Who I Follow: Lisa Lucas
6 min Q&A
How do the best accounts on Twitter use Twitter? How do they balance their Tweeting with their day job, how often do they check their mentions, and, most importantly, who are their favorite follows? In Who I Follow, we explore the habits of our favorite follows each month. This month’s edition is drawn from an interview with Lisa Lucas, executive director of the National Book Foundation.
I have other social media platforms, but Twitter is the primary place I go at the beginning of the day, and where I go to get the news. What I Tweet and who I follow are two pretty different relationships, and over the years I’ve gotten it down to where if something interesting to me is happening in the world, my Twitter community is likely to report it very quickly. Whether it's hyperlocal news, like the particular part of Brooklyn that I live in, or political news.
I treat it like a conversation that's ongoing throughout the day — if I'm sitting next to somebody, I'm probably going to ask them a number of things during the course of the day, like “Did you see that article?” or “Did you hear this record is coming out?” Or tell them things like “Read this book” or “I'm so mad about this thing,” and it's like having the biggest office in the world. I’m not a person who sits here crafting Tweets and I don’t have drafts that I dig through. I Tweet hot, as it were. I think the Twitter feeds that are reactive and less structured tend to be more fun to me — it feels like there’s a person there, rather than a projection of a person.
I’m a chatty person and I feel like Twitter is the water cooler. Most people I know don’t arrive at their desks and turn their social, emotional brains off. There may be several hours where you're in meetings, or where you have to focus on a document you need to write, but sometimes you’re doing something laborious and need a break for your mind.
In the book world, I love to follow Benjamin Dreyer, the copy chief at Random House, and bestselling author. He's funny, he’s interested in classic film, literature, and — obviously — copy editing. I just find him to be a very generous Tweeter, but snarky and fun. @IsaacFitzgerald has always been an extraordinary person to follow. He's really positive, and I feel like I learn so much from his very positive take on books and literature, what's going on, and about how to be myself in this role. Oh, and I’ll always love Roxane Gay on Twitter. I’m part of the old guard that loved Roxane back in the day when she was still an editor at PANK doing lots of internet essays. And then the whole rest of the world was like, “We love her too!” So now we all have to share. Whether you agree or disagree with whatever she says that particular day, it’s just so refreshing to see — she’s just very capable of saying what she means in a way that I think a lot of people can’t.
I’m following a lot of the New York Times Books team — I think that they're always interesting on Twitter, and I love Rachel Syme. I think she's a lot of fun, and you feel like you're just talking with Rachel when she's Tweeting. She's interested in film, pop culture, and long-form journalism, and she's really smart, but unsnobby, which I find really, really satisfying. I'm also obsessed with Ava DuVernay’s social media presence. She's at the top of her career, she's directing God knows how many films a year, and then she just pops in with a joke or some really sweet praise for somebody that she works with, or whose work she admires — I think she’s really generous.
Twitter can be both unifying and polarizing, depending on the issue, the moment, the community, the intersection of communities, right? But in terms of book people, for a long time readers were in the dark — in their rooms, in their local bar, in their library, in whatever space they like to read in — reading their books, and maybe talking to a few people in their community or their lives about it. There was no real place for readers to talk to random strangers about what they were doing, and it really felt like Twitter provided a space for all of these literary folks, whether it's a reader, writer, or publisher.
In terms of how Twitter has changed publishing, I think it's similar to the way the whole world has changed. There is somebody obsessive, measuring everything, everywhere, these days. Fifty years ago an academic might have wanted to undertake some kind of quantitative analysis of what kinds of books are being published and who is reading them. But on Twitter a person can say, “What really matters? Representation really matters.” And then they do their own count, they bring their own attention to a particular issue. And that attracts the attention of one and five and 15 and 100 and 200 and 10,000 other people, and then it becomes something that anybody who sells things has to pay attention to. So I wonder how far we might have gotten in terms of thinking about diverse books. I mean, We Need Diverse Books started as a Twitter hashtag campaign. This is a conversation that has been deeply, deeply important to thinking about what children's books look like, and that was a bunch of authors who got together and decided to use their voices on a social media platform.
I think that being celebratory of books that are not national award winners — there are all kinds of books that are incredible authors, children's authors, poets, nonfiction writers — just celebrating new voices, hopefully reminds everyone out there that this is, for all of us at the Foundation, something done from love.
It’s hard sometimes because people are not used to hearing a nonprofit awards maker -— like the National Book Foundation, that's interested in very highbrow literature -— talk about marketing or using social media platforms to spread ideas and sell things. But I’m trying to get you to pick up what I put down. I literally want you to buy or borrow a copy of one of the books that we are celebrating, or any book at all. That's what I want.
We take 1,700 submissions, and five people win. The reason why I try to be — and remain so — vocal on Twitter and on social media platforms is to remind people that this is a human endeavor, and also to keep reinforcing why we do it. Ultimately, picking five books every year, picking 25 finalists, picking 50 longlists, this is about identifying great work, because we believe in making sure that readers have incredible things to read.
I always call it joy work. It can feel painful when you have to take it from 1,700 books to five, but we're doing it because we believe in the joy and the power of reading, and the ongoing conversation that happens every day on Twitter, on Facebook, on social media, in person, wherever the conversation is being had. Conversations going on every day about the many, many wonderful books that create this gorgeous constellation of literature, where there's absolutely something for everyone.