The National Book Critics Circle is the latest organization to be roiled by its response to Black Lives Matter movement after its lone black board member resigned in frustration.
By Monday, 14 board members have resigned after Hope Wabuke blasted the board for delays in framing its response to the racial justice protest, which led to a heated debate over the role racism has played in publishing.
Now as the 10 remaining board members prepare for a crucial board meeting, the very existence of the 46-year-old organization that hands out six of the publishing industry’s most prestigious literary awards annually could be in peril.
The protest was ignited Thursday when Wabuke, a Ugandan-born writer, walked away from the prestigious organization over what she said were delays in crafting a statement addressing widespread racial injustice protests.
She had proposed a statement that was sharply critical of the overwhelmingly white publishing industry that said “white gatekeepers” had for years “stifled black voices.”
That drew a sharp rebuke from one board member who said white people in publishing did more to help black voices than black writers did to help white writers.
Wabuke went public with the criticism, although the name of her critic was redacted. That prompted her critic to push for Wabuke to be booted for going public on board deliberations.
But Wabuke resigned in protest herself.
“It is not possible to change these organizations from within, and the backlash will be too dangerous for me to remain,” she wrote.
“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,” Wabuke tweeted. “The tactic has been deny, attack, delay delay deny delay delay and now threaten.”
Past president and current board member Carlin Romano has since acknowledged he was the board member who sparred with Wabuke. In e-mails to president Laurie Hertzel, he called for Wabuke to be removed from the board.
Over the weekend, five board members resigned, including Hertzel, who said it was impossible to move forward after Wabuke went public with her e-mails. She called for the entire board to be dissolved and at least three others joined her. By Monday, a total of 14 had resigned with some appearing to depart in sympathy with Wabuke and others in sympathy with Hertzel.
Carolyn Kellogg, the former book editor of the LA Times, who was among those who resigned Monday, was sharply critical of Romano. “The statement he made showed little understanding of the current scholarship on the wide ranging effects of systemic racism,” she tweeted.
Romano remains on the board.
In her farewell note, Kellogg noted, “If a statement about anti-racism tears our board apart and what you focus on is process, that should tell you something. Before I go, I want to point out that as the sole black woman on the board, Hope should have been given extra support and liberty in leading our effort to craft an anti-racism statement. She was not.”
Marion Winik, one of the remaining board members, told Media Ink, “We will have a statement after [Wednesday’s] meeting. It’s really pointless for anyone to speak before then.”
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