Ruth Dickey named executive director of the National Book Foundation

Ruth Dickey
Ruth Dickey will become executive director of the National Book Foundation.
(Libby Lewis)

The National Book Foundation has a new leader.

On Thursday, the foundation announced that Ruth Dickey will become its executive director, succeeding Lisa Lucas, who left the organization last year to become the publisher of Pantheon and Schocken Books.

“I have greatly admired the National Book Foundation’s expanded leadership role as a champion for reading and books, through innovative programs like Book Rich Environments and Literature for Justice,” said Dickey, the executive director of the literary nonprofit Seattle Arts & Lectures, in a release.

“I am honored and thrilled to follow in Lisa Lucas’ footsteps, and join the Board and staff to lead the Foundation’s next chapter of work in support of books and reading, and their critical role in our cultural landscape,” she said.


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Dickey has been chief executive of Seattle Arts & Lectures since 2013. She’s also served in that role for a range of nonprofits including the Clifton Cultural Arts Center in Cincinnati, New Futures in Burien, Wash., and Miriam’s Kitchen in Washington, D.C. In 2019, she was a judge for the National Book Award for fiction.

Dickey earned her MFA in poetry from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and holds a bachelor’s degree in foreign service and a master’s in Latin American studies from Georgetown University. In 2017 she was a fellow with the National Arts Strategies Chief Executive Program. Her first book, “Mud Blooms,” won a MURA Award and was a semifinalist for the National Poetry Series. It also received the 2019 Silver Nautilus Award, given to “books that make a better world.”

In the release, Lucas said Dickey is “an exceptional, thoughtful, and dynamic leader in the nonprofit literary space” and “is precisely what the National Book Foundation needs to charge forward. Her experiences working across the country help to remind us all that this work is for everyone, everywhere. Ruth is uniquely experienced, an effective and inclusive leader, and a great lover and champion of the written word.”

Dickey will begin her new role May 17. Jordan Smith, the foundation’s deputy director, will continue to serve as interim executive director until then.

Pantheon will publish Jose Antonio Vargas’ next book, a deep dive into race and identity among nonwhite immigrants in America, in 2023.