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Drew Barrymore dropped as National Book Awards host after strike backlash

NEW YORK – Drew Barrymore has been dropped as the host of the National Book Awards, the American foundation that presents the prizes said on Tuesday, after the American actress received a barrage of criticism for deciding to bring back her daytime talk show despite the strike by television writers.

The National Book Foundation, which presents the awards each year, said in a statement that its decision was meant to “ensure that the focus of the awards remains on celebrating writers and books”.

“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 said.

“In light of the announcement that The Drew Barrymore Show will resume production, the National Book Foundation has rescinded Ms Barrymore’s invitation to host the 74th National Book Awards Ceremony.”

On Monday, unionised writers from the Writers Guild of America (WGA), as well as striking actors, picketed outside the CBS studios in New York City where The Drew Barrymore Show was resuming filming for the first time since April – without the show’s three unionised writers.

The network said the show would return on Sept 18 without written material that is “covered by the WGA strike”, a similar approach to that taken by The View (1997 to present), which began airing episodes from its new season in September, circumventing union writers.

Barrymore, who had stepped down as the host of the MTV Movie and TV Awards in May in solidarity with the striking Hollywood writers, was greeted by a wave of critical backlash online after the decision to go back on air.

The 48-year-old defended the show’s return on Instagram, saying in a post: “I want to be there to provide what writers do so well, which is a way to bring us together or help us make sense of the human experience.”

Barrymore’s critics included many high-profile writers, and Colson Whitehead, an author who won the National Book Award in 2016, gestured to the potential problem the foundation faced in having the actress as host after her decision.

Representatives for Barrymore and her show did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The foundation’s statement concluded: “We are grateful to Ms Barrymore and her team for their understanding in this situation.”

The National Book Awards, one of the most prestigious literary awards in the United States, has often brought in prominent cultural figures and celebrities to host, in an effort to broaden its profile and to highlight the wide-ranging cultural impact of books.

Recent hosts include author and TV host Padma Lakshmi, author and comedian Phoebe Robinson, and actors LeVar Burton, Nick Offerman and Cynthia Nixon.

When the foundation announced in July that Barrymore would host the awards, it praised her commitment to “the enduring belief that books have the power to change readers’ lives”.

In her 2015 memoir, Wildflower, Barrymore credited books with restoring her sense of self after her tumultuous childhood and coming of age in the spotlight, and described how she tore through works by Jane Austen, Leo Tolstoy and Joan Didion.

This year’s ceremony is scheduled to take place at Cipriani Wall Street in Manhattan on Nov 15, which creates a tight timeline that is likely to leave the foundation scrambling to find another high-profile host. NYTIMES

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