National Book Foundation’s Lisa Lucas Always Enjoys a Good Book

"There are small, glowing moments of satisfaction that come from being a reader."

In 2016, Lisa Lucas became the first woman and first African-American to helm the National Book Foundation.
In 2016, Lisa Lucas became the first woman and first African-American to helm the National Book Foundation.
Photo courtesy of Beowulf Sheehan

Growing up in Teaneck, book lover Lisa Lucas never imagined a job involving the country’s most talented authors. Today, as executive director of the National Book Foundation (NBF), Lucas is immersed in America’s best literature, promoting reading nationwide and overseeing the annual National Book Awards.

Born to a family of readers, Lucas as a child raided the many books on her family’s basement shelves. A teacher noticed she read above grade level and challenged her with harder books. To Lucas, it felt like a reward for her love of reading.

After earning an English language and literature degree from the University of Chicago, Lucas joined the Steppenwolf Theatre and focused on connecting young people to culture. Tenures at New York’s TADA! Youth Theater, Tribeca Film Institute and as publisher of online magazine Guernica led Lucas to NBF in 2016, where she became the first woman and first African-American leader of the nonprofit.

On November 15, Lucas will preside over the 68th National Book Awards, which will stream live from Cipriani Wall Street, a Manhattan restaurant, and honor writers of poetry, fiction, nonfiction and young adult literature. NBF-appointed judges will select the winners, who will receive $10,000, and join a list of renowned authors, including Alice Walker, William Faulkner and Norman Mailer. Glitz and ceremony aside, Lucas, now 37 and living in Brooklyn, still appreciates the basic pleasure of books: “There are small, glowing moments of satisfaction that come from being a reader,” she says.

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