This Week in Clusterfuck, brought to you by the National Book Foundation

 In case you’ve been away from any form of media for the past several days and missed it, last Wednesday, the National Book Awards were announced. In the “Young Person’s” category (and as a sidebar, can we get rid of that utterly ridiculous name?), SHINE by Lauren Myracle, was announced as a finalist whereupon there was much rejoicing among those of us who love Lauren and her work. This joy was short-lived. Not two hours later came the announcement that CHIME by Franny Billingsley (also an excellent, worthy book) had been added. For the first time in NBA history, there were six finalists. The National Book Foundation allowed that there had been a “miscommunication” between the judges and the NBA as, for the first time, the judges’ final list had been communicated in a phone call and not in written form. Thus, CHIME by Franny Billingsley somehow (don’t ask me) was misheard as SHINE by Lauren Myracle. I’ll allow that SHINE and CHIME sound similar, but Lauren Myracle and Franny Billingsley, to my ear at least, sound nothing alike. However, the NBA stated afterward that, based on its merits as a work of excellent literature for young adults, SHINE would remain on the finalists list. Crisis averted. Or so it seemed.
What happened after that is worthy of a soap opera called “As the Incompetence Turns.” Over the next few days, a back-and-forth of “we’re keeping it,” “no, we’re not keeping it,” “it’s worthy,” “no, it’s not worthy” was played out in the media and over the Internet in a very public, very hurtful way that did not seem to take into account that at the center of all this was a real live human being, an excellent writer, whose work and reputation were being dragged through the mud as if it were no big thang while the ruffled feathers of injured egos were patted down in a backroom somewhere.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am married to Barry Goldblatt, Lauren Myracle’s agent. For the past six days, I have had a backstage pass to this travesty. And I have watched in utter horror and disbelief as this absolute train wreck has continued its injurious slide along the rails, saying to myself at each point, “Surely, they are not such complete, clueless tools. Surely, they are going to correct this situation. Oh wait—they’re actually making it worse.”
I do not understand how such an important decision could be left to the—as is now evident—possible human error of transmitting something verbally over a phone line. For Chrissakes, even the decision to elect a POPE is not cloaked in such paranoia that it is not written down. I don’t know whose brilliant plan this was. All I know is that a classy, kind, wonderful person and writer was subjected to a week of anguish in full view of the world in order to preserve somebody’s overweening ego.
But then, THEN, came the absolute cherry on the cake of “you-have-got-to-be-kidding-me”: The head of the National Book Foundation, Harold Augenbraum, called Lauren and asked her to please withdraw from the proceedings so that they could “preserve the integrity of the award.”
Oh no, he didn’t.
Oh yes, he did.
As my father used to say, “They’ve got enough gall to be divided into three parts.”
I ask you: Is publicly humiliating an author “preserving the integrity” of the award?
Is asking an author you have embarrassed in multiple media outlets to RECUSE herself in order to rectify YOUR STUPID MISTAKE, “preserving the integrity” of the award? Because it reads like an unconscionable, cowardly move to me.
Is that kind of like when Wall Street says, “Oh, sorry we screwed up the economy, jobless folks, but could you, like, not block the access to my high-in-the-sky comfy office where I blow my nose on freshly minted twenties while crying that I am the victim of class warfare by the poor?” Jesus Christ on a crutch. Quite frankly, I do not see how the awards can be seen as anything other than a joke at this point, which is a shame, because the finalists are a group of talented, hard-working authors who deserve to be recognized without the taint of this debacle hanging over it all. But too late—it’s there. And it could have been avoided.
You know who has preserved her integrity? Lauren Myracle, that’s who.
I have been fortunate enough to count Lauren as a friend for a few years now, and I, like everyone else who loves Lauren, know her to be a real class act. She is kind, funny, generous, encouraging of other writers, and very present for the many kids and teens who write to her telling her how much her books, SHINE in particular, have meant to them, how she has offered a voice to some who are voiceless. SHINE, in case you do not know it, is about a hate crime against a gay teen and how it affects an entire community. This is, sadly, a reality for teens in much of the world, and, as Lauren said in her gracious statement, “I was also deeply moved that in recognizing "Shine," the NBF was giving voice to the thousands of disenfranchised youth in America—particularly gay youth—who face massive discrimination and intimidation every day. So that something positive may come of their error, I have strongly suggested that the NBF donate to the Matthew Shepard Foundation [a charity focused on respecting human dignity among young people].”
This is why—and please excuse the pun—Lauren Myracle shines. Even in the midst of such personal disappointment, she manages to rise above and turn the situation into an opportunity for good. She alone has “preserved the integrity of the award” with this generous, gracious gesture. As a writer, she is fearless. She writes openly and honestly about topics which frequently land her on the most-banned-books list. She has faced down censors with grace and logic without resorting to demonizing them. She is at the forefront of the fight against censorship and for intellectual freedom. That this should happen to such a lovely person enrages me beyond rational words.
I am not as nice as Lauren is. And especially not when I am moved to put on my serious, Texas-Brooklyn girl ass-kicking boots. So I will say it: You fucked up, NBA. You fucked up in such a colossal, tone-deaf, insulting, humiliating way that I almost wish there were a National Fuck-Up Awards Foundation so we could give you the gold. Bravo. Take a fucking bow. And then, maybe you could take a moment to reflect upon how much “preserving the integrity” of your award cost you.
I can only hope that when you dictate the amount of that check to the Matthew Shepherd Foundation, you don’t do it over the phone.
If you would like to do something nice for a lovely person who has been very wronged, I encourage you to order SHINE from your local bookstore or request it from your local library today. And if you’re tweeting this, please use the hashtag #ISupportShine. 

One thought on “This Week in Clusterfuck, brought to you by the National Book Foundation

  1. Pingback: Awards: Is It Better To Win Or Be Falsely Nominated? | Books by Erica Cameron

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s