One-Minute Book Reviews

October 18, 2011

How the Does the National Book Foundation Spend Its Money? The Cost of the National Book Awards Fiasco

Filed under: National Book Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:51 am
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What do you get when you donate to the nonprofit National Book Foundation, the sponsor of the National Book Awards? This week the answer is, “A financial stake in a fiasco.”

First the foundation mistakenly announced that it had selected Lauren Myracle’s young-adult novel Shine as a finalist for a 2011 National Book Award. Then the organization said that the book would remain on the shortlist despite the error. Now the foundation has reversed itself and persuaded Myracle to withdraw and accept the consolation prize of a $5,000 donation to a charity that she supports.

All of which raises the question: Can’t the foundation afford to hire staff members who can do better than this? You might think so from its budget. As a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization, the National Book Foundation must by law make its federal income-tax returns available to the public. And its figures show that it paid executive director Harold Augenbraum $196,964 plus $8,464 in additional compensation in 2009, the latest year for which its return appears to be available for free online. The median salary for a foundation director in the New York City area is $144,948 (and $122,113 nationwide), according to a survey by So Augenbraum earns at least $50,000 more than a typical peer even if he received no raise in 2010. The foundation also has a generous travel budget: It claimed $40,455 in travel expenses although its marquee events take place in Manhattan.

For that kind of money, the National Book Awards ought to be able to hire a director who can steer the program away from turbulence, not directly into its path. If the trustees of the organization don’t do this on their own, donors should demand it. The foundation must stop sending the message that with friends like the National Book Awards, authors like Lauren Myracle don’t need enemies.

A report by NPR has more on the debacle. I can’t link to the tax return mentioned above, but you can find it on websites that rate and provide free information on charities (search them for “National Book Foundation” and click on links to financial details). You may also request the return from the NBF or the Internal Revenue Service.  The compensation figures cited come from the  tax Form 990 filed by the NBF for 2009. You may be able to get the 2010 return by paying a fee.


  1. This kind of mess really un-validates the award for those of us who, in the past, thought it was important. And then, too, all the authors who earn a pittance of what the director makes are probably thinking, as you are suggesting here, “for $196,964, I think I could keep my list straight.”


    Comment by knightofswords — October 28, 2011 @ 11:48 am | Reply

  2. “For $196,964, I could keep my list straight”? Right. So many great editors and publishers have lost their jobs not because they lack talent but because of the economy that it should be easy to find someone who could run the foundation well for less. And yet another mess may be in the works: The National Book Foundation is supposed to have five judges in each category (and says on a tax return that it does) but this year has only four for nonfiction. Stay tuned. Always good to hear from you, Malcolm.

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — October 28, 2011 @ 1:25 pm | Reply

  3. […] How the Does the National Book Foundation Spend Its Money? The Cost of the National Book Awards Fiasco, by Janice Harayda  – “What do you get when you […]

    Pingback by Book Bits #59 – Hemingway in a dress, Lisbeth Salander fashions, The (James) Garner Files | Malcolm's Book Bits and Notions — October 29, 2011 @ 9:45 am | Reply

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