On Wednesday evening, the National Book Foundation held a ceremony to announce the winners of the National Book Award, one of the most prestigious literary awards in the country. Jacqueline Woodson, a black woman, won the award for young people’s literature for “Brown Girl Dreaming.” It was the first award presented that evening, and Woodson’s earnest excitement was contagious. Then Daniel Handler, author of the Lemony Snicket books and presenter at the ceremony got onstage and made a troubling misstep.
My job at last night's National Book Awards #NBAwards 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. My remarks on Wednesday night at #NBAwards were monstrously inappropriate and yes, racist. Let’s donate to #WeNeedDiverseBooks to #CelebrateJackie. I’m in for $10,000, and matching your money for 24 hours up to $100,000. -DH
'Ill-conceived" seems to me an understatement. "Monstrously inappropriate" comes closer. But I'm not here to parse his words because here's the thing: Each of us is imperfect, by virtue of the fact that we are human beings–irrespective of color, creed, persuasions, orientations or any number of outward/invisible differences. We suffer self-inflicted wounds & are injured at the hands of those who do us harm. We gain favor; we fall from grace. It's impossible to know anyone else's heart, but we can certainly see and feel the after-effects of one others' words & actions. And so it is that this deeply affecting, ugly incident helps illustrate the lessons we're all learning–not just Daniel Handler, all of us. We're flesh-and-blood creatures, not so much in need of garment-rending and gnashing teeth, so much as grace, freely given and received.
Kudos for the swift, shunning response to a series of "troubling misteps." Applause, too, for the intelligent conversations that are unfolding even now. And through it all, this additional grace note: Readers and writers everywhere are lifting Jacqueline Woodson above the fray, giving the award-winning Brown Girl Dreaming the full credit it's due. It's a soul-stirring, heartwarming memoir. I hope you'll buy a copy for yourself. Maybe also pick up a couple extra books to share.