Daniel Handler’s Remarks at the National Book Award Ceremony

So many of my writing friends have been dismayed, and probably more to the point, angered by the remarks of Daniel Handler at the National Book Award ceremonies recently. On the one hand, many of us have admired Handler’s work, his contribution to the field of children’s literature, unsentimental, intelligent, humorous, even wise. I’ve also had the experience of putting my sizeable foot in my mouth in an attempt at humor. But on the other hand, Handler’s remarks did expose ignorance, humor at another’s expense, and definitely, as he acknowledged, racism inflicting such deep pain. And he shouldn’t, and I doubt he does, expect sympathy for his huge faux pas.
His comments seemed especially shocking to me because I expected better of the Handlers out there, the informed members of the literary world. We’re so widely-read, so rich in the mental life, where there is a unusual amount of self-examination, self-awareness, good reasoning and challenging of facts, events, etc. But sigh, that is probably an illusion.
And these remarks resound even louder in the midst of the sense of injustice prevailing after the grand jury verdicts in Ferguson and New York City, after the killing of an unarmed African-American 12 year old .
At twenty-six I stepped into a minority group and began to experience some stereotyping, discrimination, and categorization. My disability eclipsed all my other attributes. I slid into many discussions with my African-American friends about similarities among the minority group status. We talked about often being the only “one” in the group and how our entrance set off an emotional charge in the room. But though many of my friends with disabilities have experienced painful jokes, name-calling, abuse, and serious discrimination, we still haven’t generally experienced the malevolence that African-Americans, others of color, and GBLTs have.
It’s still so possible to live in our bubbles with like-looking and thinking friends, so regular contact between minority and majority groups is rare. With the growing divide politically among us all it seems that our segregating is even more prevalent. So possibly books exposing us to difference, books that feature and celebrate our rich diversity can break through our gated lives.


About Sally Hobart Alexander

Blinded at the age of twenty-six, I left California and elementary school teaching for life in Pittsburgh, Pa. There, I met my husband, got a Masters' degree in social work, had two kids, now 35 and 32, and became a writer. Surprisingly, the writing career led me full-circle to teaching, and I teach in Chatham University's M.F.A. program and lead two writing critique groups. Always, since the age of 26, I have traveled, not in the stereotypic darkness attributed to blindness, but a mist. My blog then, "traveling through the mist" will deal with issues in my culturally different life as a blind writer, teacher, speaker, and human being.
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