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LeVar Burton replaces Drew Barrymore as National Book Awards host

LeVar Burton replaces Drew Barrymore as National Book Awards host
Posted at 7:40 AM, Oct 18, 2023

Last week, the National Book Foundation announced a new — and very appropriate — host for the 2023 National Book Awards ceremony: actor LeVar Burton, known to many as an advocate for children’s literacy through his TV show, “Reading Rainbow.”

Burton will replace Drew Barrymore, the awards ceremony’s original host, after her invitation was rescinded amid the 2023 Writers’ Guild of America strike.

“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,” said Burton in a statement, as reported by EW. “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.”

LeVar Burton hosts 2022 Scripps National Spelling Bee
AP Photo/Alex Brandon

MORE: LeVar Burton calls for kids to read banned books

Burton refers to the recent uptick in book bans across various school districts and states. He’s been vocal about his opposition to such policies, even serving as honorary chair of the 2023 Banned Books Week celebration.

“LeVar Burton has introduced multiple generations of young people to the joys of reading, and is a fearless advocate for book access, especially amidst the the alarming rise in book banning across the country,” said David Steinberger, chair of the Board of Directors of the National Book Foundation, in a statement.

Burton has hosted the awards before, in 2019, and has hosted the Scripps National Spelling Bee. (Simplemost and the Scripps National Spelling Bee share a parent company, The E.W. Scripps Company.) He was tapped to replace Barrymore due to an outcry about her decision to start taping the fourth season of her daytime talk show, “The Drew Barrymore Show,” during the WGA strike. The show employed only a few striking WGA writers, but union members and supporters considered Barrymore’s decision to be crossing picket lines.

Drew Barrymore
AP Photo/Kevin Wolf, file

Barrymore later reversed her decision, and the writers’ strike ended in late September, after nearly five months. But Burton remains the host for the 74th National Book Awards ceremony and dinner, set for Nov. 15 in New York.

Burton’s a high-achiever in his own right, with Emmy nominations for his acting work and “Reading Rainbow,” and a lifetime-achievement Emmy in 2022. Plus, he just won a silver 2023 Signal Award for his podcast.

The podcast’s title? “LeVar Burton Reads.”

In the wake of the decision, many fans took to social media to approve the decision, with some noting that Burton has done more to promote reading than almost anyone — except maybe Dolly Parton, whose Imagination Library literacy program has given away more than 200 million books.

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