The literary world made a collective gasp earlier this month when author Daniel Handler, the MC for the National Book Awards, made a racially charged remark regarding Jacqueline Woodson who had just won the top honor in the young-adult category for her memoir, Brown Girl Dreaming.
After Woodson received her award, making her one of the few African-American writers honored by the National Book Awards in recent years, Handler noted the so-called irony of the fact that Woodson is allergic to watermelon.
In an op-ed for the New York Times, Woodson, who is openly gay, wrote about how she learned she was allergic to the fruit, and how as a young girl, she became repulsed by the stereotypical images associated with watermelon and African-Americans.
"In a book I found at the library, a camp song about a watermelon vine was illustrated with caricatures of sleepy-looking black people sitting by trees, grinning and eating watermelon," Woodson wrote. "Slowly, the hideousness of the stereotype began to sink in. In the eyes of those who told and repeated the jokes, we were shuffling, googly-eyed and lesser than."
Handler, the author of the Lemony Snicket series of books, later apologized and donated to the campaign, We Need Diverse Books. and the president of the American Library Association Courtney Young, said his words were insensitive.
"His comments were inappropriate and fell far short of the association's commitment to diversity," Young said in a statement. "Handler's remarks come at a time when the publishing world has little diversity. Works from authors and illustrators of color make up less than 8 percent of children’s titles produced in 2013. The ALA hopes this regrettable incident will be used to open a dialogue on the need for diversity in the publishing industry, particularly in regards to books for young people."