April 20, 2018

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Jacqueline Woodson and Ursula K. Le Guin Shine at the National Book Awards Ceremony


Jacqueline Woodson won the award n the Young People’s Literature category for her work Brown Girl Dreaming. Photo by Rocco Staino

(Updated: November 24, 2014) The third time was the charm for Jacqueline Woodson on the evening of November 19, when she was awarded the 2014 National Book Award (NBA) for Young People’s Literature for her book Brown Girl Dreaming (Penguin, 2014) at the NBA ceremony hosted by Daniel Handler (aka “Lemony Snicket”)  in New York City. Woodson had been a finalist for the award in 2003 for Locomotion (Putnam, 2003) and in 2002 for Hush (Putnam, 2002). Told in verse, Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming is a memoir of her youth growing up in South Carolina and New York City during the 1960s and 70s.

In announcing Woodson’s win, author Sharon Draper, chair of the judging committee, let it be known that Brown Girl Dreaming was the unanimous decision of the judges, who also included authors Sherri L. Smith (Flygirl; Putnam, 2008) and Rebecca Stead (When You Reach Me; Random House, 2009), as well as Starr LaTronica, outgoing president of the Association for Library Services to Children (ALSC), and bookseller Dave Shallenberger.

Woodson prevailed over two-time finalists Eliot Schrefer, author of Threatened (Scholastic); Steve Sheinkin, who wrote The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny and the Fight for Civil Rights (MacMillan); Deborah Wiles, author of Revolution: The Sixties Trilogy, Book Two (Scholastic); and first-time finalist John Corey Whaley, who wrote Noggin (S. & S.).


NBA finalists in the Young People’s Category (l to r): Steven Sheinkin, John Corey Whaley, Jacqueline Woodson, Deborah Wiles, Eliot Schrefer Photo by Rocco Staino

While accepting the award, Woodson congratulated her fellow finalists, saying, “I love how much love there is the world of YA literature.” Commenting on the merger of publishers Random House and Penguin, she thanked her “fabulous blended family.”

Woodson also inadvertently became entangled in a controversy caused by comments, some of them alluding to Woodson’s race and watermelon, made by the evening’s host, Handler, following her acceptance speech. Both Handler and his comments were the topic of outrage on social media the next morning ranging from a tweet from Lee & Low Books (“Pro tip: If you’re a white person hosting an award ceremony, do not make jokes about race. I repeat, DO NOT MAKE JOKES ABOUT RACE”) to a post on “The Mary Sue” blog titled: A Series of Unfortunate Events: Daniel Handler Makes Racist Joke at Expense of African American Author.

Watch the C-SPAN video of Handler’s remarks after Woodson’s acceptance speech.

Handler apologized the day after the ceremony on Twitter, saying, “My job at last night’s National Book Awards #NBAwards was to shine a light on tremendous writers, including Jacqueline Woodson…and not to overshadow their achievements with my own ill-conceived attempts at humor. I clearly failed, and I’m sorry.”

Update: Along with his apology, Handler pledged to match donations, up to $100,000, to the We Need Diverse Books (WNDB) indiegogo campaign, within a 24-hour period. According to the WNDB press release, dated November 24, the campaign has raised a total of $321,901, partly due to a donation made by “Dork Diaries” author, Rachel Renee Russell, who donated the $30,000 necessary to fulfill the entire $100,000 Handler pledge.


Ursula K. Le Guin Photo by Heather McCormick

Legendary author Ursula K. Le Guin was also honored at the event with the 2014 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Accepting the honor, Le Guin, author of the “Earthsea Cycle” series, warned the audience, many from the publishing industry, that what is needed are “writers who know the difference between making a commodity and crafting a work of art.”

Le Guin also lambasted the publishing world for the high prices charged to libraries for ebooks. “I don’t want to see American literature sold down the river,” said Le Guin. “The name of our beautiful reward is not profit. It is freedom.”

Libraries also got a shout-out from Kyle Zimmer, president and CEO of First Book, when she accepted the Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community. First Book has distributed over 115 million new books and educational resources to children of low-income families.

The 65th annual National Book Awards are presented by the National Book Foundation.

See also:

Jacqueline Woodson’s ‘Brown Girl Dreaming’ Wins 2014 National Book Award

SLJ Reviews of the 2014 National Book Award Finalists in Young People’s Literature

Pictures of the Week: The 2014 National Book Awards Ceremony

Video: Jacqueline Woodson Keynote | SLJ Day of Dialog 2014

Rocco Staino About Rocco Staino

Rocco Staino @RoccoA is the retired director of the Keefe Library of the North Salem School District in New York. He is now a contributing editor for School Library Journal and also writes for the Huffington Post.



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