LA Public Library Gets a Turn Hosting the National Book Awards

The 71st National Book Award ceremony, held on November 18 and hosted by Jason Reynolds, was completely virtual. And rather than holding court at Cipriani, National Book Foundation Board Chair David Steinberger and Executive Director Lisa Lucas broadcast from elegant—and appropriate—locations at their respective home bases: Steinberger from the Trustees’ Room at the New York Public Library and Lucas from the Los Angeles Public Library’s Central Library.

The annual National Book Awards (NBA) ceremony has always been one of the literary world’s most glamorous events. Traditionally held at Cipriani Wall Street in Manhattan, the black-tie gala brings the bright lights of the publishing world together to see the National Book Foundation (NBF) present the awards, and afterward drink and dance into the night. A livestream of the event, provided for viewers worldwide, is a welcome amenity—but not quite the same as being there.

This year, however, nobody was there. Or rather, everyone was.

The 71st National Book Award ceremony, held on November 18 and hosted by Jason Reynolds, was completely virtual, as are most other events of 2020. And rather than holding court at the glamorous Cipriani, NBF Board Chair David Steinberger and Executive Director Lisa Lucas broadcast from elegant—and appropriate—locations at their respective home bases: Steinberger from the Trustees’ Room at the New York Public Library (NYPL) and Lucas from the Los Angeles Public Library’s (LAPL) Central Library.

NYPL Director Tony Marx is on the National Book Foundation’s board, and the library was a natural place for Steinberger to videotape his segment of the awards. NBF has partnered with LAPL on many events, so when Lucas reached out to the Library Foundation of Los Angeles’s Director of Public Programs Jessica Strand, the library was “gracious and accommodating, and figured out a place where we’d be able to come and shoot safely,” Lucas told LJ.

She hadn’t been in a library since before the pandemic set in, noted Lucas, and it “was just really good for the soul to be there.” Getting a glimpse of how LAPL was able to serve patrons safely throughout the pandemic was encouraging, Lucas felt. “It reminds you just how many people are working behind the scenes against all odds to make sure that we have access to books.”

Aside from City Librarian John Szabo, who came to watch the proceedings, the library was sparsely staffed, which in some ways added to its charm.

“There’s something magical about getting to be in the library without anyone there, said Lucas, “to walk around and maybe see a guard, or somebody who's in for the day to pick something up, to just be in this big beautiful open space full of books. There was a quiet calm to it.”

Those present made up for the lack of an audience with their enthusiasm. “I was traipsing around this empty library with a ballgown on, she said, “and the incredible security team at the library kept shouting out, ‘Dress looks great!’ ‘Have a good taping!’”

And they weren’t the only ones excited that the library could serve as the evening’s host. “What a thrill!” Szabo told LJ. “What better place to host the National Book Awards than a public library? We were honored to welcome Lisa Lucas and have our beautiful Children’s Library featured during the livestream.” He had kudos for the employees on site as well, adding, “I’m especially proud of our LAPL staff who made this event happen during such a challenging moment.”

Lucas recorded her clip for the event from LAPL’s Children’s Room, wearing a dazzling silver evening gown—and flowered Crocs, the better to navigate the building’s long halls. Her audience for the taping? Several rows of rapt stuffed animals.

While the event is always livestreamed, “What was nice about this year is that everyone was in the same room at the same time,” Lucas said. “No one had a different experience watching it. Everyone was someplace tucked away in their own home, wearing whatever they wanted, and having a similar experience to everyone else”—you weren't watching a party you couldn't go to. And, she pointed out, the real stars of the evening are the books.

This was Lucas’s final NBA award ceremony as executive director; she will join the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group as senior vice president of Pantheon and Schocken Books next year. “It's definitely a memory I'll have forever, being in that space and getting to do my final National Book Awards,” she said. “Hosting in libraries this year reminds us that there's a community of bookstores and libraries and so many public spaces that do programs around books that are working to support [them]. It’s important to acknowledge that hard work, and that precious resource. And I'm glad we got to, just a little bit.”

You can watch the livestreamed event here.

 

Lisa Lucas in glittery evening gown standing in library with bookshelves on either side of aisle, holding sign that says
Lisa Lucas at the Los Angeles Public Library

 

Lucas and Los Angeles City Librarian John Szabo standing in library surrounded by bookshelves
Lucas and Los Angeles City Librarian John Szabo

 

Lucas at podium, laughing, with shelves full of children's books behind her
Lucas broadcasts from the LAPL Children's Room

 

legs emerging from glittery silver long gown, feet in colorful flowered Crocs
Practical footwear

 

rows of children sized chairs with stuffed animals in them, including Ernie, Peter Rabbit, Winnie-the-Pooh
A rapt audience
All photos by Keith Kesler, Los Angeles Public Library

 

Author Image
Lisa Peet

lpeet@mediasourceinc.com

Lisa Peet is News Editor for Library Journal.

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.


RELATED 

ALREADY A SUBSCRIBER?

We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing

ALREADY A SUBSCRIBER?