National Book Awards rules get update
BY HILLEL ITALIE Associated Press
Sunday, January 20, 2013
1/20/13 at 3:31 AM
The National Book Awards are getting a rewrite.
New rules include a "long list" of 10 nominees to be offered for each of the four competitive categories before being narrowed to the traditional five finalists. And the pool of judges will be expanded beyond writers to include critics, booksellers and librarians.
The changes are the most extensive since the mid-1990s for the awards, presented each fall by the National Book Foundation, as the major New York publishers attempt to broaden their appeal.
The publishers have been unhappy with the selection of fiction finalists in recent years and the omission of such high-profile works as Jonathan Franzen's "Freedom" and Marilynne Robinson's "Gilead."
The expansion to 10 mirrors a recent change in the Oscars, but foundation board members said they had been looking to Britain's popular Man Booker Prize as a model.
"We just basically borrowed some of their ideas," foundation board vice president and Grove/Atlantic CEO Morgan Entrekin said, citing the Booker Prize's use of long lists and non-writers as judges. "The Bookers do a fantastic job at getting a conversation going about good books. With the long list, for instance, you get this conversation bubbling up about what made it and then about what doesn't get on the short list."
Entrekin said some of the recent National Book Award fiction lists, which usually get the most attention, had been "very eccentric" and allowing critics and booksellers as judges could open up the process. The results, he thinks, will be a "little more mainstream" and less likely to include "a collection of stories by a university press."
"I think there are plenty of awards that recognize those kinds of books," Entrekin said. "If one of those books is truly the best book of the year, that's no problem. But it seemed like the judges had been recognizing lesser-known authors for the sake of choosing lesser-known authors."
The revisions cap a yearlong process during which the book foundation hired an independent consulting firm to discuss the awards with booksellers, editors, writers and others in the literary community.
"Our mission is to celebrate literature and expand its audience, and we chose the path most consistent with our mission," said David Steinberger, chairman of the foundation's board and CEO of the Perseus Books Group.
This fall's long list will be announced Sept. 12, followed by the short list on Oct. 15 and the winners on Nov. 20.
The National Book Awards have changed several times since being founded in 1950. Winners, who have included William Faulkner, Ralph Ellison and Saul Bellow, were originally announced in advance of the ceremony. The number of categories and nominees have expanded and contracted, with 17 finalists for nonfiction in 1957 and more than 20 competitive categories in the early 1980s.
Original Print Headline: National Book Awards get a rewrite