I can’t believe it was just over a year ago that I began at the National Book Foundation, logging on as a tiny Zoom square from Seattle. It’s been an extraordinary year: of tremendous learning, of deep listening, and of a cross-country move that brought me and 14 boxes of books to a new home in New York City.
It has also been a year where—because of and despite every new tragedy—finding connection through books has felt particularly powerful and precious. So many of you have spoken so movingly about what books and literature mean to you, and I wanted to take a moment to share some reflections from my first year at the National Book Foundation.
On the night of the National Book Awards last November, my colleague Anja and I huddled off camera trying to remain quiet as our host, Phoebe Robinson, introduced the first award of the night, the Young People’s Literature category. Malinda Lo’s Last Night at the Telegraph Club was announced the Winner and Malinda spoke about the power and importance of diverse stories, of queer stories. She ended her acceptance speech with, “Don’t let them erase us.” I looked up and realized Anja and I were both crying. I’ve thought about Malinda’s words all year, as we’ve watched unprecedented challenges to books in every corner of our country.
Yet we’ve also found community in every corner of our country. When travel became possible, we had the tremendous gift of bringing authors to readers all over—from Coahoma Community College in Clarksdale, MS, to Appalshop in Whitesburg, KY, to Otisville Correctional Facility in Otisville, NY. Through the magic of technology, we’ve watched students from Leech Lake, MN; Springfield, MA; and New York City bravely raise their hands and ask where ideas come from, how endings get decided, and how to begin as a writer. I will never forget one of the first author visits I got to join with RiseBoro Community Partnerships in Brooklyn and 5 Under 35 honoree Fatima Farheen Mirza. A mom spoke about how much she loved A Place for Us, and as her daughter walked by, she said, “and the best part is she sees me reading, and now we can read together.”
In these fractured times, I believe more than ever that books matter, that they have the potential to help us understand ourselves and one another. And I believe the work that the National Book Foundation does to connect readers everywhere with stories that exemplify the power of literature, while ensuring every person can see themselves reflected in books, is an essential element of personal wholeness and of robust community.
Just a few weeks ago, we gathered to celebrate the 2021 and 2022 5 Under 35 honorees. It was such a joyous night, and I’m still thinking about something honoree Dantiel W. Moniz shared in her remarks: “To believe in art is to have ultimate faith that humanity is not yet entirely lost, that we can still feel, learn, and change.”
I feel profoundly lucky every day to get to be a part of Team Book—the extraordinary Board of Directors, staff, and interns I work with everyday; the writers, publishers, and partners nationwide who make it possible for the National Book Foundation to celebrate books, and help readers everywhere find the books that help us all feel, learn, and change. And of course, people like you, who share a belief in the value of books and literature. Thank you.
We’ve been hard at work on a new plan that will guide the National Book Foundation’s next three years, including the extraordinary landmark 75th anniversary of the National Book Awards. I’m so grateful for the close to 1,500 responses we received to our strategic planning survey and for everyone who has shared ideas and advice on how our work can best support readers, books, and the literary ecosystem. If you have thoughts you haven’t yet shared, I’d love to hear from you at [email protected]. Here’s to a year to come filled with potent community, learning, and celebration.
In gratitude and books,