President’s Message to Membership: Coming Up This Fall

by Tom Beer | Oct-16-2016


Dear NBCC members:

The NBCC board met in New York last month, and I wanted to share the minutes from that meeting and to remind you of some upcoming NBCC business.

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 -- Alison Bechdel's "Fun Home" and 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.

John Leonard Prize

This is the fourth year of the NBCC's John Leonard Prize, awarded to an outstanding first book in any genre and selected by the general membership. Last year, Kirsten Valdez Quade's short story collection, "Night at the Fiestas," received the prize. Next month, NBCC members will be asked to nominate books for the prize. To be eligible, a book must have been published in the United States in 2016, 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.) In November you will receive an e-mail with a link to a SurveyMonkey form on which you can nominate titles. The deadline for nominations is November 30. Next, the board will tabulate the results and compile a shortlist of finalists. This year, for the first time, we're inviting 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. If you're interested in joining the Leonard committee, please email board member Dan Akst (danielakst@gmail.com), who is chairing the committee.

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. Since 2012, the Balakian Citation carries with it a $1,000 cash prize, thanks to a generous donation by NBCC board member Gregg Barrios. 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 1. Compete guidelines are here (http://bookcritics.org/awards/nona-balakian-citation-for-excellence-in-reviewing/).

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 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 David Biespiel at db@atticinstitute.com. There's more information here (http://bookcritics.org/sandrof/).

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 tomnbeer@aol.com for more information. To nominate yourself for a board position, e-mail Newswire VP Kate Tuttle at kate.tuttle@gmail.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. 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 tomnbeer@aol.com. Sincerely, Tom Beer NBCC Board President


Minutes of the NBCC Board meeting
Sept. 17, 2016
New York University, 20 Cooper Square, New York.
 
Present in person: Tom Beer, Colette Bancroft, Tess Taylor, Clay Smith, Katherine A. Powers, Michele Filgate, Laurie Hertzel, Carlin Romano, Marion Winik, Dan Akst, David Biespiel, Kate Tuttle, Jane Ciabattari, Bethanne Patrick, Michael Miller, Walton Muyumba, Elizabeth Taylor, Mark Rotella, Mary Ann Gwinn
Present online:  Gregg Barrios, Michael Schaub
 
The meeting came to order at 10 a.m. President Tom Beer explained that Carmela Ciuraru was not present because she has not been receiving board e-mails; by the time she realized the meeting was Sept. 17 she had made other plans. This generated a discussion about the organization's e-mail issues that continued later in the meeting.
Treasury report
Treasurer Michael Miller reported that the NBCC has a current balance of about $27,000, an amount he characterized as healthy. He said that his board term extends for one more year, but he would like to begin training his replacement now, because the new treasurer needs experience in calculating taxes, paying for the awards ceremony and other duties. Marion Winik volunteered to become the treasurer-in-training.
Online report
Jane Ciabattari, vice president/online, gave the online report. She said recent highlights of the blog have included roundups of member reviews each Monday and Carmela's "what are you reading?" posts.  Jane said that posts on upcoming meetings, AWP events and so forth get about 4,000 page views. The NBCC Twitter account has 15,000 followers.
A discussion ensued about the need to update the web site. Tech VP Bethanne Patrick volunteered to take a "deep dive" into the issue with an eye to a possible web site redesign.
Vacant seat
Tom reported that Leigh Newman needs to step down because of new job duties -- she has a position with a publisher that could constitute a conflict of interest during the awards process.
A lengthy discussion ensued about how to handle this. According to the bylaws, an empty seat midterm may be filled at the board's discretion. Several options were discussed:

Do nothing, since the position could be filled during the upcoming board election at the end of the year.
Offer the appointment to the person who just missed being elected to the board (the ninth vote-getter, since eight people are typically elected to the board in each cycle). This person was Kerri Arsenault.
Recognizing the need to broaden the diversity of board members, offer the appointment to someone who would fill that requirement.

Gregg Barrios pointed out that at this point in the year, whoever is appointed will be playing major catch-up in terms of getting the reading done, so it may make more sense to leave the position vacant.
Tom Beer made a motion to fill the seat, though the motion did not specify how it would be filled. That motion passed 12 for, 7 against. In the interest of time, further discussion was tabled for later in the meeting.
Freelancer's guide
Strengths and weaknesses of the NBCC's freelancer's guide (a list of editors and publications, both print and online, who run book reviews) were discussed. On the one hand, it is a perk for members; on the other hand, some people think it's of limited use in the online/social media age, and some editors have been uncooperative in providing the required information.
Elizabeth Taylor said that the guide doesn't have to be completely comprehensive to be helpful. Walton Muyumba, vice president for membership, said the guide comes up pretty often in conversations with members; they like the service but they say it is hard to find.
Carlin Romano said he would be willing to work on updating the guide. The site Who Pays Writers? on Tumblr was suggested as a helpful reference.
 Membership report
Walton Muyumba gave the membership report. The voting membership stands at 730; associate memberships are at 220 and student memberships are at 41. He considers these strong numbers and says they have ticked up recently.
AWP Panel
The NBCC will have a literary partnership again at AWP in Washington D.C. in February 2017, a book fair booth and a featured panel on literary criticism with Washington Post book critics Ron Charles and Carlos Lozada,  NBCC winner in autobiography Margo Jefferson, and Maureen Corrigan, book critic for the NPR program "Fresh Air."  It's the 50th anniversary of the AWP. Jane , who organized and will moderate the panel, said that a limited number of conference fee waivers are available for board members who volunteer to staff the NBCC booth at the convention.
Emerging Critics Program
Elizabeth Taylor reported on her work on developing an emerging critics program. This would be an initiative in which the NBCC would "identify, nurture and support the development of a new generation of critics."
The fellowships for emerging critics would include these features (from the proposal):
-Dues-free membership to the NBCC.
-Active mentorship from members of the Emerging Critic Initiative committee, as well as other board members. This would include editing advice on drafts as well as counsel regarding career development.
- Publication on the NBCC blog Critical Mass, as contributors of both original work and previously published work in the weekly roundup.
-Admission to NBCC events and the annual reception.
To apply, the proposal suggests that each writer should submit a resume, three writing samples, a 300-500 word statement of purpose and references and contact information.
The proposal was met with sustained enthusiasm. Liz asked for volunteers for a committee to work out issues such as numbers of fellowships, timing, etc. These members signed up: Tess Taylor, Clay Smith, Michele Filgate, Carlin Romano, Kate Tuttle, Walton Muyumba, Bethanne Patrick, Mary Ann Gwinn and Elizabeth Taylor.
Liz made a motion to establish the emerging critics initiative. The motion passed unanimously.
Vote to fill vacancy on board
Following up on the earlier discussion, a motion was made and seconded to offer the position to the next vote-getter in the last election, Kerri Arsenault. The vote was 15 out of 19 members present. The motion passed.
Discussion followed on other ways to get a diverse slate of candidates for the board. Dan Akst suggested that every board member recruit one person who would increase the diversity of the board to run. The generally low vote  "turnout" for the board election was discussed, including the concern that a chunk of the membership may not be getting notifications to vote because of e-mail problems.
 Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award/Balakian awards
David Biespiel, chair of the Sandrof committee, reported on the award process. He said that it's traditional to carry the list of nominees forward from the previous year.
Gregg Barrios, chair of the Balakian committee, reported on the Nona Balakian award for book reviewing process. Gregg said that last year there were 50 entries. He said the Balakian engages the membership (one has to be a member to submit an entry). He said there is a lot of reading required in the run-up to the holidays, but that he hopes to get the process wound up by Dec. 15.
John Leonard Prize
Dan Akst reported on the Leonard Prize for the best first book. He said that this year's awards process has changed. After members nominate titles and the finalists are named, a committee of volunteer NBCC members will read all the finalists and pick a winner. He said 43 people have committed to do this reading.
Tess Taylor made the point that sending books to 43 different people will be a strain on independent publishers.
Dan said he would like to see more nominees in the areas of nonfiction and biography.
Board elections
These occur in December. Candidate statements are solicited in early December; the results are announced in January.
Poetry committee
Tess Taylor said she had received a Guggenheim to live and work in Ireland, and that Walton Muyumba had agreed to facilitate the poetry committee discussion at the January meeting (Tess plans to join the meeting online).
The rest of the meeting was devoted to discussion by the six reading committees about the reading so far, highlighting possible contenders for each award.
 
Respectfully submitted,
 
Mary Ann Gwinn
 
 
 
 
 





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