Book Business EXTRA! Q&A--National Book Awards’ Executive Director Chats about the Impact of One of the Industry’s Top Honors.
The National Book Awards, an annual celebration of American literature, now entering its 57th year, were presented during a ceremony at New York’s Marriott Marquis Hotel on Nov. 15.
Harold Augenbraum, the executive director of the National Book Foundation, which organizes the awards, talks with Book Business EXTRA! about the impact the awards have had on the book industry since they were first given in 1950.
Book Business EXTRA!--How has the National Book Foundation maintained the prestige of its awards for more than half a century?
Augenbraum--Prestige comes from a variety of sources. Part of the prestige comes from the integrity of the Awards. One reason is that over many years, the National Book Awards have always tried to maintain a standard of excellence. Another is that the publishing industry has been very supportive. A third is that the National Book Awards constantly seeks to improve its awards process as times change. A fourth is that the periodic controversy brings attention to the selection and the process of selection. The scholar James English has written that the prestige of any cultural award is in direct proportion to the controversy it engenders. I’m not sure he makes a full case for that, but controversy among already well-known awards can bring notoriety, and that can help with the award’s prestige.
EXTRA!--Why do you believe acknowledging great work is beneficial for the book industry overall?
Augenbraum--A tough question. I think that any industry needs a standard to show that quality work is being done by those who produce its products, in this case, the writers. I think people will lose interest in an entire industry unless they believe that quality work is being done. Great work creates ideals and goals and the idealism of form. Can you imagine an entire book industry with a focus only on the production and dissemination of junk? What industry could exist without a measure of idealism?