Today, the National Book Critics Circle ballot was issued. And as previously announced on these pages, I am running for Board Member. Even though there are eight slots and twenty-two fine candidates, I thought it might be constructive to outline my platform for anyone who might be on the fence.
Make NBCC Board Meetings transparent: I’ve been an NBCC member for almost a year and I haven’t a clue about what goes on during an NBCC Board Meeting. For all I know, these fine minds get together to play Parcheesi. I am certain that I am not alone on this front. Nearly every other organization keeps a dutiful record of minutes and releases these minutes to the members. Why doesn’t the NBCC do this? The time has come for the NBCC to be completely transparent about what goes on behind closed doors. Because if there are lingering questions or uncertain solutions, it’s very possible that the NBCC’s collective pool may have more than a few ideas in solving them.
Organize more social gatherings: Literary symposiums and discussions are one thing. But when was the last time that the NBCC organized a place where freelance reviewers and book critics could simply relax and encourage each other? Hell, when was the last time that book critics met up for bowling or mini golf? NBCC member Tim Brown has the right idea with his trivia contests. I understand that the NBCC used to be a place for social gatherings, but this has not occurred under the John Freeman regime. Mr. Freeman has, on at least one occasion, expressed a desire to hold a party somewhere. But let’s translate these great desires into definitive action. And by action, I mean, a low-key social gathering where casual social discourse is as much a raison d’etre for getting together as intellectual discussion. Book critics are people too. And since fun is one of my campaign slogans, let’s likewise ensure that this isn’t a hollow promise.
Improve the “Critical Mass” blog: While the Critical Mass blog has developed its voice over the past year, what can one say about a blog without permanent links? How then can other bloggers easily link to Critical Mass? The time has come to make Critical Mass a central place for literary discourse. And that means transforming it into something that is easier on the eyes and not always so serious. It also means coaxing David Orr into more humorous posts — which may involve bribing the man with baked goods to get him to post more frequently. As NBCC Board Member, I will also happily volunteer my services to getting Critical Mass on the more flexible blogging platform WordPress. I will even volunteer my podcasting services for special NBCC-centric author interviews.
Encourage younger critics and diverse voices: The NBCC hasn’t exactly reached out to young critics just starting out who would take up literary criticism. Nor are there any specific NBCC contacts currently signed on to help young critics contend with the realities of freelancing. The time has come not only to encourage these new voices, but to mentor them as time permits. Like my fellow NBCC Board Member candidate David Ulin, I also feel that there is too much emphasis on critics in the Northeast. Let’s recalibrate the balance and include other voices.
Stop turning our backs on genre and graphic novels: While literary fiction is a wondrous place for any books enthusiast to start, the NBCC has been particularly lax in addressing genre titles and graphic novels. Yes, it is true that Fun Home was nominated for the 2006 Memoir/Autobiography award. But what of genre and graphic novels as a whole? Why don’t we celebrate Anthony Boucher as eagerly as we celebrate Edmund Wilson?
Extend NBCC membership to litbloggers who do not appear in print. Litbloggers are, as the Rake recently observed, not the enemy. While the Rake has overlooked many of the positive comments directed towards litbloggers in the NBCC Ethics results, he is right to point out to quiet hostilities directed toward the litbloggers. We don’t really know what the book reviewing landscape will look like in ten years, let alone five. But it is clear that litbloggers have a passion for books, and often a critical acumen as keen as many print reviewers. Instead of maintaining a divide, let’s work with them. If literary criticism is to thrive in the 21st century, then it’s up to us to reach out to those who may take up the mantle. Further, opening up the membership doors to the litbloggers will also permit additional membership revenue that will help to keep the NBCC afloat.
I have many more ideas for how to improve the NBCC. But please feel free to email me if you have any other questions or ideas.
Thank you for your consideration!