Voices From Inside the System

‘We Need People Within Our Publishing Houses Who Reflect What Our Country Looks Like’

Book publisher Lisa Lucas reflects on her career and how the literary world still isn’t diverse enough

Melinda Fakuade
Published in
5 min readAug 20, 2020


Photo illustration. Source: Gennaro Leonardi/EyeEm/Getty Images

Voices From Inside the System is a new GEN series where we interview people who have had firsthand experience in industries with especially fraught histories of systemic racism and inequity. We asked our subjects to think deeply about the role they played and the work they did. We asked them why they stayed or why they left, how they might be complicit, or if they thought they — or anyone — could fundamentally change the system.

Lisa Lucas, 40, is the outgoing director of the National Book Foundation and the incoming publisher of Pantheon and Schocken Books. The publishing industry is often criticized for showing slow progress on diversity. A survey released by Lee and Low Books earlier this year found that 76% of the industry was white. Every other racial and ethnic group ranked in the single digits, with 7% of survey respondents identifying as Asian, 6% as Latinx, and only 5% were Black. Lucas spoke with journalist Melinda Fakuade about how she’s seen the industry change over the years.

I didn’t have a very clear idea of what I wanted to do as a young person at all. I knew I needed a job, and I wanted to do something that didn’t bum me out.

I was the first person of color to be the director of the National Book Foundation. It’s been an extraordinary experience, and I hope it remains so until the bitter end when I leave in December. Publishing and books can feel exclusive. It can be a really difficult community to be a part of. People are really proud of what it means to make a book and to live in the world of books. It’s a relationship business. I wanted it to feel like a party for everyone. I didn’t want people to feel they weren’t the right color or age for the party, or that they didn’t live in the right place to be invited. I wanted to make this be something that all people can enjoy.



Melinda Fakuade
Writer for

Melinda Fakuade is a culture writer in New York. Her work has appeared in The Outline, The Cut, Vox, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter @melindafakuade