An open letter published on Wednesday and signed by 30 members of the National Book Critics Circle asks the organization's board of directors to make a number of changes related to the group's management as well as to issues related to diversity. The letter's publication follows major changes to the board and two months of diversity-related institutional reckoning.
"We are determined to make the NBCC an organization to which we are proud to belong," the letter states, adding: "All powerful American institutions are informed by, and victims of, white supremacy, even when materially benefiting from its structures. This includes the publishing industry. We believe that in order to be responsible critics, we must embrace the vast plurality of literary voices and traditions represented in literature. We must also acknowledge our own biases, understand the world in which literature is written, and recognize the systems that shape human experience."
Among the changes recommended in the letter are:
- the establishment of a nonprofit advisory board in addition to the board of directors
- a comprehensive demographic survey of NBCC membership
- the easing of membership requirements and implementation of an income-based sliding scale for membership dues
- transitioning "at least 50%" of membership meetings to video conferencing platforms and including ASL interpreters or using live-captioning
- revising the NBCC's voting system and board election process
In addition, the group urges that the NBCC cancel the 2020 awards and ceremony. The 2019 ceremony had been pushed back to September from March, but earlier this week, the board voted unanimously to cancel the awards.
"As our organization seeks to address the harm caused by our country's legacy of anti-Blackness and white supremacy, we encourage the board to prioritize anti-racist labor, institutional accountability, and organizational restructuring immediately," the letter states. "We request a public response from the NBCC Board within one month of this letter."
Responding to the letter shortly after it was released, newly elected NBCC president and PW fiction reviews editor David Varno wrote in an email to NBCC membership that "when I saw the letter released on social media this morning addressed to the NBCC Board and General Membership and signed by a group of regular members, I took it in like a breath of fresh air."
He continued: "The board will meet soon to discuss the suggestions and requests made in the letter as part of its ongoing work to modernize the bylaws and empower the Diversity & Inclusion committee into action....Already, several fellow board members have weighed in to express gratitude for the many valuable suggestions and thorough degree of thoughtfulness that went into the letter and its corresponding proposals for action."
In addition, Varno pledged that a survey will be distributed to members following the NBCC's next town hall meeting, which is scheduled for August 20. The town hall will be followed by a special meeting on August 24, which is dedicated to putting to vote the potential removal of board member Carlin Romano.
This story has been updated with further information.