The National Book Critics Circle — which represents hundreds of critics nationwide, and hands out several prestigious prizes — is the latest literary organization to be riled by accusations of racism.
It began last week when writer and board member Hope Wabuke resigned from the organization in a series of tweets citing racist comments made by another board member in an email discussion about a proposed anti-racism statement — and the NBCC’s insufficient response. Wabuke and other NBCC members have reviewed books for NPR.
“I have been trying to get this organization to put out a simple statement that says Black Lives Matter and racism is bad for one week now,” she tweeted. “The tactic has been DENY ATTACK DELAY DELAY DENY DELAY DELAY and now THREATEN.”
Wabuke did not name the member publicly, though online commenters identified him as Carlin Romano, a former board president and current vice president for grants. Romano has confirmed he wrote the email, insisting to Publishers Weekly that “I’m not racist and I’m not anti-black.”
Wabuke’s publication of the email, and subsequent responses, prompted board president Laurie Hertzel to resign over the weekend, in an open letter complaining that “private exchanges were made public on Twitter, which made it impossible to continue with this discussion in good faith.”
Several more board members have also resigned, in support of both Hertzel and Wabuke.
Some of the remaining members sent out a letter Sunday praising Wabuke’s work on the anti-racism pledge — which was posted June 11 — and linking to the NBCC’s bylaws, which include procedures for removing a board member. The letter went on to say that board has a regularly scheduled meeting later this week, at which members “will discuss our next steps as an organization and will be putting into action the concrete steps outlined in our Anti-Racism Pledge.”
This all follows a change in leadership at the Poetry Foundation, after over a thousand poets signed on to an open letter criticizing that organization’s statement in response to protests against the police killing of George Floyd, calling it “worse than the bare minimum.”