NBCC Board Elections: Deadline January 4, 2019

by Admin | Dec-21-2018

The NBCC is holding elections to fill 8 open seats on the board, for the term beginning March 2019. Board members serve three-year terms and participate in the judging of our annual book awards and in the NBCC's mission: honoring outstanding writing and fostering a national conversation about reading, criticism, and literature. On December 20, we launched this year's board election using a Survey Monkey tool that will allow all voting members to cast their votes. The election will close on January 4 at midnight EST. Winners will be decided by popular vote. We should have the results of the election the following day, and will communicate them first to candidates, then to the membership at large. Please don't hesitate to contact us at kate.tuttle@gmail.com with any questions (and if you don't receive a ballot via Survey Monkey email in your in-box). We have a great new slate of candidates, 27 in all, and we hope that all voting members participate in selecting our new Board. Here are the candidates.

Rochelle Spencer

I believe books can generate empathy and understanding in a way few texts can; I also believe that as twenty-first century critics, our criticism should reflect the complexity of intellectual and cultural traditions--otherwise, we risk becoming obsolete. 

I’ve been a member of the National Book Critics Circle for three years. During this time, I’ve served as a reader for the Leonard Prize and reached out to new members. My desire is to develop thoughtful conversations about books from multiple perspectives; that’s why I’m running. 

In 2014, a story in The Atlantic mentioned that the person most likely to read a book was a black woman. (I’m a black woman who counts among her reading friends, other black women and women of color, non-binary of color, white non-binary, men of color, white men, people without color, and anyone with good common sense.)  If selected to serve on the board, I hope to encourage diverse perspectives, provide informal forums in which people feel comfortable sharing perspectives, learning from each other, and having honest discussions about books and what they can teach us about each other. 

I am, of course, happy to assist with administrative duties.  I have experience with social media and have organized readings, literary events, and exhibitions.

Laurie Hertzel

I’ve spent the last three years happily serving on the NBCC board and I would love to continue that work. During that time, I have served on the NBCC online committee three times, helping to compile your reviews and interviews and other bookish news for the weekly Critical Mass blog. I’ve twice served as chairman of the autobiography committee, a genre I love and admire, seeking out books from small presses and literary publishers as well as the big guys to honor with our annual award. I was very proud last year when our committee came up with a diverse and very worthy list of finalists, which included a graphic novel, one book in translation, and three books by writers of color.

I have also served three times on the biography committee, and, a glutton for punishment, once on the fiction committee and once on the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award committee. (I keep pushing for Robert Bly, but he never wins.)

My background is this: I have been the books editor at the Minneapolis Star Tribune for 10 years. I have an MFA in creative nonfiction from Queens University in Charlotte, N.C. I teach memoir writing at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. I am the author of a memoir, “News to Me: Adventures of an Accidental Journalist,” published in 2010 by the University of Minnesota Press and winner of a Minnesota Book Award.

Serving on the board is a lot of work. It is steady, constant reading, all year, to keep up with the books that should be considered. It takes a lot of time. But frankly I cannot think of time better spent. 

Jessica Loudis

As a freelance critic and former Bookforum editor, I’ve been involved in the world of book reviewing for over a decade. I focus primarily on fiction in translation (often from Latin America and Spain, as I speak Spanish), and literary nonfiction and reportage. I’m also interested in scholarly books about history and politics, particularly if there’s an international bent. I am a regular contributor to the books sections of the TLS, The Baffler and The New Republic, and I’ve been a senior editor at Al Jazeera, a writer at Slate, and was most recently the editor-in-chief of World Policy Journal. Additionally, having grown up in Mozambique, Honduras and Jamaica, I’m particularly attentive to books from and about those parts of the world. I’m interested in joining the NBCC board because I’m deeply committed to literary criticism, and I want to take a more active role in developing the community and conversation around it, in part by engaging younger critics and expanding the diversity of backgrounds and perspectives within the organization. If I were to join the board, I’d focus on holding more events throughout the year, such as panels pegged to current events, and the republication of important books. 

As a critic, I seek out lively, original voices, compelling arguments, and writers who embrace nuance over polemics. I value humor and risk-taking, and am drawn to books that fall outside the purview of mainstream outlets. Perhaps more controversially, I believe poets make the best novelists, and historians the best drinking partners. In terms of practical skills, I am very comfortable managing websites, and in planning events such as readings and launch parties. It would be an honor to join the NBCC board, and I thank you for your consideration.

Marion Winik

During my first term on the NBCC board, I took over the responsibilities of Treasurer, and have been managing our finances and performing a plethora of related functions for the past two years. My responsibilities include bookkeeping and budgeting, developing and administering our reimbursement policy, maintaining our nonprofit status, filing taxes, managing the financial aspects of our fundraising drive, handling insurance and budgetary matters for the Awards ceremony and reception, printing collateral for the Awards and for AWP, collaborating with the VP of Tech and the VP of membership on a wide variety of matters, ranging from hiring an intern to selecting new software to updating our database, collaborating with the President on matters related to our meetings... and more. If I am re-elected, I will continue with these responsibilities and others as they arise. The past few years have seen progress and improvement in the operation of the Board, and I look forward to continuing to be a part of that.

I have been reviewing books for almost 25 years. I write mainly for Newsday, People and Kirkus Reviews, but have also published in The San Francisco Chronicle, The Los Angeles Times, More, The Austin Chronicle, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Baltimore Sun, The Washington Post, on NPR and elsewhere. I served as one of three fiction judges for the inaugural Kirkus Prize in 2014. For the NBCC prizes, I have served on the Fiction, Autobiography, Poetry and Leonard committees.

Like many NBCC members, I am also an author; my most recent book is The Baltimore Book of the Dead (Counterpoint).

John Domini

My work as a reviewer and critic stretches back decades now, to typewriter days, and that would be my most significant qualification for the Board: an experience that encompasses roughly 500 byline items, everywhere from the New York Times Book Review to Vol. 1 Brooklyn, at lengths from 250 words to ten times that, often covering just one book but other times morel. A number of pieces have found their way into books, as well, and so I’ve been exposed to a remarkable range of editors, with a wide variety of styles and ethics. I know how to fight for fair treatment, and how to be flexible when concerns are more legitimate. All this I’d bring to the Board, as well as my lifelong openness to work outside the norms; I have a commitment to the experimental, especially work in translation. Finally, I've worked in arts administration, in Boston, Oregon, and Iowa— still more pertinent experience for our Board. I look very much forward to serving our community.

Hope Wabuke

Why would I like to serve as a member of the National Book Critics Circle Board?

My work as a book critic and cultural critic began with a focus on creating a robust discussion of literature of the global African diaspora, with a special focus on women and/or LGBTQ writers. These writers’ works are the ones that go unfunded or less funded by PR and marketing budgets, the ones that get sent less to awards, the ones that are less reviewed—and, when reviewed, are more often than not reviewed by reviewers insensitive to the craft and literary traditions these writers are writing out of. But these are the most relevant, vital voices in literature today—especially given the current political moment we live in where writers of color, and what we write about, are under attack.

This is why I started my books column at The Root three years ago: there were (and still are) so many excellent books by black authors of the global African diaspora, but the books were not getting accessed by readers because the books were not being written about. To this end, I was also a founding board member for the Kimbilio Center for African American Fiction, and an now an assistant professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where I am helping in creating an institute for African literature.

My critical experience crosses genres; I review poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. As a scholar and professor of English and creative writing, I am fluent in writing about any of these genres. Rather, my specialty is focused on giving space to marginalized voices. Although I have created a niche reviewing literature of the global African diaspora, I am sensitive to the concerns of literature written by all marginalized individuals—whether race, gender, sexual orientation, or ability status.

Among authors I profiled at The Root are Jaqueline Woodson, Yaa Gyasi, Nnedi Okorafor, and Elizabeth Alexander. I have also profiled diverse voices in other outlets—a profile on Chris Abani and African post post-colonial literature for The Guardian, an analysis of rape culture, the #metoo movement, and Khadijah Queen’s latest collection I’m So Fine, A List of Famous Men and What I Had On for Anomaly, An International Journal of Literature and Art; a profile on Nicole Sealey’s work with Cave Canem and Ordinary Beast for Shondaland, for example. I have also written for Kirkus, The Rumpus, Los Angeles Magazine, and Ms. Magazine online, profiling literature by diverse voices.

I also have extensive experience with social media, and understand the online etiquette of Twitter, Facebook, Instragram, etc. Having built and maintained the website for Kimbilio, I also have experience with using Wordpress and Tumblr, basic html, and design. I have a background in photography, video, and visual media. It was an honor to be selected as an NBCC Emerging Critic Fellow this year; it would be an honor and a privilege to continue this work as a member of the NBCC Board. Thank you for your consideration.

Nicholas Nichols

Hello, my name is Nicholas Nichols, and with your support, I would like to become your new chair member for Poetry. I'm a 25-year-old writer and photographer who has received fellowships from Cave Canem, Callaloo, and the Watering Hole. I've acted as a chair of the National Black Writers Conference and the inaugural award for Excellence in Graphic Literature, which was hosted by Pop Culture Classroom. I have a background in audience development and social media engagement for non-profits. Also, I am a bookseller at Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn, NY. 

My motivation for running for a chair is further diversifying the voices that contribute to the highlighting of books under the NBCC banner. I have looked to the NBCC's award as my syllabus every year since having to leave school. It is with that experience why I want to be on the board as a voice representative of those who may not have gone the traditional route, but have a deep love of literature. Also, would love to work alongside a talented group of critics who every week through the 'Critical Notes' newsletter shape the way I think about my relationship to literature.  

I have experience taking minutes, website management, hosting events,  developing/executing social media strategies, and event curation for organizations including, but not limited to Cave Canem, Center for Black Literature, National Black Writers Conference, Conversation Literary Festival, and more. Also, I'm always looking to help out my peers if I have the means. 

Thank you for your time and consideration. I would love to be your new chair in Poetry.

Megan Labrise

I’m asking for your vote to add my voice to the NBCC board.

After five years as a freelance book critic, I was hired by Kirkus Reviews in February 2018 as the first staff writer in the magazine’s 85-year history. This is the kind of story I’d like to hear more of, and I believe we should tilt our energy toward encouraging outlets to hire critics and offer fair compensation for the important work we do. It would be a privilege to apply what I’ve learned to furthering the careers of fellow critics. In criticism as in literature, the more voices we hear from, the richer we are.

I write reviews and author interviews, help manage social media accounts, and cohost an hourlong weekly podcast with Kirkus editor-in-chief and former NBCC board member Clay Smith. Regular podcasting could be something interesting for the NBCC to look into—widening the impact of the seminars board members present to the emerging critics, for example—and it’s an endeavor to which I’d enthusiastically lend my experience. When it comes to awards duties, I have experience there, too: I am a former Kirkus Prize for Fiction judge who reads diversely across genres, with a special preference for fiction and nonfiction that centers stories from the margins (especially queer ones). I live with my partner in Portland, Oregon.

It would be my honor to represent you on the board. Thanks for considering the possibility.

David Varno

It has been my great pleasure to serve on the board of the National Book Critics Circle as VP/Tech, after being a member of the NBCC for several years and serving as website manager. My current term will be up in March 2019 and I would love to be elected to serve a full term. Over the past year, I have enjoyed working with my fellow critics on many initiatives, from building a new membership site with updated information on freelancing guidelines and membership discounts to promoting the work of our members on social media, helping to coordinate a successful fundraising effort, and assisting with the coordination of our growing Leonard Prize for a first book. It has been especially exciting to see the growth of our Emerging Critics program over the past two years, which has led to blog series such as The Craft of Criticism, and which has also been a source of valuable insight toward the resources that new and long-time members would appreciate the most. Our next big project with the website is to build a membership directory, so that members can communicate with one another based on location and shared interests, and I look forward to developing this for the coming year. 

As a critic and as a judge for the NBCC’s awards, the books that interest me most are books that bring news. I am drawn to fiction and poetry that makes the familiar seem strange and new, and to criticism, essays, and autobiography in which a writer strives to remake a sense of self in relation to the world, to taste, and ultimately to literature. I often review and advocate for international literature and literature that speaks from and to the margins, whether defined by race, gender, sexual orientation, or geography. My criticism, profiles, and interviews have appeared in Newsday, The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, Tin House, Paste, Publishers Weekly, Words Without Borders, The Brooklyn Rail, BOMB, Electric Literature, and elsewhere. 

If given the opportunity to continue to serve on the board, I would continue working to overhaul and streamline the organization's technology and web resources in ways that will benefit the NBCC’s members and allow criticism to continue nurturing a space for great literature. Thank you for considering me.

Fran Bigman

Are books news, or should they be a relief from the daily churn? Can a critic be an activist? Is it possible to consider a novel morally problematic but also a good novel? The Q&A series I co-edited this year with Tara Cheesman for the NBCC website, “The Craft of Criticism,” addressed these questions, and I am running for the board for the first time because I want to become a more active member of an organization that fosters such energetic discussions about the larger meaning of our work.

As critics, we seek to open out the conversation, to lavish upon each book the attention its particular beauty and power deserve and to then move into a consideration of the genre and culture. I see the NBCC as a place where we can open out from our individual work into a broader conversation about criticism. I’m eager to keep contributing to the NBCC website by continuing to interview fellow critics but also by starting a new series of transcripts of iMessage or WhatsApp dialogues between critics. I like this format, which I’ve seen in publications such as the LARB, because it is accessible to readers and because it preserves spontaneity while enabling writers to express themselves in their own medium.

I live in New York City and have written for the New York Review Daily, the Washington Post, the Times Literary Supplement, Lit Hub, Words Without Borders, and Granta.com. I write most often about fiction (particularly British and Japanese fiction by women writers), art, reproductive politics, and the histories of medicine, sexuality, and gender. I have a PhD in English from the University of Cambridge, and my editorial experience includes stints at Pantheon Books and Words Without Borders. I would be honored to serve on the board. Many thanks!

Michael Schaub

I've had the honor of serving on the National Book Critics Circle Board for the last three years, and I'd love the chance to continue my time on the board. I'm a regular contributor to the Los Angeles Times, and for more than eight years, I've reviewed fiction and nonfiction for NPR. I've done my best to turn readers on to books they might otherwise not have come across: short story collections, works in translation, and small-press books. For the past two years, I've served as chair of the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award committee for the NBCC, and I look forward to possibly taking on other leadership roles for the board. I have extensive experience with social media, and I'd be honored to work with the board to help make the NBCC one of the most recognizable organizations in American literature.

I believe that in these times, literature is more important than ever — books have the power to bring us together when others would tear us apart, and to tell the truth in an era when lies and misinformation are at risk of taking over the country. The NBCC has an opportunity to champion great literature by everyone, including writers of color, women, and LGBTQ authors — people whose lives and careers have been put at risk by agents of hatred and intolerance. I earnestly believe that our work can make the world a better place. I'm proud of the work we've done in the past, and I'd love to continue doing that work for another three years. I'd be very honored to have your vote.

Carolyn Kellogg

As I write this, I’m the books editor of the Los Angeles Times, but I won’t be when you read it. After three years at my dream job I’m leaving -- to do more writing and be a more engaged citizen than I could while on staff at the paper. As book editor, I recruited a stellar, diverse slate of Critics at Large (including Viet Thanh Nguyen and Laila Lalami), regularly brought in new voices (including NBCC emerging critics), and made reviewing a mainstay, even while other outlets did not. (Plus providing innovative digital coverage and reporting like our story on literary grifter Anna March). I joined the paper in 2010 and had hundreds of bylines a year writing for print and online. As a reader and critic I adore fiction that challenges, nonfiction that informs, books that are hard to categorize, works that surprise and delight. I’ve interviewed amazing authors on stage (Patton Oswalt, Jonathan Lethem, Dana Spiotta, Buzz Aldrin) and via video (Margaret Atwood, Michael Chabon) and last year hosted the LA Times book prizes, where I was the driving force behind giving our Innovator’s Award to Glory Edim of Well-Read Black Girl. My colleague Jonathan Gold showed how the best criticism reaches beyond our niches and touches the greater world, and his death this summer was a kind of inspiration. To be more involved and write more, I’m moving from L.A. to Alabama -- an adventure, and I’ll bring geographic diversity to the board. As a former board member I appreciate the time-consuming responsibilities necessary to serve on the NBCC board and can draw on my past experience in the foundation world. Plus, of course, I’ll tweet to my 40,000+ followers @paperhaus.

Colette Bancroft

As a former member of the NBCC board, I’m eager to return to the rewards and challenges of that body. I have been the book editor of the Tampa Bay Times since 2007, writing reviews, author interviews and book news for the largest newspaper in the Southeast and maintaining an active social media presence. Because I write for a broad audience, I review a wide range of books in many genres. I am especially interested in fiction, general nonfiction (history, science, politics) and biography. Working for a daily newspaper has taught me to write and read efficiently; the latter is especially useful for dealing with the large number of books that board members must read on deadline for the NBCC awards process.

My work also includes directing the Times Festival of Reading, an annual community event that presents more than 40 authors discussing and signing their books to thousands of readers. As a result, I have developed skills in event planning and working with people throughout the publishing industry. Before I became a journalist, I taught literature and writing at several universities, so I have approached criticism from academic and mass media perspectives, which I believe enriches my understanding of books.

During my previous time on the board, a major focus for the members was finding ways to attract and support younger critics. That effort is succeeding, and I’m proud to have been a part of it. I hope to return to the board to be a part of the NBCC’s work in shaping the future of book criticism.

Madeleine Schwartz

Anyone who writes reviews for money knows that our profession is in danger. Budgets slashed, papers folded--it's nearly impossible to make a living reviewing books. This is why I propose building the NBCC's advocacy to defend criticism and critics. 

As a board member, I would work with other advocacy groups, like the Author's Guild, to build an insurance pool that would help freelancers stay healthy. I'd organize workshops on how to pitch and negotiate contracts as well as roundtables with members who have started their own publications. I'd help members pool resources with a book list of upcoming titles pegged to the fall and spring publishing seasons. Currently, our organization does too little to promote our profession to the broader public. I'd like to make criticism a greater part of the literary landscape with a reading series at public universities across the country.

I became a writer because I love criticism. I currently review contemporary fiction and political books for The New York Review of Books, London Review of Books and The Nation. Before that, I worked for four years at The New York Review of Books, where I edited some of the stars in our field and learned much of its history from my late boss, Bob Silvers. My time at the Review taught me how much gruntwork is required to make even the best ideas reality, a lesson that shapes the work I do today. I'm fluent in four languages and regularly review books in translation. I'm also involved in a number of political organizations, like Editrix, a group for women writers and editors, and Dissent magazine, where I am a board member. 

The NBCC has hundreds of members and a long and illustrious history. It's time we work together to save our profession before it becomes obsolete. 

Dean Rader

At this bizarre moment in American history, the importance of books and writing feels—if not under threat—then at least under scrutiny. The NBCC is a leading organization not simply for awarding great writing but for explaining why great writing is more than an aesthetic accomplishment. My own work has similar aims. 

For close to twenty years now, I have been writing about American poetry, both as a scholar and as a critic, and I am one of the only critics who regularly writes about contemporary Native American poetry. My essays and reviews (on this topic and others) have appeared in scholarly journals like American Literature, Studies in American Indian Literature, and MELUS; mainstream publications such as The San Francisco Chronicle, The Huffington Post, and The Rumpus; as well as journals like Ploughshares, The Kenyon Review, Los Angeles Review of Books, and BOMB. I read widely and review books by established and emerging poets, both of whom, in my mind, deserve equal critical engagement.

I extend that sense of democracy to my work as a judge, whether it’s for individual poems or entire manuscripts. For example, from 2008-2014, I was a member of the poetry jury for the California Book Awards, and I tried never to let the reputation of the poet or the press influence my opinion of the book. The same would hold true for my work with the NBCC.

One final thought: just under a year ago, I co-edited an anthology entitled Bullets into Bells: Poets and Citizens Respond to Gun Violence. Its impact expanded how I think about a book’s ability to alter interior and exterior worlds. Books are necessary, and the NBCC is perfectly poised to help articulate why this is so. It would be an honor to be part of that conversation.

Celia Bland

Dear colleagues,

I have been a member of NBCC for 3 years now and very much enjoy our virtual community. I’ve read entries for the John Leonard Prize and I’ve published “Second Thoughts” essays on the NBCC blog. I am the associate director of the Bard Institute for Writing & Thinking, and I organize and teach workshops for teachers and professors around the world,, using writing as a tool for close reading and critical interpretation.  In the last year, I’ve led these practical pedagogical workshops all over the world, from Oakland to Siberia and Vietnam..  Wherever I go, we end up talking about what we’re reading.  As far as what would recommend me for a position on the board, I would say that my administrative and committee skills are well-honed over twenty years and that I enjoy collaborating with others, particularly in these days of constant uncertainty.  I see working together on common projects, celebrating and discussing recently published fiction/nonfiction/poetry as a positive act of attention, of complication, of comprehension.

I teach poetry at Bard College, and I would be particularly interested in serving on the committees that read poetry and multi-genre graphic and collage poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. I have reviewed poetry for Rain Taxi, Gulf Coast, Valparaiso Review & The Boston Review.  I’m currently working on a poem for the catalogue of an upcoming exhibition of paintings at Dartmouth’s Hood Museum. 

I am the author of 3 collections of poetry, most recently Cherokee Road Kill (2018), and co-editor of a critical study of the poet Jane Cooper (University of Michigan, 2019).  An essay by Jonathan Blunk considers my poetry in the current The Georgia Review. I have poems upcoming in Native Voices: Honoring Indigenous Poetry from North America (Tupelo Press).

Many thanks for considering my candidacy.

David Canfield

Hello! I’m running for election to the NBCC board. To introduce myself: I’m the lead critic and associate editor for Entertainment Weekly’s books section, curating coverage for our print and digital properties, as well as the co-host of our SiriusXM show Shelf Life. I grew up wanting to be a critic; I’ve pursued the art my whole adult life. I’ve been at EW for a little more than a year, having been mentored by Tina Jordan; previously, I worked under Laura Bennett at Slate.

I’m prepared and eager to take on the challenges of this role. Leading a small but mighty books staff at a major publication, I read a high volume of a wide range of titles, consistently and critically. I have experience planning high-profile events—most recently, EW/Riverhead’s cocktail party for Marlon James’ new novel—and helming ambitious branding efforts. I’m excited by the opportunity to connect with more critics. And hey, I love the awards-judging part, not because books are a competition (they are not!), but because it’s an opportunity to reflect on the year and spotlight singular achievements—the ones that stay with us. Our 2018 top 10 was a joy to debate with my co-critic.

At EW, I’ve shifted our coverage slightly towards literary. Fiction is what I love; I know the landscape thoroughly. (2018 favorites: Ottessa Moshfegh and Tommy Orange.) I’m a voracious reader of criticism and memoir (Maggie Nelson, Alexander Chee, Leslie Jamison), and explore as much other nonfiction as I can—versatility that’s essential to the job. As to how I approach my criticism: I’m interested in how writers push their form forward, how their craft services stories which are compelling, unique, and human.

As a younger candidate, I believe I could bring passion and fresh perspective to this amazing group. Thank you for the consideration.

Tara Cheesman

I am submitting my application to serve on the National Book Critics Circle board. I joined the NBCC after attending several panels featuring and moderated by members, which I found helpful in my development as a critic. With this in mind, at the May membership meeting, I pitched a series for the Critical Mass which became The Craft of Criticism. I wanted it to be an opportunity for new critics to learn from more experienced and established professionals. Fran Bigman and I interviewed ten members on their careers and the current state of book criticism. We chose candidates from different backgrounds and with different areas of expertise. We touched on topics like diversity, money, politics and building community. I’m extremely proud of our work and hope to add more interviews to the series in the coming months. 

If elected I’d like to help facilitate more member generated series with the goal of increasing overall reader engagement through shareable content. I’d also like to work with leadership to find ways to improve the NBCC’s social media presence. Towards that end, I have a strong background in project management and planning, which I believe will be useful to the board.

Bio: I became a freelance critic by way of book blogging, with a heavy focus on international authors and translations. You can find my reviews at The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Quarterly Conversation, The Rumpus, Book Riot, 3:AM Magazine, and Vol. 1  Brooklyn. I have been a panelist at the PEN World Voices Festival and a two-time Best Translated Book Award fiction judge.

Thank you for your consideration.

Claude Peck

A lifelong reader, I’m also an experienced journalist and critic. My career has put me in editorial leadership roles at a city monthly, an alternative newsweekly and Minnesota’s largest daily newspaper and website.

Serving with other NBCC board members to recognize outstanding books would be a great challenge, and a natural extension of much that I’ve already done.

Recently retired from the Star Tribune in Minneapolis-St. Paul, I was the paper’s arts editor for 15 years, and spent the past three years as senior metro editor. As arts editor I oversaw coverage (news and reviews) of books, theater, dance, movies, visual art, architecture/urban design and classical music. I co-wrote a Sunday column for 10 years and wrote features, news and reviews.

For 10 years I managed the paper’s Talking Volumes series, which brought high-profile authors (Nora Ephron, Ann Patchett, Jonathan Franzen, more) to ticketed events at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul. I wrote or edited profiles of all visiting authors..

In 2005 I was a National Arts Journalism Program fellow at the graduate school of Columbia University.

I am on the board of Quatrefoil, one of the nation’s largest LGBTQ libraries, where I work on strategic planning, special events and communications. In 2018 I coordinated 12 live events at the library.

I contribute book reviews to Star Tribune and have written for Rain Taxi and others. In 2018 I reviewed books by Seymour Hersh, Edmund White, Alan Hollinghurst, Colm Toibin, Sarah Winman, Alan Rusbridger and Armistead Maupin. My favorite reviewed books the year before included biographies of Louis Kahn, Elizabeth Bishop and Marianne Moore.

The National Book Critics Circle is an important organization whose annual awards are coveted by writers and celebrated by those, like me, who love reading. I would proudly be a part of it, and I approve this message.

Dana Levin

As a reader and writer of poetry, as a thinker about poetry, as a lover of poetry, I take seriously the influence institutions like the NBCC have on American Letters, as well as the tasks involved in maintaining a healthy literary citizenry. It’s an exciting time for poetry: I’ve been publishing poetry and critical work for close to twenty-five years and have never before encountered this much popular engagement with the art: due, in great part, to three things: social media, increased publication of diverse voices, and an impulse to express against and about the many crises facing nation, world, planet.

The prospect of reading, discussing, and evaluating the poetry being produced in this extraordinary time is exciting to me; the evaluative work of NBCC members feels more crucial than ever, now, as we enter an uncertain and volatile historical era: how will poetry respond? What will poetry tell us, later, as it absorbs and reacts to where we are now? I want to see.

My own critical eye is mainly informed by two questions: how does a work of art seem to interact with its historical moment? What does it suggest about the development of the art over time? So: historical and aesthetic context is important to me. Trends are interesting to me. Subversions of trends call my attention. Because of the domination of debut voices in prize and listicle culture, I’m also invested in finding what mid- and long career work has been under-read, under-reviewed, underappreciated.

In terms of task-work, I am happy to help the NBCC with social media outreach; also event planning, when I can. I have long years of administrative experience: running academic departments, working with large bureaucracies, and running reading series.

Thank you for considering my candidacy! I am happy to serve.

Rod Davis

The ongoing willful disregard for truth and knowledge is wreaking demonstrable havoc on democracy worldwide. If cold assessment of the relevancy of writing and critical thinking is not at the forefront of any literary worker’s thoughts, an awakening is in order.

While the nurturing of literature in its many forms is the role of every critic, I would propose another in this darkening time: ongoing engagement with cultural tyranny. Without turning away from the celebration of that which is valuable to humanity, we also must spend much more effort debunking that which is distorted and false. If elected, I would advocate a special NBCC awards recognition for reviewers who find ways to square off against books of hate and disinformation.

Regarding the application questions, I have considerable experience in management and planning, including ten years as founding director of a veterans support program for The Texas A&M System. I have worked as an author, critic, journalist, TV reporter, and magazine editor, in venues ranging from the Associated Press to The Texas Observer to the Southern Poverty Law Center to Cooking Light at Time, Inc. I have written for many publications and received more than two dozen awards. I taught writing, popular culture, and rhetoric for nine years at UT-Austin and SMU. My critically acclaimed books include American Voudou, Corina’s Way (PEN/Southwest fiction award), and most recently South, America. My next novel, Cold Karma, is forthcoming in 2019. I am a member of PEN America and the Texas Institute of Letters.

Currently, I am working on a novel about Hurricane Katrina. I also freelance and review for The Texas Observer, The Baffler, and newspapers or magazines that still have review sections. I am influenced by critical theory and primarily interested in fiction, but also nonfiction of all kinds, especially literary travel narratives.

Rebecca Kightlinger

Membership in NBCC has greatly enhanced my knowledge of literary criticism by providing opportunities to study the work of great critics and to read and vote on powerful books submitted for the John Leonard Prize. As a fulltime writer and critic, I would like to participate more fully by serving on the NBCC board.

When a hand injury prematurely ended my medical career in 2010, I pursued a new profession, graduating in 2014 from the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast MFA program and in 2016 from UCSD’s editing program. I have published short stories, flash fiction, book reviews, and one novel. I read for New England Review and review books for Historical Novels Review.

I approach criticism with an eye to narratorial craft, voice, composition, and storytelling, and base my review on what I understand the author’s intention to have been and on whether I feel the author accomplished it, rather than on how I might have written that story.

As I see it, a professional serves others in that profession. As a submissions reader, I search out good writing and support the author. As a critic, I read closely and offer thoughtful, concise analysis and opinion. As an NBCC member, I was privileged to serve as a reader for the 2017 John Leonard Prize, a service I would love to reprise.

As a candidate for the board, I bring a lifelong understanding of professionalism and service, along with the energy and focus that have enabled me to develop a robust profession as a writer and critic. My skills lie in close reading and thoughtful analysis of fiction, and I believe I could serve NBCC well on the fiction committee, focusing on historical fiction.

Richard Santos

I’m excited to run for a position on the NBCC board. I’ve been a member since 2012 and have served on the Leonard Prize Jury since its founding. After graduating from Georgetown University with an MA in English, I worked in Washington, DC for some of the nation’s top political consultants, campaigns, and labor unions. I then left DC to complete an MFA at Texas State University and transition into teaching and writing.

I’m a regular features writer and reviewer for Kirkus, and my other reviews and profiles have appeared in The San Antonio Express News, The Rumpus, The LA Review of Books, The Texas Observer, and more. I read fiction and nonfiction widely, but in recent years have focused on Latino literature, literary fiction, suspense/thrillers, and literature in translation.

Perhaps the biggest contribution I can make to the NBCC Board comes from my role as a full time teacher. Teaching, and my previous career in progressive politics, helped me learn how to balance multiple tasks, communicate with people, and break large jobs into manageable components.

My goal on the board would be to expand the NBCC’s membership and footprint. Many book critics hold multiple jobs and I would like to help critics, aspiring and established, balance their various obligations. For example, a regular series on how writers meet their creative, financial, familial, and work obligations should find an audience. I would also like to explore various podcasting opportunities for the NBCC, and work to expand the Circle’s presence in Texas, where I am an active participant in The Texas Book Festival and The Writer’s League of Texas.

Karen Schechner

I hope to serve the NBCC by organizing a few low-key events where members can collectively brainstorm about their work and the state of publishing over drinks and snacks. I previously co-hosted a mixer with the NBCC and the Lambda Literary Foundation at Folksbier in Brooklyn, where critics and authors talked about the current coverage of LGBTQA and other marginalized authors, passed around a few ARCs, and had some productive, fun conversations. I’d also like to talk with NBCC members about how the to cover some of the more than one million books being self-pubbed annually.

I’m the vice president of Indie at Kirkus Reviews. Before Kirkus, I served as the senior editor at the American Booksellers Association for a decade and worked closely with independent booksellers. I also volunteer as a senior editor for the Lambda Literary Association. I’ve been a books journalist for 20-plus years, focusing primarily on reviews, author interviews, independent bookselling, queer lit, self-publishing, and debut authors.

My writing has appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, McSweeney’s, Out magazine, Kirkus Reviews, Time Out New York, the Village Voice, etc. I’ve taught writing at the University of New Mexico and the State University of New York at Purchase and have served on various panels at BookExpo America, the Miami Book Fair, the Self-Pubbed Book Expo, and the Taos Writers Conference. I’m also a member of the New York Mycological Society.

Steve Donaghue

My name is Steve Donoghue, and I'm putting myself forward as a candidate for Board membership. I've been reviewing books for a living since 2006, and in that time I've written for The Boston Globe, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The National, The American Conservative, The Spectator, The Vineyard Gazette, and The Christian Science Monitor, where my reviews currently appear roughly once a week. I write on a broad range of books, mostly concentrating on nonfiction: history, biography, nature writing, political studies, etc., and I review many of these new releases at the online literary journal Open Letters Review (where I'm also an editor). In addition, I'm a prolific reviewer for Kirkus on a wide range of subjects, and I post bookish content frequently for the “BookTube” community of YouTube, where I have over 5000 subscribers. I believe I'd be a very useful Board member particularly in reading for the annual NBCC awards, since I read voraciously across a wide spectrum of genres. Also, I'm a diligent worker and a friendly, outgoing person – I'd be happy to work with all of you!

Carlin Romano

For 25 years as Book Critic of The Philadelphia Inquirer and 18 as Critic-at-Large of The Chronicle of Higher Education, I’ve devoted myself to our world of book reviewing. Much of NBCC looks better to me than when I started.

The word “National” in our name now rings authentic instead of disguising the “New York Book Critics Circle.” More freelancers than ever bring their independence and edginess to NBCC deliberations. We reward books from small presses.  We communicate with one another more and do more worthy things, such as the Emerging Critics program.

At the same time, a few things look weaker. We don’t grapple enough with complex intellectual books of nonfiction, no matter how well written they are, or profoundly influential in their fields. In my own America the Philosophical (Knopf, 2012), I argued that such books make the U.S. a uniquely distinguished publishing culture. We also don’t arrange enough discussions and panels about important practical issues of our trade, or the philosophical challenges criticism creates. To help reverse that trend, I organized NBCC’s May 2018 BEA panel on “The Crisis in Book Reviewing: Disappearing Space, Disappearing Pay,” which drew more than 150 attendees. I want such events to be more regular.

I’ve naturally cared that NBCC give scholarship a fair shake given my professional inclinations as Professor of Philosophy and Humanities at Ursinus College, Visiting Professor of Communication (Ongoing) at Penn’s Annenberg School, and Critic-at-Large of the Chronicle. But in addition to chairing the Criticism Committee the past two years, I’ve served on several other committees and take on books in all genres. Honestly, though, I care most about keeping our threatened sector of literary life vibrant. I inaugurated the NBCC Survey of Reviewing Venues and Payments (wonderfully revived by Anjali Enjeti), and our NBCC Ethics Survey, which I’m updating this year. I’d be grateful if the membership permits me to serve a second term on the NBCC Board so I can pursue such practical projects, including one that has long eluded us: an annual NBCC-curated “Best Book Criticism” volume to take its place alongside “Best Short Stories” and the like.   

Jacob Appel

What if some unheralded author penned the most transformative book of the twenty-first century—and nobody noticed?  With the increasing consolidation of the publishing industry and the ongoing dominance of corporate media conglomerates, this fear may well become reality.  As a longtime book reviewer who publishes primarily in literary journals (eg. Ploughshares, Georgia Review, Los Angeles Review, etc.) and small magazines (Rain Taxi, Boston Book Review, Education Update, etc.), and an advocate for independent publishers, I believe it is crucial that the NBCC engaged with and promote the amazing literary work that is occurring beyond the boundaries of the economic and geographic centers of traditional, large-scale publishing. 

             Small and mid-size independent presses offer opportunities for many writers who have historically been excluded from so-called “mainstream” publishing—not just writers from mistreated racial, ethnic and sexual minorities, but often authors belong to excluded groups who lack a collective consciousness of such exclusion.  Many of the aspiring, first-time novelists in the adult writing courses I regularly teach are women over sixty, a class of authors who often struggle to draw meaningful attention from “Big Five” publishers.  Others are individuals with serious physical illnesses or histories of incarceration—groups largely invisible to major publishing houses.  Independent presses offer vehicles for these individuals to share their stories.  By paying attention to the work of smaller houses, reviewers can make sure these stories received their due. 

As an NBCC Board Member, my hope would be to serve as a voice advocating for the countless brilliant books and authors who too often drift below the radar screen of contemporary culture.   Mainstream publishing continues to grow more exclusive; these smaller publishing houses, often labors of love, and their frequently overlooked authors, remain crucial to our literary future.

About the Critical Mass Blog

Commentary on literary criticism, publishing, writing, and all things NBCC related. It's written by independent members of the NBCC Board of Directors (see list of bloggers below).


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