Revolutionary Wannabe #1

FIRST in a series examining the radical stance of several of the literary establishment’s most prominent editors and writers.
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OUR QUESTION: Are any of these people for real?

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R.W. #1:  Lauren Groff

One of the New York Monolith’s most hyped literary commodities, Groff recently sent out this tweet:

Among her other statements, Groff has also said “Thanksgiving is a lie,” and white people, including her sons, owe “a profound debt” for their “vast privileges,” “which they have to repay over the course of their lives–”

WHO is Lauren Groff?

Lauren Groff has been published by Disney’s Hyperion and by Penguin Random House, both part of gigantic “Big Five” New York-based media conglomerates. She has degrees from exclusive Amherst College and from the University of Wisconsin. Her father is Vice-President of a health care company which owns four hospitals and 23 health centers. She’s upper-class enough to have had her 2006 marriage featured in the society pages of the New York Times. Groff’s husband, Clayton Byron Kallman, is a real estate developer– a business he began in by managing an apartment building owned by his dad.

NOT exactly a person who’s bucked the system to date. But things change– NOW she’s ready to chuck it all and march in the streets. To the barricades!
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(We invite Lauren Groff to join the D.F.S., or Disinvest From Success, movement, known also as Disinvestment Of Or From Unearned Success, or D.O.O.F.U.S. Instead of placing all burden on her sons, Groff can rip up her book contracts, her husband can give away his real estate holdings, and they can have undocumented refugees move in with them in their large home in Gainesville, Florida. This will tell the world that Lauren Groff is for real. Will she?)
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COMING SOON:  Revolutionary Wannabe #2.

-K.W.

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Our 2017 Pushcart Choices

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WE HAVE an image in our heads of a back room at Pushcart Press. In the room are envelopes– stacks of postmarked envelopes. Corridors of mountains of stacks of mailed envelopes sent by every literary press or project in America– nominations for the 2017 Pushcart Prize. Ours is there, in the room, somewhere, among them.

We’re optimists, so we designed our mailing and its Intro letter– and chose our nominees– with a goal in mind: winning the elusive prize. The odds? What are odds!? We sneer at the odds! We have no “name” writers, and we aren’t a name ourselves to the good people at Wainscott, New York. But we’re here and we believe in ourselves and our project.

This year we published a number of excellent stories, poems, and profiles. Many could have been nominated. We used reasoning and rationalizations to make our selections– all such decisions are ultimately arbitrary, based on whim and whisper as much as logic. So it was with us.

OUR SELECTIONS and the reasons for them:

Elusive Instinct” by Ana Prundaru.

Simple, clear writing. Perfectly easy to get into, but with marked style as well. No easy trick to accomplish. A story whose tone and mood fits the stylish aesthetic to which we aspire.

“Dry Bones” by Sonia Christensen, and “The Fetus” by Clint Margrave.

Two well-written, powerful stories which begin with intriguing openings. Read the first sentences of both of them. The titles themselves are provocative and visual. More than this, the stories are works of art with depth of meaning to them.

“Operative 73 Takes a Swim”  by Wred Fright.

This one is so different from the norm in execution, ideas, and plot we believe it would catch anyone’s eye. Even in Wainscott, should any eye happen to glance at it, within the mountains and stacks. Like the others, it’s also a terrific little tale. Wred has published work with New Pop Lit on several occasions, is overdue for recognition from us. The lesson: keep sending us work!

Finally, we nominated two short-but-striking Appreciations of American writers, which we published as part of the ongoing All-Time American Writers Tournament.

One, about Philip K. Dick, is by D.C. Miller. The other, about Gene Wolfe, is by Robin Wyatt Dunn. Two able wordsmiths who can do much with a limited amount of words.
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We love and respect all the writers we’ve published, and all who’ve submitted work. Without the writer we’re nowhere– just a blank screen awaiting the magic of art.

An Invitation

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CONSIDER THIS a standing invitation to anyone in the mainstream literary scene to discuss or debate the points made in our seven posts about the National Book Awards. (The posts previous to this one.)

Will anyone take us up on the offer? Not likely! What makes the scene a monolith, beside the fact everyone in it thinks alike, is that not a single contrary thought is allowed to enter into it. It stands impervious, like a block of steel.

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What does a totalitarian intellectual community look like?
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Why do we persist with our News blog, as only an irritant, maybe not even that?

There should be a place for honest news and information about today’s literary scene. Someone has to at least try to ask the tough questions– has to make the attempt, quixotic or not, to stir the lethargic and complacent literary-publishing apparatus and the apparatchiks inside it.

 

Handicapping the Fiction Award

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ONE big question remains: Who will win the Fiction Prize at this year’s (2017) National Book Awards?

Don’t think for a moment that such choices aren’t made with political and image considerations. This year several competing dynamics are at play.

A.)  The omnipresence in the news media of the ongoing sex abuse scandals favors giving the award to a woman. This year, four-out-of-five finalists are women. Could the judges not award the prize to one of them?

B.)  On the other hand, there’s the (surmised) campaign to make Elliot Ackerman the next John F. Kennedy. See our previous post, and the one before that.

C.)  Jacqueline Woodson, chair of this year’s judging panel, was the target of Daniel Handler’s watermelon jokes at the 2014 event when she won the award for Young People’s Literature. Will this impact her decision this year? Would she be willing to go along with a push to hand Ackerman the prize?

D.)  The X factor is judge Dave Eggers, one of the more powerful figures in the literary business. Several factors are at play with “The Dave.”

One is his psychological need to appear as Munificent Good Guy. This includes a Great White Savior complex. (See his book, What Is the What.) Eggers grew up in one of the richest, most segregated cities in America, and sees People-Of-Color as “Victim.” A variation of Liberal Morality Play, except Dave Eggers lives it. This theory argues he’ll push to give the award to one of the women– Jesmyn Ward most likely, whose life story in spots is truly “heartbreaking.”

On the other hand, Eggers has a personality akin to Peter Ackerman’s (again, see our previous two posts)– a Jekyll-Hyde balance between benevolence and aggressiveness. Dave Eggers respects power and knows Elliot’s father has it. Nothing need be said– these things are sensed. The son, Elliot, is a child of privilege, as is Eggers, and takes a similar global view of the world– and of America’s central place in it. There’d be natural sympathy between the two men.

Of the five judges, Dave Eggers has the standing, reputation, personality, and will to dominate the group. In addition, one of the other judges, Karolina Waclawiak, was until recently an employee of his, as Assistant Editor at The Believer, an Eggers publication. The deck isn’t stacked– but Eggers holds a strong hand.

Jacqueline Woodson is panel Chair. As a black woman (a black woman, moreover, who was disrespected by Handler, a friend of the Dave’s) Woodson carries implicit moral authority, particularly in the world of the established intelligentsia, which by definition is an ultra-liberal world. See the ideological slant of this year’s nominations. If Woodson has determined on a winner, not even Dave Eggers, hyper-sensitive as he is to issues and images of race, would be willing to stand against her choice. But if she hasn’t decided– then the decision is his.

They might agree on the choice anyway.

Here then are the odds for this year’s contest:

Elliot Ackerman:  While he has less than a 50% chance of winning, the offstage presence of all-powerful Dad still makes Elliot the co-favorite to win.

Odds:  3 to 1.
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Lisa Ko:  Ko’s novel The Leavers, about undocumented immigrants, is the most topical and best-positioned politically to win the award. If the panel wishes to send a “So there!” message to President Trump, this book will be the choice. The other “Ko” favorite.

Odds:  3 to 1.
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Jesmyn Ward:  The biggest argument against Jesmyn Ward is that she won the award in 2011. Would she be given another one?

Odds:  5 to 1.
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Min Jin Lee:  Ms. Lee has terrific Insider credentials, as a graduate of Georgetown and Yale and a former corporate lawyer in New York. She also has a big-time publisher in Hachette. However, the plot of Pachinko involves discrimination against Koreans by Japan. Not a trendy cause.

Odds:  15 to 1.
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Carmen Maria Machado:  There are two strikes against Ms. Machado: A.) Has a small publisher, Graywolf Press.  B.) A book of stories by a little-known author is unlikely to win.

Odds:  15 to 1.
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ALTERNATE VERSION
A different “Alt Right” view says that, based on the Radhika Jones hiring at Vanity Fair and other happenings, white males are being purged throughout New York literary culture– they present the wrong image, and so Elliot Ackerman’s real odds of winning the prize are one in 500,000. Under this version, white male publishers Morgan Entrekin, David Steinberger, and the owners of the Big Five publishing companies will commit ritual suicide at the end of the event, a la Cho Cho San at the end of the opera “Madame Butterfly.”

The entire scripted 2017 National Book Awards ceremony is in fact a ritual suicide, only, like “Madame Butterly,” it’s all theater.

(See the other posts in the series, here.)

-K.W.

Ackerman-Kennedy Parallels

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WHEN STUDYING history one finds parallels between this period and that one. Between the past and today. They can sometimes be amusing parallels, and other times informative ones. Patterns of the past give us clues to the present. On rare occasions, they help us predict what might happen next.

The career of Elliot Ackerman, a Finalist for the National Book Award in the Fiction category, has similarities to the early life and career of John F. Kennedy.

The most important factor in both cases is the presence of a powerful father. A self-made, dominating figure who the son needs to please, impress, and match. Both fathers, Joseph Kennedy and Peter Ackerman, can be considered complex and contradictory personalities embodying the contradictions– the virtues and failings– of America itself. Both, determined realists and steadfast idealists, accused of corruption while achieving laudable success and spectacular wealth. Both combined business with politics.

The oldest Kennedy son, Joe, died in a foolhardy airplane mission during World War II, trying to prove his courage. The second son, John, proved his bravery in the PT 109 incident in the Pacific during the same war.

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Elliot Ackerman plunged into war in at least as dramatic a fashion– proven by his Silver Star and Purple Heart. WHY does a young man of comfort and privilege behave in this manner? What internal or external needs drive him?

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Patriotic? Indisputably. Ambitious? How ambitious? A son seeking to escape the very large shadow of a strong and successful father.
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jfkand dad

Remember that the JFK myth was based not solely on a heroic resume, but also the credentials of an intellectual. John Kennedy won a Pulitzer Prize in 1957 for his book, Profiles in Courage. A necessary step in his quick ascension to power.

Elliot Ackerman is building as impressive a resume. We can legitimately ask of this man of action if his writing career is one step toward a larger goal. Warrior. Journalist. Author. He’s been involved in politics through he and his father’s organization, Americans Elect.

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HOW BIG a role does Elliot’s father play in the construction of Elliot’s career? How far does Peter Ackerman resemble Joseph Kennedy. HOW MUCH does Peter Ackerman want his son to win the National Book Award? These are questions a literary critic and analyst must ask. Peter Ackerman’s life and career, his remarkable attainments and ambition, his ability to push the limits, demand that we ask them.

One recent war hero, Phil Klay (who has interviewed Elliot Ackerman), has won the National Book Award, for Fiction in 2014.

Can Elliot Ackerman do less?

-K.W.
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NEXT: We assess the odds in the Fiction category– and perhaps make a prediction.

(Read our previous posts! Ours is THE most thorough coverage of the 2017 National Book Awards.)

 

 

Fake Diversity

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NO DOUBT those involved with the National Book Awards are congratulating themselves on the diversity of their selections. Yes, the identity politics crowd is happy. Of the 20 finalists, 11 are persons of color. (Two others immigrated here.) 15 of the 20 are women. Four out of five finalists of the most prestigious category, Fiction, are women of color. For those at home counting, double bonus points. For Fiction alone, there’s a Chinese-American and Korean-American and Cuban-American and African-American.

AS LONG as we’re playing the hyphen game, where are the Polish-Americans and Serbian-Americans and Slovak-Americans? The Croatian/Greek/Hungarian/Ukrainian/Lithuanian/Italian-Americans? Those whose people were brought over here to work brutal jobs in steel mills and coal mines and auto plants– who were never given the privilege to which white skin color supposedly entitles one in the hallucinatory visions of the actual privileged at Harvard, Yale, Brown, Columbia, Princeton, and Stanford; in the imaginings of those who write the PC rules that organizations like the National Book Foundation now follow.

If one is meant to see representatives of identity at such affairs– where’s mine? They’re not in the white publishers pulling strings behind the scenes, with whom I have nothing in common beyond skin color.

If appearances matter, the Awards appear to have eliminated an entire large swath of America from consideration– especially if one adds in working-class whites in Appalachia, Kansas, the Rust Belt, and other parts of the nation overlooked by Manhattan mandarins eager to appear as correct as possible; those who dominate such “charitable” organizations. (The actual charity involved being minimal.)

Fiction Finalist Jesmyn Ward says of the notion of a color-blind America: “I don’t know that place. I’ve never been there.” (This despite achieving degrees at both University of Michigan and Stanford.) Except there’s no choice but to live in a post-racial America if there’s to be any kind of harmony in this chaotic nation.

More important for an arts organization than superficial diversity of the cosmetic or hyphenated kind is diversity of ideas. At the big Awards ceremony Wednesday night one can be assured there will be NONE.

Will there be a single individual holding an opinion on politics and culture different from the rest of the audience? (A Trump voter, for instance?) If there is, the person won’t announce it! (First reaction if did: “How did he get in here?” Second reaction: Naked hostility. Third reaction: Career over.)

Which brings us to the token straight white male among the Fiction Finalists: Elliot Ackerman. A white guy? How did he slip in there??

Working-class whites are readily thrown overboard when equality and diversity become an issue– though few were on board to start with. But there’s always room for the super-elite, or children of the super-elite, and Elliot Ackerman is proof.

Eliot_ackerman_8929(Elliot Ackerman.)
A genuine war hero in the war in Afghanistan, Ackerman, methinks, is on his way to becoming a U.S. Senator. JFK anyone?

(We’ll assume, for the sake of his own survival Wednesday, that he’s a proper liberal. Likely a neo-liberal. Afghanistan may be tough, but inflamed ideologues in a mob are another matter.)

A Marine for eight years, Elliot served as a CIA Special Operations Officer as well. More recently he was Chief Operating Officer of Americans Elect, a political organization founded and chaired by his father. Elliot was a White House Fellow in the Obama Administration. He’s written for every establishment publication in existence, including The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Times, The New Republic, and others. Conspiracy theorists out there can note he’s also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

THE FATHER
Elliot’s father Peter Ackerman has been a liberal icon, an international scholar, a consultant to student protesters in China, and on the boards of several liberal political organizations. He’s also worked for the investment bank Drexel Burnham Lambert where he made an estimated 300 million-plus dollars, was involved in the Michael Milken junk bond insider trading scandal, and paid a $73 million settlement with the FDIC. In 2005 the U.S. Tax Court ruled that Peter was involved in an illegal $1.7 billion tax shelter. He’s had either an exciting establishment career, or a typical one, depending on how you look at things.

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How did Elliot get his book in the Awards, indeed!

Why focus so much on the writers, anyway? Writers are merely the outward excuse for throwing a lavish party for Bigs of New York publishing, with accompanying tax write-offs. The party, not the writers or writing, is the point.

-MORE TO COME-

K.W.

Politicized Book Awards

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The elephant in the room that NO ONE will talk about is the thorough politicization of the National Book Awards. Here are the Finalists and other nominees:

http://www.nationalbook.org/nba2017.html#.WgOxN4FSzrc

The choices might be most slanted in the NonFiction category– as if the judges looked for every book which would conform to a narrative of America as an evil place which should never have been founded. Exaggeration?

Erica Armstrong Dunbar‘s target is George and Martha Washington– engaged in the “relentless pursuit” of a runaway slave.

Frances Fitzgerald‘s target is evangelicals, “right-wing zealots” in the words of an approving review of the book in New York Review of Books.

David Grann‘s target is white oil barons in Oklahoma in the 1920’s out to wipe out an Indian tribe.

Nancy MacLean targets the “History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America.” (Subtitle saying all you need to know about that one.)

Then there’s Masha Gessen, the most anti-Putin, pro-Cold War-with-Russia proponent around, which says a lot. Gessen has the energy of an evangelist, and as fervent a cause. While the other writers give, more or less, honest reportage, albeit from a slanted premise or viewpoint, Ms. Gessen is a professional attack dog. A propagandist. Doubt it– or her political slant? Gessen’s recent articles on the U.S. President include “The Real Madman,” and “Diagnosing Donald Trump, and His Voters”– both of which posit the man as insane. Playing to her audience, sure, and inflaming them– which is what a propagandist does.

Every year hundreds of non-fiction books are published– many thousands if the DIY variety are included. The slant, the bias, the distortion in the National Book Awards comes via which books are selected. Which images chosen to create the desired portrait– which for this nation is not an edifying one. (We are still a nation, though some would think not.)

Could more balance have been provided by the other five nominees? No. If anything, they’re more slanted, more a one-way view of culture and politics– the capper being Naomi Klein’s book on “Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics.” Ms. Klein is an even more hysterical propagandist than Ms. Gessen. (I base that on having read a few of her books.)

Objective commentators? Or advocates with a cause?
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The bias exists throughout the other categories, though in not as blatant a fashion. Again, it’s as if the books were selected to fill in a predetermined picture of America, past and now. Need a novel on the struggle of undocumented aliens in this country? We have one– Lisa Ko’s The Leavings. And so on.

If the impression is given that the selections were made for political reasons, for advocacy, and not for quality, this hurts most the writers themselves.

 

Where Are the Journalists?

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IT’S COME TO OUR ATTENTION while looking into the National Book Awards, whose lavish awards dinner at Cipriani Wall Street is November 15th, that no one covers the established publishing business. NO ONE.

Oh, there are articles. A host of back-slapping herd-following articles. But no one looks beneath the surface of the manufactured glamour and glitz unless forced to– as in the Daniel Handler fiasco at the NBF awards dinner three years ago.

Where the publishing industry is concerned, what we have in New York City and elsewhere are not journalists in any sense of the word, but cheerleaders writing puff pieces.

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AN EXAMPLE of the tame coverage given PR productions like the National Book Awards is this Los Angeles Times blurb from Michael Schaub. The operating principle: Make No Waves. Note the “see no evil” treatment of Daniel Handler. Schaub is the typical go-along-to-get-along personality type which permeates today’s literary scene. Don’t look behind the accepted version. Give the Big Boys of letters what they want.

schaub(Michael Schaub.)
There’s no need to single Michael Schaub out– though we have. Hundreds are like him– interchangeable cogs. Throw a rock in Brooklyn and you’ll hit a dozen of them. Michael Schaub clones, proceeding obediently along prescribed paths like workers entering Metropolis.

They don’t exist to question. They are not paid to think. Learn the doctrine and the script. “Established lit is wonderful. Our novelists are the best!”
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(Book Awards venue.)

Available stories for media:

-How much is Cynthia Nixon being paid to host the National Book Awards? Is the amount more than the awards themselves?

-Is it conflict of interest for those funding and running the National Book Foundation to in effect be nominating for awards their own books? Does this correspond with the proper actions of a nonprofit charity?

-Would there be a less costly venue for the awards than Cipriani Wall Street– so that more of the money raised could be given to the authors themselves?

-Does the extreme ideological slant of the nominations, and the propagandist nature of several of the books, violate strictures of the 501(c)(3) law governing nonprofits– “no substantial part of the activities which is carrying on propaganda”?

AND, one unrelated but topical question:

-What kind of buyout did Harvey Weinstein receive from Hachette Publishing when they dissolved his imprint?

The questions are out there, but don’t expect answers. No one looks into such matters. It isn’t done. Sports reporters, of all people, have more an adversary relationship with the subjects of their coverage than does anyone covering the publishing world.
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The National Book Awards aren’t about the writers, and never have been. They’re a celebration of New York publishing. Of the monolith itself.

Book reviewers and critics on proliferating media sites play the role of affirming chorus to the National Book Foundation’s stage show. One can picture it. Power people at tables in tuxes and gowns applauding as various winners enter the spotlight like vaudeville performers.

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Cynthia Nixon, soprano, host: “We’ve gathered here to celebrate.”

Baritone chorus: “We here are all so won-der-ful.”

Soprano Executive Director: “We’ve done this year a smashing job.”

Chorus: “We here are all so won-der-ful!”

Huge applause.

This is not a gathering of peers. In the New York publishing pyramid, power is strictly tops-down, with writers at the bottom.

Liberal Morality Play

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The National Book Foundation finalists have been announced. We plan to present some quick examinations of the choices. We intend to ask questions. We may not have answers– the National Book Foundation is a puzzle. A mystery. A morality play.

For instance: This year’s Non-Fiction finalists, all from “Big Five” conglomerate publishers. The list:

  • Erica Armstrong Dunbar, Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge
    (Atria / 37 INK / Simon & Schuster)
  • Frances FitzGeraldThe Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America
    (Simon & Schuster)
  • Masha Gessen, The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia
    (Riverhead Books / Penguin Random House)
  • David GrannKillers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI
    (Doubleday / Penguin Random House)
  • Nancy MacLean, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America
    (Viking / Penguin Random House)

Skewed heavily politically one way, we’d say– as were the other nominees. But after all, this is not a time for competing viewpoints. No– this is a period of crisis. Of outright hysteria! No room for objectivity. Except here.

What’s the reality? Are we seeing from the publishing industry a scripted liberal morality play?

The National Book Foundation is an appendage of the New York publishing industry. A nicely-concealed publicity campaign for the industry. Funding comes from New York publishers in various forms– including the awards and accompanying Benefit Dinner. Publishers whose books become finalists are required to help publicize the book and awards. It’s a win-win situation. Each side publicizes the other. The Dinner, at tres chic, tres expensive Cipriani Wall Street in Manhattan’s financial district is a major fundraising event for the foundation. Attendance appears to be by invitation only. One can believe it will be a collection of New York publishing insiders.

The National Book Foundation’s Board Chairman is David Steinberger, CEO of the Perseus Books Group. Vice Chair is Morgan Entrekin, Publisher of Grove-Atlantic. The Treasurer at NBF is Chairman of W.W. Norton & Company, W. Drake McFeely. (NBF’s Board Secretary, Calvin Sims, a long-time internationalist, former Ford Foundation executive, former Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, former New York Times overseas bureau chief, brings rather different qualifications to the table.)

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(David Steinberger and Friend.)

Power! The National Book Foundation is an extension of cultural and societal power.

Conflict of interest? No one is watching. Nobody cares. Least of all journalists at NYC media outlets like the New York Times and The New Yorker. Fellow Members of the Club, most with novels in drawers they’d themselves like to someday have published. Most attended the same Ivy League/Oxbridge/Stanford elite schools as did the scions of publishing.

Thirteen years ago the price of a table at the Awards dinner was $10,000. What is it today? There’s no way of knowing. The information is available nowhere on the NBF website.

Everything about the event reeks of money. Publishers and high-salaried employees sit at high-priced tables and applaud the politically-correct, even radical, selections, which for the most part are window dressing. (A couple bonded-and-bred Insiders are included among the various finalists, along with one outright professional propagandist– attack dog for American Empire.)

New York publishing after all is a prime example of privilege and hierarchy. Centering publishing– and the literary world– in a single overpriced city is the antithesis of democracy, in the view of this commentator.

The Awards– the nominations, finalists, medallions– are theater. An elaborate and gaudy show absolving the ultra-affluent attendees of complicity in any crimes outlined in the books celebrated. Absolution. Pontius Pilate washing his hands. Penance and forgiveness in a one-evening ritual, tasty dinner included.

Is more than this happening?

Stay tuned.

K.W.

 

Questions for National Book Foundation

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(Pictured: Cipriani Wall Street, location of 2017 National Book Awards Ceremony.)

NOTE:  We requested an interview with National Book Foundation Executive Director Lisa Lucas about their upcoming awards, but never received a response. Here are several questions we would’ve asked:

1.)  Does New York City exercise too much dominance over American literature?

2.)  Would you say the National Book Foundation is a promotional arm of Big Five publishing? Are New York publishers the foundation’s chief support?

3.)  Is it a mistake for all ten of your 2017 Non-Fiction nominees to be slanted politically one way? Should a tax-exempt arts organization be open to a variety of viewpoints?

4.)  We note the National Book Foundation is sponsoring a reading program in Pakistan. Is this done for political reasons?

5.)  How does one attend the awards Benefit Dinner at Cipriani Wall Street on November 15th? How much are tickets? Is the event not open to the public?

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