“It has just been an ecstatic joy to be able to do work in service of readers,” Lucas tells NPR. “And it just feels like an extraordinary opportunity to build on the work they’ve done, and to keep figuring out ways to engage readers.”
National #Book Awards have been given out since 1950 — with a brief interlude in the ’80s, when they got a makeover as The American Book Awards, in an attempt to broaden their mainstream appeal. That ill-fated experiment was ditched in 1986, the same year the National Book Foundation was established to oversee the awards. Since then, the foundation has had two executive directors: author Neil Baldwin and his successor, Harold Augenbraum, who announced his retirement last year.
Despite the abandonment of the ABAs, the foundation, decades later, remains intent on broadening its base of readers, through its awards and its philanthropic projects. And so does Lucas.
“How do you leverage the resources that the foundation has — the voice, the platform, the awards themselves, the relationships with readers — to reach even more audiences?” she says. “How do you take that and build a bigger core of readers who engage with the work that the foundation does?”
While Lucas, who’s African-American, applauds the foundation’s efforts to support diversity — in its programming, its winners and its judges — she says that this shouldn’t be the whole focus.