Monday, October 17, 2011

How not to run an award: National Book Award debacle

Last week the National Book Foundation announced the finalists for the National Book Award. Oddly, the Young People's Literature category listed six books instead of the usual five:

The NBF cited “miscommunication” between the NBA judges and staff for leaving out Chime by Franny Billingsley (Dial Books, an imprint of Penguin Group) in the original selection. After the judges heard the broadcast, they told the NBF staff of the omission. The addition of a sixth nominee in YPL’s makes a total of 21 NBA finalists this year. (PW)

Well, now it turns out there will be only five nominations in the YPL category, after all:

After receiving a request from the National Book Foundation that she withdraw her book from nomination, Lauren Myracle consented, a move that dropped Shine from the list. Last week, Chime by Franny Billingsley was added as a sixth nominee to the category, and Harold Augenbraum, NBF executive director, confirmed Monday that NBF staff had originally misheard Shine for Chime when the list of nominees was read by the judges over the phone. The mistake was not caught until the judges heard the announcement on last Wednesday’s radio broadcast. The YPL judge’s panel is chaired by author Marc Aronson.(PW)

I think this is pretty shabby of the NBF. I think this request to an author has done more damage to the 'integrity of the award' than having an extra title ever could. I feel for Lauren Myracle extremely and applaud her grace (and her negotiating skills: screwing $5,000 payment from NBF to the charity of her choice). I sincerely hope that NBF has better processes in place next time.

If I were in that situation, would I withdraw if asked? Of course. How would I have any choice? Everyone would know I'd been listed in error, that I was an imposter. To refuse to withdraw would make me an object of derision. But, oh, I'd be so angry: all that joy smashed flat, and insult piled upon injury. Just because no one checked before releasing the results. And then because no one had the simple human decency to just let it stand and put a brave face on it. So, yes, I'd withdraw. But I'd be making a wax doll and sharpening the needles. Also I'd be phoning Clarion West to tell them to expect a big donation.

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