Jacqueline Woodson winner of the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, attends the 65th Annual National Book Awards on Nov. 19, 2014 at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City Wednesday Nov. 19, 2014. (AP Photo/National Book Foundation, Robin Platzer)
Author Jacqueline Woodson addressed Daniel Handler’s (aka “Lemony Snicket”) racist joke, Friday, with an unflinching response in The New York Times.
Handler previously made offhanded comments about Woodson being allergic to watermelon while hosting the National Book Awards. Woodson was accepting an award in the young adult category for her latest book “Brown Girl Dreaming.”
Amid waves of criticism and backlash over the comments, Handler has since apologized and donated $110,000 to the grassroots organization We Need Diverse Books while Woodson issued an indirect statement through her publisher.
Woodson’s essay in the Times takes Handler’s comments head on, though.
Titled “The Pain of the Watermelon Joke,” Woodson explores her own background and the evolution of her understanding of the racially charged significance of the watermelon. By the time she was 11-years-old, she explains, the fruit had become repulsive to her.
“By making light of that deep and troubled history, he showed that he believed we were at a point where we could laugh about it all. His historical context, unlike my own, came from a place of ignorance,” Woodson writes.
Like her previous statement, Woodson uses the essay to re-frame the situation by focusing on positive change in a time when the lack of diverse voices in literature has become all-too apparent.
Woodson’s mission, she explains, is “to write stories that have been historically absent in this country’s body of literature, to create mirrors for the people who so rarely see themselves inside contemporary fiction, and windows for those who think we are no more than the stereotypes they’re so afraid of.
To give young people — and all people — a sense of this country’s brilliant and brutal history, so that no one ever thinks they can walk onto a stage one evening and laugh at another’s too often painful past.”