Longtime head of book foundation stepping down

AP News
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Posted: Jun 16, 2015 6:22 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — The longtime head of the organization that presents the National Book Awards will be stepping down next March.

Harold Augenbraum, executive director of the National Book Foundation since 2004, said in a statement Tuesday that while he had "much very enjoyed" his years at the foundation it was time to seek "new challenges." His decision was announced by the non-profit foundation's board of directors, which has formed a committee to choose Augenbraum's successor.

"We owe a great debt to Harold for his exceptional service and countless contributions to the Foundation and its mission," David Steinberger, CEO of The Perseus Books Group and chairman of the foundation, said in a statement. "We respect his decision, and look forward to working closely with him on a carefully crafted transition process that will position the Foundation for the future."

The National Book Award ceremony, held each fall, is one of the highlights of the publishing industry's year and has been a source of pride and tension since its founding decades ago. Winners have ranged from Saul Bellow to Louise Erdrich, but publishers and others in the business have frequently debated whether the awards are too insular and have attempted to make the ceremony more appealing to the general public by having such well known emcees as Steve Martin.

Augenbraum, 62, presided during a time when the awards were criticized by top New York publishers, many of whom are represented on the foundation's board, for being biased against high-profile books. In 2013, the foundation overhauled the nominating process, adding longlists of 10 in each of the four competitive categories and expanding the pool of judges beyond fellow writers to include critics, booksellers and librarians.

In an email to The Associated Press, Augenbraum said the decision to leave was his and that he had been planning it for several months. He added that beyond the National Book Awards, he was proud of the foundation's programs for young people, including one that brings award winners and finalists to college campuses and the "5 under 35" program that each year honors five writers under age 35.