The book world rose up in a chorus of celebration when Lisa Lucas, formerly the publisher of Guernica, was appointed executive director of the National Book Foundation. At the helm of the 30-year-old organization, she plans to expand its efforts towards inclusivity and advocacy. “Readers are everything,” she recently told the New York Times, “readers are everyone.”
You just accepted a new job! What do you hope to accomplish at the National Book Foundation?
I love the work that the National Book Foundation already does—celebrating excellent literature through the National Book Awards and 5 Under 35, building young readers through its BookUp program in cities throughout the U.S., awarding organizations that have innovative programming to encourage reading and quite a lot more. I’m looking very forward to putting all of my energy and my big mouth to work in order to invite more people and new communities into this conversation. My hope is that we can take the work and make it bigger, louder, and more digital in order to remind both old and new audiences just how exciting and fun reading actually is. It may sound earnest, but it’s true.
Why is this work important? What about it is exciting?
I think sometimes the word “literature” can feel a bit stodgy and inaccessible, but it isn’t. I can’t even count the number of times that I have been moved and changed by a work of literature in the past year. Great writing makes our worlds bigger than they could ever be without access to all the voices, experiences, regions, and stories that literature opens us up to. President Obama recently remarked that reading novels has made him a better citizen, and I think that’s true for most of us. The more we can know and learn about the world around us, the history upon which our current lives stand, lives that feel far-flung from our own, and the issues that our country and world are facing—the better equipped we are to be citizens of this world. That’s hugely important. Reading helps us do that in such a beautiful way.
You are leaving Guernica behind after many years. What are you most proud of your time there?
Over the past few years, we were lucky to bring lots of new readers into the Guernica family—we had over 4 million visits to the site in 2015. It feels like I was able to help the co-founders. I sometimes joked that I was cheerleader-in-chief. All jokes aside, I am so proud that I was able to work on behalf of a magazine with so many brilliant editors and contributors who present such completely honest, smart, and beautiful work. It was such a time of incredible growth and change and new ideas—we created our first print edition, started publishing special issues and paying writers, and we Kickstarted three times. I think we really moved Guernica into a stronger, more sustainable second decade. It was an honor to work on the magazine alongside all these folks, to convince people to help them get this work out there. It’s a pleasure to promote and support something you believe in so much.
If you were show-running your own Ferrante TV adaptation, what would it look like?
It would be a mess. There’s a reason that books are “adapted” for TV. I fear that if I were show-running a Ferrante prestige drama that it would be the longest television show ever made. I’d be so terrified of enraging the author with small changes that it would probably be overwhelmingly literal.
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