Six members of the National Book Critics Circle's board of directors have resigned following the publication of an internal email written by one of its members, former NBCC president Carlin Romano, in response to the board's efforts to draft a statement in response to the Black Lives Matter movement and in support of writers and critics of color.
Screenshots of the email, which outlined Romano's disagreements with certain aspects of the language included in the letter, were posted to Twitter on June 11 by the Ugandan American poet, essayist, and writer Hope Wabuke, with names redacted. In subsequent tweets, Wabuke also posted screenshots from responses sent by Laurie Hertzel and one other board member, in addition to other accusations of "#racism and anti-blackness" at the organization and the announcement of her own resignation.
The screenshots from Romano's email reveal a missive that questioned, and in some cases rejected, the presence of white supremacy, institutional racism, erasure of BIPOC (black, indigenous, and people of color) authors, and white gatekeeping in the publishing community. Romano's email reads, in part: "I resent the idea that whites in the book publishing and literary world are an oppositional force that needs to be assigned to re-education camps."
The decision split the NBCC board in two. Five additional members of the board resigned over the following hours over Wabuke's decision to air the board's internal grievances. Others, such as former L.A. Times books editor Carolyn Kellogg, another board member, publicly supported Wabuke in her decision.
Later on Thursday, a working committee comprised of board members at the NBCC released the statement it had drafted, as finalized on June 10, before Romano voiced his disapproval. According to Kellogg and fellow board member and working committee member David Varno, the working committee of board members, under Wabuke's leadership, spent several days working on and revising the statement, which was intended to represent the board's plan of action and commitment to anti-racism. (Disclosure: Varno is PW's fiction reviews editor.) The vote on the statement was scheduled to begin Thursday morning after the language was all but finalized; however, Romano sent his email outlining his objections on Wednesday night.
"Everybody had a chance to review and review and revise and revise, and Carlin waited for the last second and threw a bomb," Kellogg said. "As a board member who has butted heads with Carlin in the past, I would look forward to him learning some serious lessons from all of this."
Responding to Kellogg's statement in PW, Romano said that Kellogg had misrepresented his response. "She knows full well that I informed the board that I felt my best contribution to the letter was to keep my mouth shut, since I disagreed with some of the claims in it," he said. "I expressed my opinion only after our board president specifically and directly asked me at the last minute to speak up and contribute my opinion on the letter. I then questioned a handful of claims in the letter. I never opposed Black Lives Matter or expressed disagreement that we should support writers and critics of color." Romano added that he had informed the board on multiple occasions, including in the email, that he "was perfectly fine with whatever statement a majority of the board wanted to vote for being issued under the board's name, even if I disagreed with some of the claims in the letter."
As of yet, the situation remains unsolved: the names of the departed board members have not been officially disclosed, and there is no public indication as to whether Romano will remain on the board. Kellogg said the board has a meeting scheduled for Friday afternoon and another on the books for next week.
The NBCC statement, as released Thursday, makes several pledges, including: the establishment of a diversity and inclusion committee, to be headed by a NBCC board member who will be named v-p of diversity and inclusion at the board's next meeting; the establishment of a social justice initiative through that committee, with "the goal of exploring how best to create immediate and ongoing support of people, communities and organizations that are affected by police violence and systemic racism, centering black and brown voices, headed by NBCC board member Ismail Muhammad"; conducting a survey of NBCC members to compile and release membership demographic information and working with NBCC board member and v-p of membership Richard Santos to diversity the group's membership; and more.
This article has been edited for clarity and updated with further information.