Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Josip Novakovich Matter


The portion of the ULA’s activities which created for us the most animosity among the mandarins of American letters was our uncovering of apparent corruption in the awarding of grants monies to writers. It should be, and should’ve been, a major part of any in-depth examination of the Underground Literary Alliance.

The focus of the many articles done on the topic of grants corruption, and the ULA’s exposure of same, whether in Page Six, Moby Lives, Alternet.org, Soma, Boston Phoenix, or many other places, was on two successful and powerful writers: Rick Moody and Jonathan Franzen. With a dash of Dave Eggers thrown in. One writer not mentioned in any of the coverage was a writer named Josip Novakovich. Yet Tom Bissell made Josip Novakovich the centerpiece of his discussion, in his Believer essay, on the grants controversies.

Here’s a portion of what Tom Bissell said about the man:

“Novakovich (I do not think he would mind me saying this) also has a family; ‘university professors’ do not, by and large, roll around in piles of money, and they typically see their writing time vacuumed up by teaching. The money was probably crucial manna for him and his writing life. That the ULA can take a fine, unsung writer such as Novakovich—a writer, moreover, hitherto neglected by the larger publishing world—and single him out for opprobrium is nauseating. He is exactly the type of writer whom the ULA should be championing,—“

Was Josip Novakovich at the center of the ULA’s attacks on the literary grants system? Were we somehow unfair to the man?

With the ULA web site finally resurrected late in 2012 after a long period of being unavailable, I was able to track down the reference to Josip Novakovich. I found him discussed in ONE report out of many ULA reports during the years of our active existence. You can read that report here:


Note that we used Josip Novakovich as a representative example of the grants business, with our emphasis on the fact that Novakovich had both sat on a panel for, and been a recipient of, grants awards. The idea being that if you have the same small circle of individuals both giving out and receiving grants money, you have a flawed system.

Tom Bissell painted Novakovich as something of a hardship case. What’s the truth? What’s the real Josip Novakovich situation?

Josip Novakovich is listed at wikipedia and other places as a Canadian writer. He currently is a professor at Concordia University in Canada.

Quick investigation shows that the average professor salary at Penn State University, where Novakovich was employed at the time of our report, is $132,000. Given ten years of inflation, we can still give him $100,000 at the time. He likely makes at least that now, or he wouldn’t have moved.

Josip Novakovich has published ten books as well as hundreds of short stories. His book publishers include Graywolf Press, HarperPerennial, and HarperCollins. Presumably much of this came the past ten years.

Here’s a partial list of the awards and grants Josip Novakovich has received over the years, in addition to the two NEA grants and the Guggenheim Fellowship mentioned in our report:

-Whiting Writers Award

-Ingram Merrill Foundation award

-American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation

-Black Mountain Fellowship

-Fulbright Senior Research Fellowship

-New York Public Library Center for Scholars and Writers Fellowship

-Tennessee Williams Fellowship

-Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation Grant

-Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center Fellowship

-W.K. Rose Fellowship

There may be a few in the pipeline.

I suspect that Novakovich’s valuable writing time is “vacuumed up” not by teaching so much as filling out grants applications, at which Josip Novakovich is assuredly a master. Is he a great writer? It’s a matter of opinion and viewpoint. I’ve read a couple of his short stories, and found him to be a typical literary writer. Indeed, he’d have to be, to encounter such widespread approval. His work couldn’t upset anybody—or at least, not refined society. Literary writers are not a rare commodity in this society. Throw a rock on any university campus and you’ll hit a dozen of them.

The point is that Josip Novakovich is mentioned in this sole ULA report as one of a number of “awards professionals.” Can anyone deny that an awards professional is exactly what he is?

Note how Tom Bissell, in his essay on the Underground Literary Alliance, takes out of context and distorts our treatment of Mr. Novakovich. At the same time, Bissell finessed his coverage of our actual targets, Moody and Franzen, as I’ll show.

(To be continued.)

No comments: