The literary world can often feel insular, but Lisa Lucas, executive director of the National Book Foundation, is trying to change that. In this year's final week of Rollins College's Winter With the Writers series, Lucas will speak about the National Book Foundation's work, the role of literature in our lives, the need for diversity in literature and much more.
"It's always interesting to use the National Book Awards as a lens through which we can understand what's happening in publishing and with books," says Lucas. "Given that so much of it seems like it's centered in New York City, I think sometimes we're speaking to ourselves in a way."
For Lucas, opportunities outside the New York publishing bubble, like Winter With the Writers, are especially valuable. Her top goal is to build a nation of readers. To do that, she needs to talk to those readers, to ask them what is missing from the literary world. Who's excluded from literature?
"I've always maintained that, of course, we need diverse voices," says Lucas. "Obviously, we're not necessarily publishing enough diverse voices, [or getting] recognition for those voices. When I say diverse, I'm not just talking about people of color, LGBTQ people – all different kinds of voices. But I think that who we are, who literature is, remains very uniform."
The National Book Foundation is diversifying the literary conversation by partnering with community institutions like libraries, book festivals, universities, community colleges and public housing authorities.
"The thing I'm proudest of that didn't exist four years ago that exists now is that we've given 1.3 million books to public housing authorities around the country," says Lucas. "Where do you start building a reader? In childhood." Kids need opportunities for "owning books and feeling like books are fun and feeling like they're valuable."
Lucas will speak about literature in America at 5 p.m. Wednesday in the Galloway Room of Rollins College's newly renovated Kathleen W. Rollins Hall.
The next day, Winter With the Writers welcomes two National Book Award finalists, Kali Fajardo-Anstine and Ilya Kaminsky, its final readers of the season.
Fajardo-Anstine, author of Sabrina & Corina, gives a fiction master class at 2 p.m. Thursday. Kaminsky is the author of Deaf Republic, a finalist for the NBA for Poetry in 2019. His poetry master class at 4 p.m. Thursday, titled "Correspondences in the Air: How poets speak to, learn from, and steal from other poets," discusses how poets draw their influences from their contemporaries as well as poets throughout history.
Finally, Kaminsky and Fajardo-Anstine will give a joint reading Thursday evening in Bush Auditorium. The reading will be available to stream on the National Book Foundation website, the Winter With the Writers website, and on the National Book Foundation's Twitter, @nationalbook.
These events are part of Rollins College's partnership with the National Book Foundation, part of the Foundation's national on-campus program, which is now in its fifth year.
–This story appears in the Feb. 26, 2020, issue of Orlando Weekly. Get our top picks for the best events in Orlando every Thursday morning with our weekly Events newsletter.