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.

QUICK TAKES

San Francisco icon Marian Brown has passed away at age 87. “Marian and her identical twin sister, Vivian, who passed away early last year, could often be spotted together, delighting San Francisco neighborhoods with their visits that brought smiles to residents and visitors alike,” Mayor Ed Lee said in a statement. … Director Mike Nichols, whose films included “The Graduate” and “Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” died Wednesday night at age 83. His survivors include his wife, journalist Diane Sawyer, and three children. Nichols won nine Tonys, an Oscar, several Emmys and a Grammy.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY

Singer Carly Rae Jepsen is 29. … Football player-turned-TV host Michael Strahan is 43. … Singer Chauncey Hannibal of Blackstreet is 46. … Singer Bjork is 49. … Actress Nicollette Sheridan (“Desperate Housewives”) is 51. … Keyboardist Lonnie Jordan of War is 66. … Actress Goldie Hawn (“Laugh-In”) is 69. … Actress Marlo Thomas (“That Girl”) is 77.

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