Poetry Foundation Publishes Letter of Commitment, Resignations at National Book Critics Circle, and More

by Staff

Every day Poets & Writers Magazine scans the headlines—publishing reports, literary dispatches, academic announcements, and more—for all the news that creative writers need to know. Here are today’s stories.

The staff and board of directors of the Poetry Foundation have pledged to do more for the cause of racial justice. In an “Open Letter of Commitment to Our Community,” they detail several immediate actions including donating $1 million to Artist Relief and various social justice organizations; partnering with Black historians to “research and document the debt that the Poetry Foundation and Poetry magazine owes to Black poets”; and undertaking an equity audit of all policies and practices. The letter comes after many in the poetry community criticized the foundation for failing to support its constituents, both during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic and during the most recent nationwide protests for Black lives. The situation escalated when a group of thirty poets published an open letter, signed by more than two thousand fellow writers, that called out the organization’s meager response to the protests and outlined a series of demands, including the immediate resignations of president Henry Bienen and chair of the board Willard Bunn III. Last week the foundation announced that both Bienen and Bunn had resigned.    

Several board members have resigned from the National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) for disparate reasons. Last week writer and board member Hope Wabuke resigned after calling out the organization and its leadership for racism and anti-Blackness, tweeting redacted images of internal correspondence that documented the board’s efforts to put out a statement in responses to the ongoing protests. In the correspondence, board member Carlin Romano wrote, “I resent the idea that whites in the book publishing and literary world are an oppositional force that needs to be assigned to re-education camps.” Some board members criticized Wabuke for sharing internal documents; board president Laurie Hertzel resigned over the weekend, saying, “I can only speak for myself when I say that such a breach of confidence precludes the sort of deliberations that are essential to the NBCC’s mission as a critical organization.” Others have stood in solidarity with Wabuke; this morning Carolyn Kellogg announced her resignation on Twitter, writing, “The board has struggled to understand the profound importance of the Black Lives Matter movement and the global protests against police violence and white supremacy.” (Publishers WeeklyGuardian)

Noreen Tomassi has retired from her role as executive director of the Center for Fiction. As the leader of the organization since 2004—which was then named the Mercantile Library—Tomassi oversaw numerous dramatic shifts for the institution, including its recent move to a new headquarters in Brooklyn. The board plans to announce an interim director in the near future. 

“There’s a reason people are acting out—the pressure and despair of trying to survive. People shouldn’t divorce the behaviour from the context causing it.” Poet Roger Robinson responds to the recent protests and discusses his own activism. (Guardian)

“As a writer, I have to believe it’s possible to have a healthy relationship to fantasy.” Jean Kyoung Frazier, the author of Pizza Girl, explores the line between daydreaming and delusion, and seeks redemption for teen slackers. (Electric Literature)

Poets & Writers Magazine highlighted Jean Kyoung Frazier in its twentieth annual roundup of the summer’s best debut fiction.  

“Most of my work is an exploration of belonging. Where do we belong and to whom?” Donna Hemans talks to the Rumpus about the origins of her latest novel, Tea by the Sea

“There’s an urgency when you’re a teenager, experiencing things for the first time, that you can’t really get back.” Andrew Martin discusses “Deep Cut,” his short story about punk music, time, and coming of age. (Atlantic)

Writer Sarah Madges collects reflections from protestors calling for an end to police brutality and anti-Black racism. (Guernica

Esquire recommends works by fifteen Black writers, including Raven Leilani’s Luster, Brandon Taylor’s Real Life, and Danez Smith’s Homie.  

And the Daily Shout-Out goes to Blue Stoop for adapting to the pandemic era with a virtual community event series, #WednesdaysOnTheStoop, which runs every Wednesday at 4:00 PM EDT. Sessions might include “sit-togethers to read a story or poem, writing quietly together, open mics, and more.” This week the session will center a discussion about reality TV.