Jacqueline Woodson was honored Monday night at the National Book Awards in New York for her memoir in verse, Brown Girl Dreaming, reports The New York Times. The book shares Woodson’s experiences growing up in South Carolina and New York in the 60s and 70s.
Her career-defining prize win was unfortunately overshadowed by racial jokes made during the ceremony by the emcee, Daniel Handler—better known as best-selling children’s book author Lemony Snicket.
After Woodson gave her thank you speech, Handler took the stage and made a joke about how the award-winning author is allergic to watermelon.
“I told Jackie she was gonna win, and I, uh, 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. Just let that sink in your mind,” he said to a laughing crowd. “And I said, you have to put that in a book. She said, YOU put it in a book. And I said, I’m only writing a book about a black girl that’s allergic to watermelon if I get a blurb from you, Cornell West, Toni Morrison and Barack Obama saying ‘This guy’s okay, this guy’s fine.’”
Handler made another racial joke during the night when he introduced Sharon Draper, another Black author and recipient of the Corretta Scott King Award, saying it was a “prize [he] one day wanted to receive myself. That’s my children’s publishing joke. We’ll explain it to you later.” The Corretta Scott King Award can only be given to Black writers and illustrators, who coincidentally only make up for 3% of children’s book authors in America, according to Jezebel.
Handler has since apologized for his jokes on Twitter writing: “I clearly failed, and I’m sorry.” Woodson has yet to make a comment.
But, congrats on to you Jacqueline Woodson!