National Book Foundation director Lisa Lucas to speak on the role books play in society

The concept is the Oscars, but instead of movies, books. A night the nation would eagerly anticipate as authors such as Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown and Alice Walker would come together, dressed to the nines, to celebrate the role literature plays in the way the world turns.

The National Book Awards is not there yet, but Lisa Lucas is working on it.

“We need to make it a good show and something people want to pay attention to,” Lucas said. “People love movies, they care about what the academy is doing, but they also watch the Oscars because it is a great show. There is a lot of energy and excitement, a lot of build-up, and we need to keep trying to do the same thing with books.”

Lucas, the executive director of the National Book Foundation since 2016, will touch on this and more as she continues the exploration of Week One’s theme, “The Life of The Written Word” with her 10:45 a.m. morning lecture Wednesday, June 27, in the Amphitheater.

As both the first woman and first African-American to hold the position, Lucas is vocal about inclusivity in the business, insisting the term go beyond race and gender to include everyone, regardless of any circumstances.

“Whether we are doing the work we have always done or doing new work that we are excited about, we always spend a lot of time thinking about what will make that work more powerful and what gives it a wider, further reach,” she said.

When it comes to access, Lucas places her focus on the younger generation in hopes they carry on the passion that drives the organization’s work.

“I always say to ‘get them while they are young,’ ” she said. “Let’s build some excitement about reading great books. Let us make sure kids have books in the home, that kids know where their libraries are. To start making sure that the resources needed to make sure that a young person develops into a reader are there is the only way any of this work will continue to grow and succeed.”

However, no matter what age group a reader falls in, Lucas always strives to share one particular message: The most powerful tool books provide is the ability to teach  people the need for empathy within the complicated, global, political and emotional issues that surface in everyday life.

“Having that depth of understanding about an issue really allows you to understand that it is important and gives you a chance to see it with less of the reactionary sort of ‘hot take look’ that we get from Twitter, from the internet or the 24-hour news cycle,” she said. “I think that allows us to humanize, to empathize, contextualize, to understand and to care.”

On top of fostering empathy, reading gives people a better understanding of one another, an issue Lucas said stems from a lack of exposure.

“We don’t all know one another, and books allow you to know someone that you have never met and that you might not ever encounter in your life.That proximity develops empathy. It’s like, you get it, you spent some time thinking about this person, their interests to their fears, and you used it for something good.”

-Lisa Lucas, Director, National Book Foundation

Ultimately, Lucas recognizes her responsibility in a time where the potential for new readers is unlimited and hopes the foundation’s impact continues to be unlimited, too.

“There are so many people that can be brought into reading, and I think that on some level, our goal is just to touch as many people as we can with the magic of books,” she said. “I feel we do that in many ways through the awards, and through all of our projects as a non-profit organization. Through the media, the awards and the medallion you see on the copies in the bookstores, this all reaches tons of people. We can’t even count how many lives all of this work impacts, and I hope that never changes.”


Tags : AmphitheaterLisa LucasMorning Lecture PreviewNational Book Foundation

The author Jamie Landers

Jamie Landers is entering her third season as a reporter for The Chautauquan Daily, covering all things music-related within the online platform. Previously, she recapped the Chautauqua Lecture Series in 2019 and the Interfaith Lecture Series in 2018. In addition, she is a rising senior at The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism in Phoenix, Arizona, where she most recently served as a breaking news reporter for The Arizona Republic, as well as a documentary producer for Arizona PBS.