US National Book Awards Foundation Names Ruth Dickey As Executive Director

In News by Porter Anderson

Ruth Dickey, the executive director of Seattle Arts & Lectures, is to take up her new post with the National Book Foundation on May 17.

An excerpt from a listing of upcoming event at Seattle Arts & Lectures, which Ruth Dickey has led since July 2013. Image: Seattle Arts & Lectures

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Dickey: A ‘Critical Role in Our Cultural Landscape’
The National Book Foundation today (February 11) has announced that Ruth Dickey will serve as the program’s new executive director, following the departure of Lisa Lucas to become senior vice president and publisher of Knopf’s Pantheon and Schocken imprints. The foundation, of course, is the nonprofit producer of the National Book Awards.

Dickey is executive director of Seattle Arts & Lectures, a role she has held for almost eight years. The program produces newsmaker events with literary elements including, for example, an online interview with Bill Gates by Anderson Cooper (February 18); a talk with Bill Bryson (February 21); and an appearance by Ibram X. Kendi (April 7).

She’s scheduled to start with the National Book Foundation on May 17, following a Seattle Arts & Lectures gala in April. Until mid-May, the foundation’s deputy director Jordan Smith will continue serving in her current interim executive capacity.

Prior to her work with the Seattle program, Dickey was executive director of Cincinnati’s Clifton Cultural Arts Center.

Foundation board chair David Steinberger this morning is quoted about the news of Dickey’s appointment, saying, “Ruth Dickey brings the ideal combination of expertise and experience to lead the foundation and advance our unique mission.

Ruth Dickey

Ruth Dickey

“We were looking for a proven literary leader with a track record of engaging with a broad range of communities from all across our nation, and Ruth brings that and more to this role.”

Lucas is widely considered a hard act to follow in the executive leadership of the foundation and its National Book Awards program, after her outspoken five-year tenure focused on social equity and the awards’ role in encouraging breadth in the American publishing industry’s understanding of its responsibilities.

Lucas now says that Dickey’s “extraordinary skill set—developed over many years as an exceptional, thoughtful, and dynamic leader in the nonprofit literary space—is precisely what the National Book Foundation needs to charge forward.

“Her experiences working across the country help to remind us all that this work is for everyone, everywhere. Ruth is uniquely experienced, an effective and inclusive leader, and a great lover and champion of the written word.”

Dickey does know the National Book Awards as a juror. She was on the panel for the fiction award in 2019.

David Steinberger

In a prepared statement, she says, “I have greatly admired the National Book Foundation’s expanded leadership role as a champion for reading and books, through innovative programs like Book Rich Environments and Literature for Justice.

“I’m honored and thrilled to follow in Lisa Lucas’ footsteps, and join the board and staff to lead the foundation’s next chapter of work in support of books and reading, and their critical role in our cultural landscape.”

The search committee for the executive director comprised:

  • Penguin Random House CEO Markus Dohle
  • Grove Atlantic president and publisher Morgan Entrekin
  • Lucia Ferreira
  • Graywolf publisher Fiona McCrae
  • CNN’s Calvin Sims
  • Attorney PD Villarreal
  • David Steinberger

Koya Partners handled the search.

The National Book Foundation’s spring outreach program was outlined last month in a series of 12 events developed for digital delivery and made possible by a multi-year US$900,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The National Book Awards’ 2020 wins were presented in November as a digital production.

More from Publishing Perspectives on the National Book Foundation and the awards is here, and on awards programs in general is here

And more on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.