US’ National Book Awards Schedule a ‘Primarily In-Person’ Ceremony

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The National Book Foundation plans to return to Cipriani Wall Street in a physical award program that’s to be streamed.

At Cipriani Wall Street, the 2019 National Book Awards ceremony. Image: Porter Anderson

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Attendees Will Be Fully Vaccinated
The National Book Foundation on Wednesday (July 28) announced that its November 17 National Book Awards program, an annual and important fundraiser for the nonprofit, will return to Cipriani Wall Street in a “primarily in-person celebration” limited to a fully vaccinated live audience.

As Publishing Perspectives readers know, the National Book Awards last year were held digitally. The foundation is announcing that in addition to a physical presentation in New York City this year, the program will also include digital elements, “including being broadcast in full.”

This points to two aspects of a reality you’ll see reflected in many publishing events this autumn.

First, the impact of the pathogen’s “delta” variant (B.1.617.2)—and perhaps of coming variants as yet not in public consciousness—is understandably concerning to event planners.

Revelations (July 29) based in an internal presentation from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have heightened the alarm in the National Book Awards’ home market, first reported by Yasmeen Abutaleb, Carolyn Y. Johnson, and Joel Achenbach at the Washington Post. The struggle in the States to overcome political resistance is compounded by the leaked report’s revelation that the variant “acts almost like a different novel virus, leaping from target to target more swiftly than Ebola or the common cold,” as the Post‘s team put it.

And second, the National Book Foundation is demonstrating a point about staging what’s hoped will be a physical event: having digital delivery planned not only gains a wider audience but also can make it easier to adjust to all-digital conditions, if the roller coaster of the pathogen’s progress mean another retreat into the relative safety of cyberspace. As the announcement says, “Should New York State protocol and health measures change, the foundation is prepared to make whatever adjustments are necessary, including potentially shifting back to a [digital] event.”

What the organizers of these events can tell you is that the workload is anything but “virtual” (that outdated term for digital presentation). These folks are to be congratulated and appreciated for what’s actually quite difficult and time-consuming to do well, particularly in a world awash in video and streamed events, for all the right reasons of safety and continuity.

Media messaging about the National Book Awards program specifies that Cipriani Wall Street works with CrowdPass and that guests will be able to register their vaccination status with that system in advance or arrive with their Centers for Disease Control paper verification cards for entrance. More measures for safety are expected, and guests will be contacted about them in advance.

Ancillary Events To Be Handled Digitally

As Publishing Perspectives readers know, there are pre-awards events held in association with the National Book Awards, traditionally in the same week as the awards ceremony.

“When gathering in-person wasn’t possible, we were heartened and inspired by the support of the literary world.”David Steinberger, National Book Foundation

Those programs will be distributed digitally this year. They include:

  • A reading from the finalists’ work, that event to be streamed on November 9 in association with the New School
  • A “teen press conference,” which is set for November 10

In an interesting timing move, the National Book Foundation’s “Five Under 35” program ceremony will be switched permanently to a spring date and will honor “two years of emerging fiction writers at a combined [both years] in-person ceremony.” This sounds wise, not least because the program is easily missed among the turbulence of the awards week in November.

The after-show party for the awards themselves, the foundation says, will not be held this year.

During the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, the foundation stresses, its regular outreach programming has continued. Among those efforts, it reports, has been the delivery of more than 215,000 books from publishers including Penguin Random House, Macmillan, Hachette, Candlewick, HarperCollins, Sourcebooks, and Simon & Schuster, working in 25 states. That particularly program was the fifth year of the “Book Rich Environments” effort.

Another program called BookUp operated digitally in its after-school approach for middle- and high-school students, the foundation reports, as did the Raising Readers program for adults who work with kids on reading.

“The National Book Foundation also presented its national public programming—which brings National Book Awards-honored authors to colleges, libraries, book festivals, and performance venues for topical conversations—on-screen. In 2020-2021, ‘NBF Presents’ presented 26 virtual events, including themed series ‘Literature for Justice’ and ‘Eat, Drink & Be Literary.'” Those reportedly featured more than 50 authors and reached more than 15,000 audience members.

The National Book Foundation says it distributed thousands of associated books to readers and students at partner colleges, prisons, and detention centers nationwide.

Steinberger: ‘Carefully Considering the Options

Prepared comments are included in the announcement of the plans for the awards program.

David Steinberger

David Steinberger, the National Book Foundation board chair, is quoted, saying, “The National Book Awards are a celebration of books and the community that has a hand in creating them.

“Last year, for the first time in National Book Awards history, we hosted a completely virtual event. When gathering in-person wasn’t possible, we were heartened and inspired by the support of the literary world.

“After carefully considering the options for this year’s National Book Awards and closely monitoring best health and safety practices associated with COVID-19, the board and staff of the National Book Foundation plans to host an in-person ceremony and benefit dinner, while taking steps intended to protect the health and safety of every attendee.”

Ruth Dickey

And Ruth Dickey, named in February to succeed Lisa Lucas as the foundation’s executive director, is quoted, saying, “We’re grateful for the opportunity to gather as a book community, while still ensuring safety for in-person attendees and accessibility for at-home viewers.

“Communication with sponsors, publishers, writers, judges, and all attendees will be a priority.

“Through the tremendous efforts of this year’s judging panels, we look forward to championing extraordinary writers and their work this fall. Books have always been a source of solace and joy, education and inspiration, and we cannot wait to celebrate with the book community and readers everywhere.”

This year’s National Book Awards longlists are anticipated for announcements in the program’s customary rolling pattern, September 15, 16, and 17.

Shortlists, which the National Book Awards program calls finalists, are to be named October 5.

The Coronavirus in the United States

So forcefully is the B.1.617.2 “delta” variant of the coronavirus COVID-19 asserting itself in the United States that on Saturday (July 31), the state of Florida, with a population of 21.5 million, reported its largest single-day increase of COVID cases since the start of the pandemic, as reported by Emily Shapiro, Ivan Pereira, Meredith Deliso, Morgan Winsor, and Marlene Lenthang for ABC News.

At this writing, the 12:21 p.m. ET (1621 GMT) August 1 update of the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center sees 34,985,194 total cases to date in the States’ population of 328.2 million, with 613,172 fatalities.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that 57.9 percent of Americans 12 and older have been fully vaccinated, the pace of new vaccinations having hit what Biden administration officials call a wall of resistance. That pushback is made up primarily of right-wing opposition and “vaccination hesitancy,” much of the latter fed by disinformation. At least one shot has been given to 69 percent of adults. Vaccines are not yet approved for children 11 and younger.

Recent days have registered marked upturns in the pace of US vaccinations again, Joe Biden speaking of 1 million inoculations given on Friday (July 30). Two factors are understood to be behind this quickening pace.

First, data leaked from a CDC study has shown an even higher level of transmission capability for the delta variant than was previously perceived by many citizens. The contagion level is comparable to that of chicken pox and common colds, according to the leaked study from Provincetown Massachusetts (here covered by Ellen Barry and Beth Treffeisen for The New York Times), something not previously well understood by many in the population.

Second, on Biden’s order, the federal government–including the military–has joined major corporations and industries in requiring vaccinations or testing for employees and even for consumers. Companies doing this include Google, Twitter, Facebook, Walmart, Disney, Netflix, asset manager BlackRock, Morgan Stanley, Saks Fifth Avenue, the Washington Post, Union Square Hospitality Group, Ascension Health, Uber, Lyft, and Goldman Sachs, as reported by Alexis Benveniste for CNN Business.

More such mandates and delta variant news are expected to trigger higher vaccination rates in coming days.


More from Publishing Perspectives on the National Book Foundation and the awards is here, and on awards programs in general is here

And more on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is a non-resident fellow of Trends Research & Advisory, and he has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As as an arts critic (National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.

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