Criticism & Features

NBCC Reads

Guest Post by David Lehman: NBCC at 35

By Jane Ciabattari

David Lehman was NBCC VP/Programs in the late 1980s. His Best American Poetry blog here.

Christoper Ricks, Connie Casey, Brigitte Weeks, Wendy Lesser, Timothy Foote, Doris Grumbach, Alida Becker, Joel Connaroe, Eliot Fremont-Smith, Mark Feeney, Herb Leibowitz, Greil Marcus, Morris Dickstein, Dave Wood —what a list!

These were just some of my colleagues on the Board during the four or five years I served on it. One year, I believe it was 1991, we had a poetry subcommittee composed of Mike Dirda, M. Mark, Tom Disch, Mindy Aloff, and me, and I think we were all justly proud of the list we crafted and the recommendations we made. We met in California that February and danced all night.

I was grateful to Nina King, our president when I joined the board in 1986, for nominating me as VP for programs. I hadn’t realized how much I like organizing and hosting events. In my time on the board, we gave lifetime achievement awards to Robert Giroux and Donald Keene. It was an honor for me to make the presentations.

The subject of book prizes routinely provokes more heat than light, and furious heat at that, but I always felt that this organization’s work was honorable in every sense. We honored the books and authors we esteemed, we honored the profession itself by establishing ethical standards (or at least raising issues), we did our best to honor the book review as an important literary form—and we advanced, in our practice, the noble idea that civilized people can disagree without resort to vicious insult.