In this series of interviews, we will introduce you to some of our new board members serving as Vice Presidents at the NBCC, as well as to some of the new initiatives and opportunities unfolding in our organization. Stay tuned for interviews with Ruben Quesada, VP of Diversity and Inclusion, and Anita Felicelli, VP of Fundraising, and check out our earlier interview with Heather Scott Partington, VP of the Emerging Critics Program.
Chelsea Leu is a writer and critic, and book reviews editor at The Rumpus. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Believer, Bookforum, Guernica, Literary Hub, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and others.
Can you talk about your own experience as a member of the NBCC, and a member of the Emerging Critics Fellowship program, before being elected to the board and to the position of VP of Membership?
Yes! I joined the NBCC in 2017 when I decided that I wanted to try my hand at book criticism—I had been doing science writing before that point and kind of hated it. I remember religiously reading Rebecca Skloot’s guide to becoming a book critic, which was written for the NBCC, and also using the editor contact database to land my first clips at the Rumpus, where I’m now reviews editor. I heard about the Emerging Critics fellowship, applied, and became part of the 2018-2019 class, where I met one of my best friends. After the turmoil in June last year, I was asked to join the board. I came in incredibly eager to help develop programs for NBCC members because I felt like I had actually gotten a lot out of my NBCC membership thus far, but could see that many other members weren’t having the same experience.
Who can be a member of the NBCC and what does membership include? Why should critics consider joining, and what is the process for joining?
If you’re interested in writing book reviews, you can be a member of the NBCC! All you have to do is fill out a form—it’ll ask for a few bylines and/or a brief paragraph describing why you want to join, but don’t stress out too much over this because we’re very flexible. Alternately, if you’re just starting out and don’t have clips yet, we have less expensive student memberships that give you access to career resources as well. Currently, members get access to the aforementioned editor contact database and discounts on various literary magazine subscriptions, as well as the opportunity to read for the Leonard Prize, which we award every year to the best debut book. We’ve also begun hosting occasional Zoom happy hours, where NBCC members across the country can meet and socialize.
You have been busy shaping new opportunities for members since entering your new role as VP of Membership at the end of March. Can you tell us about what we can look forward to?
Adam Dalva, my brilliant colleague on the board, and I have been working together to develop panels featuring book publicists and editors to help critics learn about strategies for finding forthcoming books and placing reviews at publications. We’ve also been developing plans to create pitch guides for various literary outlets, as well as compile a comprehensive document of advice on how to get into book criticism (which I see as sort of an update/successor to the Skloot guide I relied so heavily on just a few years ago). Finally, I’ve also been working with various board members to develop a forum on the NBCC website, accessible to members only, so we can all discuss books together and share information about the writing/criticism/freelance life, and generally foster more of a sense of community within the NBCC. These are the initiatives I’m actively working on, but I’m always open to more ideas for useful resources. I have a giant list in a Google doc and I’m hoping to eventually get to every idea on that list!
How do you envision new membership initiatives carrying forward the NBCC’s commitment to increased diversity, equity, and inclusion?
I’m hoping that the career development resources Adam and I are developing—the panels, the advice document and pitch guides—will be helpful for critics who might not have that many connections or resources in the industry, which tends to include people from underrepresented minorities. I also really hope the forum might serve as a way for anyone struggling to get started in criticism to ask questions, get guidance from more experienced critics like pitch critiques and information about writing for certain outlets, and generally get to know other members who might help them out (or even just offer emotional support/commiseration). In general, I’d love for the NBCC to become a friendlier, more welcoming place, a true community, and I see more diversity and inclusion as an integral part of that vision.
Find out more or apply for membership with the NBCC here.