US children’s author Daniel Handler, who writes under the pen name Lemony Snicket, has cancelled a speech he was due to give at a graduation ceremony amid allegations of sexual harassment, according to Associated Press.
Wesleyan University in Connecticut had engaged Handler to speak at the ceremony in May this year.
A letter sent from the university president to students said: “Daniel Handler has chosen to withdraw as Wesleyan's Commencement speaker this May. We've agreed that the focus of the event should be on the Class of 2018, their families and the celebration of graduation."
Plans to give Handler an honorary degree have also been shelved.
Instead, the May graduation speech will be given by Anita Hill, a professor at Brandeis University who in 1991 testified that her then boss, Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, sexually harassed her. She was already due to take part in the ceremony and receive an honorary degree.
Students at Wesleyan had already started to protest the choice of Handler as speaker before the announcement, said AP, and posters were put up around campus saying: “Time is up on workplace harassment. It is an insult to survivors, women, people of color and Dr. Hill to give this honour to Handler."
In February several authors accused Handler of making sexually inappropriate comments. One, writing on an online blog, said Handler made jokes about children’s book events turning into orgies at the Rhode Island Children’s Book Festival.
"We’ve heard stories of serial predators, and I have never heard anyone suggest that you are among them. But as someone who’s signed on to this pledge, you should know that this stuff matters, too. It all matters," said one. "This festival was an amazing event, organised by fantastic people, and there were wonderful moments throughout that weekend. But when I think back to that event, what I remember most is how small I felt that day, how on-edge about what you might say next."
Handler later apologised in an online post, saying he never meant to insult his colleagues. “It has never been my wish to insult any of my professional colleagues. I sincerely, if tardily, apologise.”
“My whole life my sense of humour has not been for everyone, and my books continue to be regarded, by a segment of the population, as inappropriate. As someone who’s been a struggling author, I take seriously the responsibilities of my visibility, and have always thought that treating all of my colleagues the same was the best way to dispel the unease that can come from a competitive or self-conscious environment. As a survivor of sexual violence, I also know very well how words or behaviors that are harmless or even liberating to some people can be upsetting to others.”
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