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.