a part-time employee, David Varno, who does great work on technical and other issues. Kate Tuttle said that the board needs to address the issue of institutional knowledge, regardless of what happens in the employment/fundraising arenas.
 
Michael Shaub, Sandrof committee chairman, was ill and could not attend the meeting. He asked that the board send any prospective candidates for the Sandrof award to him.
 
Katherine Powers, Balakian committee chair, gave her report. Katherine said the deadline for submissions this year is December 17.
 
Dan Akst, chair of the Leonard Prize, said the volunteer NBCC members' reading panel has worked very well for evaluating Leonard prize candidates, but that getting the books to members was a logistical nightmare. He suggested that book submissions be by e-book only, and that readers should agree that they will read candidates in the e-book format.  Board members agreed that this was a good idea.
 
The meeting was then turned over to discussion of books by the six different prize committees.
 
Respectfully submitted, Mary Ann Gwinn





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