By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
Lisa Lucas: ‘Judiciously Remixing Their Lists’In what will come as a challenging surprise to fans and supporters of the United States’ National Book Award program, the executive director of the National Book Foundation, Lisa Lucas, is moving to Knopf. She has today (July 15) been named the new senior vice-president and publisher of the prominent Pantheon and Schocken imprints.
The announcement has been made to news media this morning by Reagan Arthur, who was in January made executive vice president and publisher at Knopf.
The appointment of Lucas, of course, represents yet another move of many by Penguin Random House to place women in strong leadership positions–and this one falls close on the heels of Simon & Schuster’s appointment of Dana Canedy to head its flagship imprint, as well as the remarkable management approach change made in favor of diversity by John Sargent at Macmillan.
For the National Book Foundation and its premiere awards program, however, this may be difficult news. While those who have appreciated her leadership will clearly wish her well, a program like that National Book Awards is heavily dependent on the character who drives its day-to-day operations, and the sheer vivacity of Lucas’ dedication will be hard to replace.
Lucas is to remain in place through this year’s 71st awards cycle, which will culminate, as was announced on Friday (July 10), in a digital rendering in this pandemic year in November instead of the customary fundraising dinner at Cipriani Wall Street. Many observers hope that the digital evocation can include a fundraising element because the program is substantially dependent on that big ballroom boost to its revenues each year.
As was clear in our interview with Lucas before the most recent awards show, Lucas’ energy and commitment to the nonprofit and its programs since she joined as executive director in 2016 have been integral to the tone and personality of the program in its rising importance on the American literary scene.
During Lucas’ tenure, for example, the awards added its National Book Award for Translated Literature in 2018, the first time the program had created a new category since 1996 and bringing the total to five by recognizing that the time was right in an increasingly divided political moment to seize on the growing interest in the US market in international work.
The National Book Foundation chair David Steinberger and his team will make a good transition, of course.
In a comment for today’s announcement, Steinberger says, “We are deeply grateful for Lisa’s years of leadership at the National Book Foundation.
“We congratulate her on this exciting new chapter in her career and look forward to Lisa continuing to make a difference in the literary world and the world at large.”
but there will be many who will miss Lucas, who told us last autumn, “Whenever the time comes for me to go, the thing I want most to leave behind is as much of a shot as possible at lasting as long as it can. Anchoring it. Making sure that we are unshakable.”
Reagan Arthur: ‘An Advocate for Writers and Readers’
In making the announcement today, Arthur says, “I’ve loved watching Lisa deploy her formidable skills and boundless energy on behalf of the National Book Foundation; her work as an advocate for writers and readers has been truly inspiring
“And I’ve always deeply admired Pantheon, long a home to vitally important and exciting voices, from Günter Grass, Marguerite Duras, Michel Foucault, and Simone de Beauvoir, to Studs Terkel, Art Spiegelman, Mark Z. Danielewski, Laila Lalami, Randall Kennedy, Chris Ware, Alexander McCall Smith, and Marjane Satrapi.
“When I thought about Pantheon’s rich legacy and imagined ways to build on that for the future, the first name that came to mind was Lisa’s. I’m delighted to know that Pantheon will continue to thrive and evolve under her leadership, in concert with our incredible team of editors, marketers, and publicists.”
And for her part, Lucas is quoted, saying (the italics characteristically hers), “The National Book Foundation gave me the opportunity to simultaneously celebrate great literature and imagine just how big the audience for excellent books could be if we only dared to dream bigger.
“In this same spirit, I look forward to joining Pantheon and Schocken, with an aim of building on the rich publishing history of those imprints and judiciously remixing their lists.
“I am excited to work alongside Dan Frank and the entire Pantheon and Schocken team. Together, we will publish thoughtfully and creatively, elevate a community of established and new writers, and consider who our next readers can and will be.”
As Knopf’s vice-president and editorial director, Frank—who will report to Lucas—says, “I’m thrilled that Lisa will be taking up the publishing reins of Pantheon and Schocken, and very much look forward to helping her set out on this new chapter.
“Both of these imprints have a storied history, but history is made by moving forward and in new directions, and I’m confident in the forward direction Lisa will take us.”
Lucas’ background is in her work as publisher of the digital magazine Guernica between 2012 and 2016. She was also co-chair of the Brooklyn Book Festival’s nonfiction programming, consultant for the Vilcek Prizes for Creative Promise in Literature, and a juror for the United States Artists Fellowships, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the New York State Council on the Arts.
Both Pantheon and Schocken are of special importance to many of Publishing Perspectives‘ readers because of their international provenance: Pantheon was founded in 1942 by the German-born Kurt Wolff and his wife Helen, and Schocken was actually created in Germany in 1931 and began publishing in the States in 1945.
More from Publishing Perspectives on the National Book Awards is here, and on awards programs in general is here. More from us on Penguin Random House is here, and more on women in publishing is here.
More on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here and at the CORONAVIRUS tab at the top of each page of our site.