On Thursday, author Daniel Handler, also known as children’s author Lemony Snicket, apologized for a “watermelon” joke he made at the expense of an African-American author at the National Book Awards. On Friday, Handler took that apology a step further: For the next 24 hours, he is matching donations to the nonprofit We Need Diverse Books.
“My remarks on Wednesday night at #NBAwards were monstrously inappropriate and yes, racist,” Handler tweeted Friday morning. “It would be heartbreaking for the #NBAwards conversation to focus on my behavior instead of great books. So can we do this? Let’s donate to #WeNeedDiverseBooks to #CelebrateJackie. I’m in for $10,000, and matching your money for 24 hours up to $100,000.”
#CelebrateJackie refers to author Jacqueline Woodson, who won the young people’s literature prize during Wednesday night’s award ceremony. Handler’s comments followed immediately after her acceptance speech.
“I told Jackie she was going to win,” Handler said. “And I said that if she won, I would tell all of you something I learned about her this summer — which is that Jackie Woodson is allergic to watermelon.”
Criticism of Handler’s seemingly off-the-cuff joke intensified on Twitter and elsewhere the next morning. “Handler’s choice of anecdote demonstrates a poverty of imagination on any number of levels,” The Washington Post’s Alyssa Rosenberg wrote of the remarks.
On Thursday, Handler tweeted: “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.”
Author Roxane Gay said on Thursday morning that “Daniel Handler’s racist ‘humor’ at the NBAs last night is not okay and I am shocked that so few people are talking about it.” On Friday, she tweeted the following response to Handler’s fundraising drive:
Other were supportive of Handler’s decision to do something more than just apologize for his insensitive remarks:
The previous RTs are a lovely way of doing more than just issuing a rote apology. — Nichole (@tnwhiskeywoman) November 21, 2014
I’m impressed with Handler. First time I’ve actually seen an author stand up and take responsibility in a meaningful way for their actions. — Justina Ireland (@tehawesomersace) November 21, 2014
Handler has taken what could have been another “I apologize to anyone I’ve offended” or “anyone who knows me…” moment and turned it into a meaningful fundraising drive for an organization dedicated to increasing diversity in the literary world — something many of those calling out Handler’s remarks believe would help to minimize the frequency of similar moments of ignorance.
You can read more about We Need Diverse Books and its work here.