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Q&A with Lisa Lucas, Executive Director of the National Book Foundation

The mission of the National Book Foundation is to celebrate the best literature in America, expand its audience, and ensure that books have a prominent place in American culture.

I had a chance to sit down with Lisa Lucas, their dynamic Executive Director, who has led the organization in a direction of growth. Below are the highlights of that interview, and we've also included a video (hosted on National Book Foundation's website) which provides a phenomenal view into the great work they're doing on a daily basis to support books and publishing.



Q. For the record here, what is your name and position?

Lisa Lucas, Executive Director of the National Book Foundation

Q. Describe your path to become the Executive Director of the National Book Foundation.

I've been working in arts administration in some capacity for virtually my entire career. I started on the development team at Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago, which is this amazing nonprofit theatre in Chicago where I developed a really strong foundation of knowledge on working in a small but mighty nonprofit environment. From there, I moved to the Tribeca Film Institute, where I ultimately served as the Director of Education. Just before moving into my current role, I was the Publisher of the nonprofit online magazine Guernica. Sprinkled throughout those roles were plenty of consultant roles at Sundance Institute, San Francisco Film Society, the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, etc.. And of course I've always been a voracious reader and lover of books.

Q. The National Book Awards have grown in size and scope over the past few years. Share with us the role the Awards play in NBF's mission. How does NBF and its judges determine the "best literature in America?" And how does it work to expand the readership for it?

We do an enormous amount of programming throughout the year, but we think of the Awards as something of a jumping off point for everything we do. The Awards are an incredible celebration of books, and the other work we do just carries that forward to the other 364 days of the year. When writers are made part of the National BookAwards family--whether that's the Longlisters, Finalists, Winners, whatever--we really do think of them as such--our family. That means amplifying their voices online, inviting them to lecture or appear on panels with our partners across the country, working with us directly to positively influence the culture of reading in this country. When we recognize a book at the National Book Awards, we're saying, "Pay attention, because these words are worth your time." And we work tirelessly to make sure that the reading public hears that.

Q. The mission of NBF is "to celebrate the best literature in America, expand its audience, and ensure that books have a prominent place in American culture."

Do books have a prominent place in American culture today?

I think they do! At its heart, literature is, of course, storytelling. And storytelling is deeply ingrained in our culture. Our job at the Foundation is to further elevate a specific mode of storytelling: literature. We work with people every day--from your everyday reader, reluctant or otherwise, to librarians to middle-school students to parents working two jobs--who are excited about the stories that books have to offer. Could we always be doing better as a culture when it comes to reading and celebrating literature? Absolutely. But are books a foundational and joyful part of many of our lives? Of course! And there is always room to grow the audience. One new reader at a time.

Q. Digital Book World brings together the wide world of publishing. This includes trade publishing, scholarly publishing, corporate publishing (such as Southwest Airlines, Intel, and others which produce massive amounts of content annually), educational publishing, independent publishing, and more. DBW also includes print, as no publisher can manage a digital workflow without having thought through whether to produce a print version, and vice versa.

What can Digital Book World, and the community of publishers large and small across the world, be doing to support National Book Foundation's mission?

Join any of our conversations! Spread the word! Keep on being a part of the team that reminds everyone how vital books are! We work with partners across the country to bring exceptional events to audiences in communities large and small throughout the nation. Engaging with any of our programs online or coming out in person is a big help. And we're always happy to hear from anyone who is interested in working with us to bring literary programming to new readers.

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