After Jacqueline Woodson accepted her National Book Award in the category of young people's literature for Brown Girl Dreaming, emcee Daniel Handler—author of the Lemony Snicket books—went for a laugh. "Jackie’s allergic to watermelon,” he told the audience. “Just let that sink in your mind.” Handler and Woodson are friends, which is how he knows that the black writer is indeed allergic to watermelon, she explains in the New York Times. The joke, for which Handler has since apologized publicly, stunned Woodson given that it came at such an amazing moment in in her life. After recounting her own experiences with the stereotype since childhood, Woodson writes that Handler showed he thinks we're at a place where we can laugh such things off. But "his "historical context, unlike my own, came from a place of ignorance."
Woodson's book is the story of her own family's journey from slavery, and she says she would have written it even if the audience were only her own kids. "To know that we African-Americans came here enslaved to work until we died but didn’t die, and instead grew up to become doctors and teachers, architects and presidents—how can these children not carry this history with them for those many moments when someone will attempt to make light of it?" That's her mission now, she writes: To give people of all ages "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." Click for her full column. (Read more watermelon stories.)