A Snipe at U. Presses—and a Response

Major changes are afoot with the National Book Awards, but did that require a jab at university publishing?

As detailed in an AP story, the National Book Foundation will alter the rules for the awards to include a “long list” of 10 nominees for each of the four competitive categories (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and young people’s literature). This extended list will be released on September 12, before narrowing to a “short list” of five finalists in each slot on October 15, with the awards announced on November 20. In addition, “the pool of judges will be expanded beyond writers to include critics, booksellers and librarians.”

Morgan Entrekin, a foundation board vice president and the CEO of Grove/Atlantic was pleased. Among other things, he said he had found recent fiction lists “very eccentric” and that expanding the pool of judges might make the list “a little more mainstream” and less likely to include “a collection of stories by a university press.”

Politely taking umbrage is Peter Givler, the soon-to-be-retiring executive director of the Association of American University Presses. He commented on the story as it ran on NPR.

Dear Morgan,

Change is always interesting, if not always for the better, and I wish you and the Foundation every success in retooling the procedures for the NBA. The only thing I’m sorry about is that in selling the new plan you found it necessary to take at swipe at university presses. There have been times, and I’m sure you remember them as well as I do, when virtually the only serious publishers of short fiction were university presses and small number of indies, like Coffee House. If short stories are once again attracting large, commercial mainstream publishers that’s great (and great for their authors), but let’s not forget the past. Who knows, it might come around again.

There’s also a larger issue, though, and that’s your repetition of a thoughtless stereotype about university presses: that they only publish stuff for academic dweebs and wimps, not for real people. That’s just silly, and you know it. US publishing is extraordinarily various, and that variety is part and parcel of its vitality, a vitality that energizes all of us. We’re all in this together, Morgan; it’s silly to snipe at each other.

Update: Since the comment, Givler has received the following note of apology from Entrekin. The latter gave permission for it to be shared.

Dear Peter,

I want to apologize to you and to all university press publishers about the comment I made to Hillel Italie of the Associated Press when discussing the changes in the National Book Awards. I have great respect for the work that university presses do. University Presses have published many short story collections over the years that deserve to be National Book Award Finalists. It was wrong of me to even implicitly criticize an entire category of the industry, particularly one that is focused entirely on publishing quality books of fiction and nonfiction that make a great contribution to the discourse of our society. I was wrong and I am sorry.

All best,

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