ICYMI: Author Responds to Watermelon Joke

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The room fell flat and a nervous laughter exited the vocal chords of Lemony Snicket author Daniel Handler as he commended while simultaneously offended fellow author Jacqueline Woodson at last month’s National Book Awards.

Woodson had won the young people’s literature prize for Brown Girl Dreaming.

The joke that went sour referenced Woodson, who is Black, being allergic to watermelon. Now, for Handler to believe this supposed “joke” would gain laughs and win the crowd, is plain foolishness.

The heat was felt when his ignorance was met with a solid hush over the crowd. In the footage of this incident, the camera did not show Woodson’s reaction; however, she has not remained silenced about the event.

Instead, she used her gift of the pen to write an open letter describing the pain and offense taken during such a prominent moment of her life and literary career.

In “The Pain of the Watermelon Joke,” the author recalls her childhood growing up in South Carolina in the late ’60s and ’70s and her experience with watermelon, from spitting the seeds out while sitting on her grandparents’ back porch to when she discovered her allergy toward them and, as she grew, the negative undertone of race and its association with the fruit.

And yes, she addresses Daniel Handler and the disappointment that struck when he began his misdirected and racist joke, “Jackie’s allergic to watermelon….let that sink in your mind.”

Read the full letter here.