Lisa Lucas, the executive director of the National Book Foundation, has been named senior v-p and publisher of Pantheon and Schocken Books. The news of her appointment was made by Reagan Arthur, executive v-p and publisher of Knopf, Pantheon, and Shocken, to whom she will report.
Lucas, the first person of color to head the Foundation, will continue in her role through the end the year as the Foundation transitions to new leadership. She will start her duties at Pantheon and Schocken beginning in 2021. Lucas has been the executive director of the National Book Foundation, which oversees the annual National Book Awards as well as a variety of national reading programs, since 2016.
Newly reporting to Lucas will be Dan Frank, v-p and editorial director of Pantheon and Schocken Books, in addition to v-p and executive editor Erroll McDonald, senior editors Deborah Garrison and Shelley Wanger, and Schocken editorial director Altie Karper. Arthur said that no other changes in the editorial structure of Pantheon/Schocken are planned.
Lucas will now head two of PRH’s most celebrated literary imprints. Pantheon was founded in 1942 by Kurt and Helen Wolff and Schocken Books in 1931 in Germany by Salman Schocken and relaunched in the U.S. in 1945. Before joining the National Book Foundation, Lucas was director of the Tribeca Film Institute, and after that she was publisher of the online literary magazine Guernica. Lucas is credited with raising the Foundation's profile, growing its events programs, adding an award for translated literature, and initiating outreach programs that delivered over a million books to young readers in public housing.
Arthur cited Lucas’s work at the Foundation and her energetic presence on social media when discussing the appointment. “I’ve loved watching Lisa deploy her formidable skills and boundless energy on behalf of the National Book Foundation,” Arthur said. “She has energized the conversation about books the year-round and not just about awards. Lisa is connected to the book community in a passionate, organic way and she’s on a mission to bring more readers into the fold. Her energy and her fearless presence online and in the world are attributes that we believe can be transferred to our offices.”
Pantheon and Schocken v-p and editorial director Dan Frank said he was “thrilled that Lisa will be taking up the publishing reins,” and he “looked forward to helping her set out on this new chapter. Both of these imprints have a storied history, but history is made by moving forward and in new directions, and I am confident in the forward direction lisa will take us.”
Contacted in Los Angeles, where she has been staying during the pandemic, Lucas said the new job was “very exciting.” Acknowledging her move from the nonprofit world into commercial publishing, she said she will be “learning to publish books.” But she also described her new position as “similar to everything I’ve done while being totally different at the same time. Whether it's films, awards, or books, it’s all been service to creators, their work, and the audience, the readers, working to provide access to weird and wonderful works,” she said.
She declined to offer any projections about plans for Pantheon and Schocken, which together publish about 50 titles a year. “That would be arrogant,” she said. “It’s too soon. I haven’t met the team and I love collaboration. Give me a few months to have a few conversations and figure it out.”
Lucas’s appointment also comes against the powerful backdrop of the Black Lives Matter Movement, national protests over institutional racism, and a continued and heightened scrutiny directed at the book publishing industry over its lack of diversity—and just weeks after another Black woman at the head of a major awards program, Pulitzer Prize administrator Dana Canedy, was tapped to lead Simon & Schuster's flagship imprint. Asked whether her new role should be seen as a localized outgrowth of a national crisis, Lucas told PW, “this is not a cynical hire," and that she wouldn’t have taken the job if it was.
“It’s important to be hired for the job you think you can do and what people think you can do. You don’t want to be a symbol, you want to do the work,” Lucas told PW. At the same time, she emphasized, “you also want to believe that change is possible, and that people are listening and hearing. It will take more than hiring me to shape an equitable book culture. But Black Lives Matter was an everyday concept at the National Book Foundation, it’s where you put your energy every day. I want to see diversity in thought and that takes a diverse set of people.” She was also quick to emphasize that she will continue be a voice for books and reading on Twitter. “Yes, I’ll be shouting about books. I’m devoted to books, and I’ll bring that energy to Pantheon and Schocken.”
Arthur echoed Lucas’s remarks. “I’m not going to be naïve and pretend that people won’t react to the timing of this appointment. But this appointment is driven by Lisa’s experience and ambition for the two programs.” Indeed, Arthur said, Lucas's position overseeing Pantheon and Schocken is a newly-created role created by Arthur, who joined Knopf earlier this year, and by Maya Mavjee, the newly-appointed president and publisher for the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.
“Maya and I arrived at the same time and we both admire Pantheon and Schocken so much. We believe there’s value in that kind of history, that kind of identity and mission. We don’t want to change them but we do want to set them apart even more with a dedicated team," Arthur said. "Lisa's got an amazing team in place and, yes, she will be reimagining Pantheon and Schocken. But what that will look like, I don’t know. They both have a rich history, and it will be a great place to map a path into the future.”
Correction: Schocken editorial director Altie Karper's title was incorrectly noted in an earlier version of this story.