When Lisa Lucas, the new executive director of the National Book Foundation, climbed on the podium at the National Book Awards ceremony in November, her presence and her remarks marked a change at the NBF. The first woman and the first person of color to lead the NBF, Lucas has a vibrant personality and engaging manner that seemed to invigorate the room. On a night that NBA emcee, former Nightly Show host Larry Wilmore, described as “BET presents the National Book Awards,” the New York book world—or at least the awards podium—looked as diverse as it ever has.
Lucas is proof that the process of making publishing more inclusive will continue. “As a black woman,” she said at the ceremony, “it’s my job to make sure there are more seats at an ever-expanding table.”
An important part of her job is “getting the media to pay attention to books,” Lucas tells PW. And since taking over in March, she seems to be everywhere talking about books, with interviews in the New York Times and on the websites of NPR, NBC News, and even ESPN. That’s not a typo; the feature “The Other NBA: How Lisa Lucas Is Bringing Her Best Game to the Literary World” appeared on ESPN’s website November 16, the day of this year’s awards ceremony.
But the best place to catch up with Lucas may be on Twitter (@LikaLuca), where she posts an irresistible stream of tweets about NBF office life, politics, her new book shelves, and whatever book she is reading or has discovered. “I’m good at letting people know about the cool things I love,” she says. “It’s important to show I’m the face of the NBF and let people know that you don’t need tortoiseshell glasses or a snobby attitude to love books and reading.”
Before moving to the NBF, the 36-year-old Lucas was the publisher of the literary and political journal Guernica. David Steinberger, chair of the NBF board and a member of the search committee that found Lucas, says that she has all the necessary administrative and fund-raising chops. As an example of the latter, he points to Lucas’s success in getting Apple more involved with the NBF. “Lisa took our longstanding relationship with Apple to a whole new level, with Apple and iBooks sponsoring this year’s fantastic NBA after-party for the first time,” he says.
But Steinberger emphasizes that it was her infectious personality, organizing drive, and flat-out love of books that won over the search committee. “We were looking for someone who could engage people of all kinds about books,” he notes. “What’s striking is her contagious energy and drive, inside and outside the book community. She has that ability to relate to everybody.”