LeVar Burton has been named the host of the 2023 National Book Awards following the backlash to Drew Barrymore’s ill-fated decision to resume her daytime talk show ahead of the WGA agreement with streamers and studios.
The National Book Awards issued a statement on Sept. 13 announcing that they had dropped Barrymore as the host of the prestigious literary awards ceremony.
“The National Book Awards is an evening dedicated to celebrating the power of literature, and the incomparable contributions of writers to our culture,” the statement read. “In light of the announcement that ‘The Drew Barrymore Show’ will resume production, the National Book Foundation has rescinded Ms. Barrymore’s invitation to host the 74th National Book Awards Ceremony.”
According to NPR, Burton last hosted the ceremony in 2019 and indicated in a statement on Oct. 13 his pleasure resuming that role for the organization in a climate where books that make statements against oppression are seemingly under attack.
“I’m a big believer in the power of the written word, and am proud to stand alongside the National Book Foundation to celebrate exceptional storytelling and the Foundation’s mission to make books accessible to everyone, everywhere,” Burton said. “It’s an honor to return as host of the biggest night for books, especially in a moment when the freedom to read is at risk and literature both needs and deserves our recognition and support.”
Burton has been an advocate for books and reading since his days hosting Reading Rainbow, a show promoting children’s literacy that aired on PBS from 1983 to 2006. Burton also hosts a podcast, LeVar Burton Reads, where he narrates fiction selections. He also has served as the American Library Association’s honorary chair during that organization’s Banned Books Week in clear protest of the book bans that have been popping up all across the country aimed at books that frankly discuss racism or LGBTQ+ individuals in general.
According to Entertainment Weekly, on Oct. 13, Ruth Dickey, Executive Director of the National Book Foundation, which presents the awards ceremony, said: “From his role as the beloved host of ‘Reading Rainbow’ to his new documentary ‘The Right to Read,’ Burton’s unique and contagious passion for books has inspired countless readers. This year — more than ever before — books are at risk, and we are tremendously proud to have a champion like Burton celebrate authors, translators, and readers everywhere as the host of the 2023 National Book Awards.”
In 2022, Burton shared how important Reading Rainbow was to him during an interview about his career and his Lifetime Achievement Emmy Award, telling Entertainment Weekly, “Television had become a really important part of the daily lives of America’s children, and the question was, and always is, how do we get our children to read more?”
Burton added, “How do we more effectively submit that relationship between an emerging reader and the written word? And television was a very counterintuitive medium to enlist as an aid in this process.”
Burton reflected on the show, and told the outlet that his most important and his most lasting legacy will be Reading Rainbow, because the show is directly responsible for fostering a lifelong love of reading and books in children. Burton also lamented the loss of shows that appeared alongside Burton’s show on PBS like Sesame Street and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, saying, “We know how good those shows are now by the truth of the absence of shows like them. They may get some social emotional awareness from Mr. Rogers, they’ll get some rudiments in letters and numbers and the same from Sesame Street, and they’ll be encouraged to develop a personal relationship with the written word and storytelling through Reading Rainbow. That’s a pretty good moment.”
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