Two sponsors said they will not attend tonight's National Book Award ceremony, after learning that several NBA finalists plan to call for a cease-fire in Gaza during the event. The New York Times reported that rumors some authors "would take a stand regarding the Israel-Gaza conflict during the ceremony were flying in the days leading up to the event, but it was unclear what the statement would include, leaving several sponsors concerned."
Zibby Owens, founder of Zibby Media, wrote in an essay published on Substack that her company had withdrawn because she was afraid the remarks at the ceremony would take a stance against Israel, noting that "we simply can't be a part of anything that promotes discrimination, in this case of Israel and the Jewish people."
Another sponsor, Book of the Month, has also decided not to attend. In a statement, the organization said it continued to support the event.
"I don't want to look back on this time, and say that I was silent while people were suffering," said Aaliyah Bilal, a finalist in the fiction category and one of the authors planning to speak out. She told the Times that a number of finalists are planning to take the stage at the end of the ceremony as one person reads the statement calling for a cease-fire, adding that she and other writers want to demonstrate sensitivity to losses on all sides and intend to specifically denounce antisemitism.
"It was very important, as we were constructing it, that we were clear that we are sensitive to all of the antisemitism going on in this moment," Bilal said of the statement. "We don't want to contribute to inflaming that."
Yesterday, the National Book Foundation released a statement noting, in part: "Our mission is to ensure books have a prominent place in our culture, and are central to national, and global, conversation. At this time of so much pain and suffering in our world, we believe writers’ words--and the insight and inspiration they bring--are more important than ever....
"Political statements, if made, are by no means unprecedented in the history of the National Book Awards, or indeed any awards ceremony. We are working with the venue to ensure a safe environment for all our guests. We of course hope that everyone attending the National Book Awards, in person or tuning in online, comes in a spirit of understanding, compassion, and humanity--the very things that the books we love inspire."