For the second year in a row, I’ve attended the National Book Awards presented by the National Book Foundation. Last year’s ceremony was simply great, and this year’s event was just as enjoyable.
The National Book Awards is often likened to the “Academy Awards” of the Book industry. I think the comparison does a disservice to this event which recognizes the best of American literature. What we see on the movie screen starts with writers; there could be no Academy Awards without writers to craft the stories, write the screenplays or even write the words spoken during their awards ceremony. The National Book Awards stands alone as the most important event in the American book world.
Of course given the lack of coverage, by main stream media, it would be impossible to appreciate the importance of this event. In fact, much of the coverage I encountered centered around a dumb joke, this year’s Master of Ceremonies, Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) told regarding a watermelon and Young People's Literature award winner Jacqueline Woodson. If you based your impression on what is being said on social media alone you’d think Daniel uttered the most racist thing said in public. Daniel immediately apologized, almost to the point of groveling.
My remarks on Wednesday night at #NBAwardsds were monstrously inappropriate and yes, racist. -DH [1/4]4— Daniel Handler (@DanielHandler)— Daniel Handler (@DanielHandler) November 21, 201414
Indeed, Lemony Snicket has even agreed to contribute up to $100,000 to We Need Diverse Books, an organization which Woodson is an advisory board member. One can’t help but wonder if this payoff is motivated by a desire to ensure Netflix’s adaption of his popular book series comes to fruition. Talk about a series of unfortunate events.
Most of the outrage was seemingly fueled by people not at the event. I spoke to almost all of the Black people in the room that evening. Nobody mentioned the comment. One Black attendee posted in Twitter, “Handler is the best NBA host since Calvin Trillin and Steve Martin.” I didn't hear Handler’s comment, at the time he made it; I was busy making my way over to Jacqueline to take a photo of her with her trophy.
More importantly, the National Book Awards ceremony is really the culmination of a year long series of events and support of literacy spearheaded by the National Book Foundation. One such program, is BookUp, an after school reading program in partnership with the New York City Department of Youth and Community Development. Award winning author, Mitchell S. Jackson, one of the program’s instructors, mentions BookUp in the video below.