One week after the National Book Critics Circle released an anti-racism pledge following the publication, on Twitter, of an email critical of certain phrases in that pledge, a much-reduced NBCC board of directors has released a statement to NBCC membership addressing how it intends to move forward.
The statement confirms that of the board's ordinarily 24 members, only nine remain, and all have pledged to continue in their positions "with deep reflection upon past mistakes, and a commitment to serious, structural change in how we conduct business and continue to celebrate the rich diversity of global literature." Among those nine are newly-appointed board president Jane Ciabattari, who will serve in that capacity temporarily "until the board can be reestablished" and who does not intend to seek reelection, and v-p of grants Carlin Romano, who wrote the email that took issue with aspects of the anti-racism pledge.
"We had intended to make a simple, yet powerful statement that Black Lives Matter. Recent events at the organization have drawn attention away from that clear and powerful statement. We need to refocus our public work on that belief, but first must undertake some difficult internal work," the statement reads. "There have been many inquiries about governance structure and leadership at the organization, and we plan to respond to our members’ complaints and requests. We must do so within the procedures set forth by law and our governance documents."
While the NBCC intends to hold its annual awards honoring books published in 2020 next year, the board will "put aside all reading and deliberation in order to focus on fulfilling and exceeding the action items in our Anti-Racism Pledge and Action Plan," the latter of which is included in the statement. As a result, all awards for this year other than the John Leonard and Balakian Prizes, whose nominees are submitted by the general membership, will be postponed or canceled until the board makes "satisfactory progress" in executing its action plan.
As part of the board's action plan, board member Gregg Barrios has been elected v-p of diversity and inclusion by the board, while v-p of membership Richard Z. Santos will reach out to "past, current, and potential members of the National Book Critics Circle" in order to source "their ideas on how we move forward as an organization and how the NBCC can best support marginalized communities, including LGBTQ+ writers, writers from black, indigenous, and other communities of color, and writers of all ages and abilities." Santos will also serve as the official spokesperson for the NBCC board.
The statement commits the NBCC to transparency throughout the process of implementing its action plan, which pledges the following steps:
- We will look closely at our own structures and traditions in order to examine and remove the effects of white gatekeeping within our organization.
- We will require completion of diversity training for each board member and will explore options on making that training available to general membership.
- We will continue our Emerging Critics program and will enhance our support for this program.
- We will continue to send out Critical Notes in order to promote the work of our members.
- We will hold regular virtual town halls with members who have concerns about the organization in general and specific suggestions on how we can increase our diversity.
- We will not repopulate our board until we're confident we have diverse candidates who reflect our commitment to literature and social justice.
- We will reach out to black, indigenous, and people of color to encourage them to run for board positions.
- We will reach out to LGBTQ+ critics and writers to encourage them to run for board positions.
- Throughout this process of change we commit to centering BIPOC voices in all of our deliberations.
Members wishing to contact Santos with "thoughts, suggestions, and ideas for next steps" are invited to do so via email.