Daniel Handler, better known as Lemony Snicket, turned what should have been a respectful, respectable, but otherwise fairly routine presentation ceremony for the National Book Awards into a social media tempest through a more-than-off-color inadvertent quip about watermelons and Jacqueline Woodson. The National Book Foundation has already posted its own response, stating that “at the National Book Awards, comments were made by the master of ceremonies which were entirely inappropriate, were not authorized by the National Book Foundation and which do not in any way represent the views of this organization. We regret the incident and apologize to all offended by the remarks, especially Jacqueline Woodson.”
Handler’s fairly prompt apology, the response recommended by most social media professionals, did earn him some forgiveness. Neil Gaiman, who had joined with him earlier in the day at the Great Book Giveaway for the Awards, tweeted and later posted on Facebook: “Daniel Handler messed up badly as the MC of the National Book Awards, and made a racist joke that threatened to overshadow the Book Awards themselves. He’s apologised, and now is stepping up to put the attention back onto the books and the authors, where it belongs.”
Handler did more than simply apologize, though. As Gaiman added, “For the next 24 hours, he will be matching donations at https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/we-need-diverse-books up to $100,000. (He’s already donated $10,000.) I made my donation, already this morning – it’s a great cause.”
That certainly is a case of an author giving back to the public. And it did garner more approval. That said, is it enough? Because no matter how genuine his contrition and sincere his gesture, Handler is always going to carry with him the suspicion that there is something going on at the back of his mind that should never have been allowed out in public. If this is really what some American authors carry around inside their heads, then no wonder there are causes like We Need Diverse Books.