Handler apologizes for watermelon joke at awards

Stephen Chernin/APIn this Oct. 10

Daniel Handler has apologized for comments made at the National Book Awards that have been criticized as racist.

The San Francisco author, who wrote the “Series of Unfortunate Events” books under the name Lemony Snicket, hosted Wednesday night's ceremony in Manhattan, N.Y., where one of the winners was Jacqueline Woodson's “Brown Girl Dreaming.”

After Woodson collected her prize, Handler gestured to her and mentioned an exchange that he had said he would make public only should she win. He had learned that Woodson was allergic to watermelon and suggested she mention it in a book. She in turn suggested that he mention it.

“And I said, 'I'm only writing a book about a black girl who's allergic to watermelon if I get a blurb from you, Cornel West, Toni Morrison and Barack Obama saying, 'This guy's OK. This guy's fine,'” he said to mild laughter from a crowd of hundreds.

On Thursday, Handler tweeted that he had meant to celebrate the achievements of Woodson and others and that his “ill-conceived attempts at humor” had distracted from that.

“I clearly failed, and I'm sorry,” he wrote.

A spokeswoman for Woodson at her publisher, Penguin Young Readers Group, said the author was “not commenting at this time.”

Handler, one of the country's most popular young-adult writers, also made jokes about Amazon.com and the perceived lack of glamour in publishing. He made another racial comment earlier in the evening, when he said that he would never win a Coretta Scott King Award. It's named for Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King Jr., and given to black authors.

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