Bestselling children’s author Daniel Handler, better known by his pen name, Lemony Snicket, used Twitter to issue an apology for remarks he made about Jacqueline Woodson, who won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature for her memoir Brown Girl Dreaming. The apology was in response to a wave of complaints and outrage on Twitter aimed at Handler, the host of the NBA ceremony, for mentioning, and joking, that he had learned that Woodson was allergic to watermelon.
Handler issued an apology Thursday morning through two tweets posted to his @DanielHandler twitter account: “My job at last night's National Book Awards was to shine a light on tremendous writers, including Jacqueline Woodson and not to overshadow their achievements with my own ill-conceived attempts at humor. I clearly failed, and I’m sorry.”
UPDATE: In the wake of his apology for the use of a racial stereotype during the National Book Awards ceremony, Handler announced via Twitter on Friday morning that he plans to donate $10,000 to the We Need Diverse Books fundraising campaign on Indiegogo. For the next 24 hours, Handler will match all donations made to WNDB’s Indiegogo compaign up to $100,000. In addition to announcing his donation, Handler has expanded on his earlier apology, emphasizing that "My remarks on Wednesday night at #NBAwards were monstrously inappropriate and yes, racist. It would be heartbreaking for the #NBAwards conversation to focus on my behavior instead of great books. Brown Girl Dreaming is an amazing novel and we need more voices like Jacqueline Woodson.”
Ellen Oh, WNDB's president, responded to Handler's announcement on Friday morning by telling PW that she was “very impressed" by Handler's response to the controversy surrounding his remarks, including his contacting WNDB to make the offer of financial support. “It takes a big man to admit that his remarks were racist. Most people can't – especially publicly," she said, "The best part of his actions is not the money, but the recognition of the power of words, and the hurt they can cause.”
Woodson, who is participating in the National Council of Teachers of English conference in Washington, D.C., emailed PW from NCTE on Friday morning, stating in response to Handler's comments at the NBA awards, “I'd rather continue to move the dialogue forward in a positive light rather than a negative one. This is a moment when our country can grow and learn and better understand each other. It would be nice to put the energy back where it should be – on the books and what the books are saying and doing – Redeployment is an astounding novel, Gluck is nothing short of an amazing poet. I don't know Osnos' book yet but I plan to read it. And Brown Girl Dreaming is about writing and about the history of this country. But more than that, it's about what this conversation should be – a coming to understanding across lines of race.”
The situation developed after Woodson was announced as the winner of the Young People Literature Award. Taking the podium after Woodson, Handler, the host for this year’s ceremony, conveyed a conversation he said took place earlier between himself and Woodson. After announcing that he had predicted that Woodson would win, Handler said he told her that if she won, he would mention that he had found out that she was allergic to watermelon. When he suggested she write a book about the allergy, she told him “you put that in a book.”
Handler continued: “I said I am only writing a book about a black girl who is allergic to watermelon if I get a blurb from you, Cornel West, Toni Morrison, and Barack Obama saying, 'This guy's okay! This guy's fine!'"
While the comment did not seem to upset the audience in the hall, it clearly offended many people around the country viewing the event via live webcast. And the outrage has spread to other social media including Twitter, Facebook and a number of blog posts. The remarks or part of the remarks were also tweeted by a number of observers including PW, which also received complaints about Handler's use of the stereotype.
UPDATE: On Friday, the NBA issued a statement distancing itself from Handler's joke. The comment states: “On Wednesday evening, November 19, 2014, at the National Book Awards comments were made by the master of ceremonies which were entirely inappropriate, were not authorized by the National Book Foundation and which do not in any way represent the views of this organization. We regret the incident and apologize to all offended by the remarks, especially Jacqueline Woodson.”