Liberal Morality Play

NBF

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.)

steinberger and weinstein

(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.

 

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