At the NBA gala last night, the National Book Foundation presented its 2019 Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community to Oren Teicher, who retired at the end of October as CEO of the American Booksellers Association, where he worked for more than 30 years.
In its award announcement, the Foundation nicely summed up the honoree's accomplishments, saying, "Teicher has emphasized the importance of the shop local movement, advocated for fair and sustainable tax laws, and worked to put the struggles and successes of independent bookstores into the public consciousness through increased media coverage and broader cultural awareness. Working closely with store owners, booksellers, and the publishing industry, Teicher has encouraged the growth of Winter Institute and Children's Institute, further cultivating a strong and united bookselling community, and has invigorated collaborations between indies and publishers through improved sales terms and innovative marketing incentives. From 2009 to 2019, during the years of Teicher's tenure as CEO of the ABA, the number of independent bookstores jumped from 1,651 to 2,534, with ABA membership as well as store sales increasing in lock step."
In his remarks, Teicher thanked the Foundation, his family, and a range of groups and people, including "my many friends in the publishing and distribution community who are here tonight. I've had the privilege of working with so many of you for so many years. And, while, we may not always have agreed on everything, I am inalterably convinced that the partnership between publishers and independent booksellers has forged the kind of stronger book community that has spread the joy of reading to millions of Americans."
He called working on behalf of indie booksellers "a dream job. I've never ever not wanted to go to work. The creativity, ingenuity, and resilience of booksellers is nothing less than remarkable. And, though I know the National Book Foundation has singled me out tonight for this award--for which I am sincerely humbled--I accept it on behalf of the thousands of indie booksellers all across this country who every day, thousands and thousands of times, perform that special act of magic by placing the right book in a reader's hands. That simple act, whether it entertains, teaches, or inspires, makes the world a far, far better place, and, for me, to have been associated with that magic, has been the highlight of my professional life.
"I was asked recently about what was it about my job at ABA that I liked the most, and I knew the answer almost immediately. I responded by saying that because of my years at ABA I have a good friend in every town and city in America, let alone around the world. In the words of the poet W.B. Yeats, "Think where man's glory most begins and ends, and say my glory was I had such friends."
He was presented the award by author and bookseller Ann Patchett, who said about Teicher, "To many people in the industry he is the man behind the curtain at the American Booksellers Association. He's been working on behalf of independent bookstores for more than 30 years. He's made us stronger, more practical, more united, more expansive. And I would lay a bet he's been in more bookstores in this country than any other person ever. And he's treated us all equally. He's fought for our rights as small business owners and as passionate lovers of literature. He's fostered our community through his leadership....
"Oren has seen us through box stores, through Amazon and Kindles, through financial downturns, and he never once gave up on us. Instead he helped us reinvent ourselves to fit the times."
She also paid tribute to him for helping booksellers become a more significant part of the National Book Awards. "There was a time you never would have seen a bookseller serve as a judge for an important literary award like this one even though booksellers read pretty much around the clock, and we have Oren to thank for that as well. As he steps away from his job, he is leaving us so much better and so much stronger than he found us....
"There is a lesson in all of this tonight: if you don't know Oren, you need to spend more time with your local independent booksellers and you need to spend more time with the American Booksellers Association.... Independent booksellers play an outsized role in holding up writers and publishing, and they deserve our respect and support."