Books “make people who are not like us more human,” says Lisa Lucas, executive director of the National Book Foundation. She grew up loving books and their ability to make readers more empathetic to unfamiliar ideas and characters, even when all the reading is done in our bedrooms by ourselves. Lucas gives us her Brief but Spectacular take on how books can connect us to one another.
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Next, another in our Brief but Spectacular series, where we ask interesting people to describe their passions.
Tonight, we hear from Lisa Lucas, the executive director of the National Book Foundation.
The organization was established to raise the cultural awareness of great writing in America, and it sponsors the National Book Awards, which will be presented November 15 in New York City.
Lisa Lucas,, National Book Foundation:
Executive Director I’m loud. I was born loud. I get excited about things that I love.
And I have always loved books. I love the stories. I love the sentences. I love the paper. I love the way that they smell. I love the variety of them. I love the people who are standing next to you when you shop for them, the fact that any time somebody comes up with a problem in the world or something you don’t understand, you can say, there’s a book for that.
The National Book Award has been around since 1950, and 68 years later, it’s one of the most prestigious literary prizes and awards in the country.
It places you alongside people like Flannery O’Connor and Ralph Ellison and some of our great authors.
It was my first National Book Award when Ta-Nehisi Coates won. And I remember being so grateful for his book and for his deeply thoughtful take on the United States that we actually live in.
Even though we think of reading as something that we do alone in our rooms by ourselves, we talk about books, and we take the ideas that we learn from books and the stories that we have heard about books, the characters that we have fallen in love with in books, and we bring them to our conversations.
They make us more empathetic. They connect us to one another. They make people who are not like us more human.
A child that picks up a book and learns to read, and learns to love reading, is the very beginning of a lifelong reader. The more that we make sure that our young people’s literature reflects the reality and experience of the world that our young people are growing up in today, the more that kids are going to think that books are relevant to them in their lives, that every once in awhile, you look at that cover and you see somebody that looks like you or that lives in a community like yours.
I’m the first the woman in this role, and I’m the first African- American woman in this role. And that’s my — first and foremost that everyone who’s ever interviewed me has asked me if I am the first woman, and the first African-American woman, and how it feels to do my job.
It feels like everybody else’s job does for them. Feels like I come into work every day, and I work really hard. But, on top of that, there’s the obstacle of feeling different and feeling like it’s really, truly important to work as hard as I can to make sure that the generation that comes after me and the generation that comes after that can go to work and do their jobs, and feel like it’s just the pedestrian, everyday, ordinary activity, that getting up and going to work.
My name is Lisa Lucas, and this is my Brief but Spectacular take on why books will always matter.