Neil Baldwin, who has led the National Book Foundation since its inception, will step down as executive director at the end of the year. Baldwin submitted his resignation September 5 in a letter to National Book Foundation chair Deborah Wiley, although he will oversee this year's National Book Awards ceremony set for November 19.
Baldwin was recruited in spring 1989 to help revive the publishing industry's award program following several years of turmoil. "We had no office, no staff, no infrastructure and virtually no money," Baldwin said. But with the help of a number of industry leaders, Baldwin built an organization that not only oversees the National Book Awards but also conducts a host of educational programs designed to promote an appreciation of great writing. "I'm very proud of the foundation," Baldwin said. "We've come a long way." Baldwin added that he is particularly happy "that we have been able to preserve the literary tradition of the awards."
With the foundation in "terrific shape," Baldwin believes it is "time to take a step back and think about what I want to do next." He has no immediate plans other than to finish his book The American Revelation: Ten Ideals That Shaped Our Country, due out from St. Martin's next year.
The NBF will form a committee to find a successor to Baldwin, although spokesperson Ellen Ryder says no timetable has been set to launch a search. Baldwin says the biggest challenge for the next executive director will be to "remember that you are the guardian of the awards. The awards are only as meaningful as you make them."