LeVar Burton will replace Drew Barrymore as host of 74th National Book Awards

LeVar Burton, left, wearing all black and Drew Barrymore wearing an orange blazer
After Drew Barrymore’s invitation was rescinded last month amid the Hollywood writers’ and actors’ strikes, LeVar Burton, left, is announced as the new host of the 74th National Book Awards.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times; Ash Bean / For The Times)
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When it comes to hosting the National Book Awards ceremony next month, Drew Barrymore is out and LeVar Burton is in.

The National Book Foundation announced Friday that the frontman of former children’s public television program “Reading Rainbow” is set to host the 74th National Book Awards ceremony. Burton is stepping in after Barrymore’s invitation to host was rescinded due to her controversial announcement that her syndicated talk show would resume amid the Hollywood writers’ and actors’ strikes.

“The National Book Awards is an evening dedicated to celebrating the power of literature, and the incomparable contributions of writers to our culture,” the foundation said in a statement provided to The Times last month. “Our commitment is to ensure that the focus of the Awards remains on celebrating writers and books, and we are grateful to Ms. Barrymore and her team for their understanding in this situation.”


Barrymore ultimately postponed the launch of the fourth season of “The Drew Barrymore Show” after bearing the brunt of widespread criticism when she announced it would resume production during the strikes — but the National Book Foundation had already moved forward with pursuing other hosts.

The National Book Foundation has rescinded Drew Barrymore’s invitation to host the National Book Awards while her show tapes amid the Hollywood strikes.

Sept. 12, 2023

“We are honored to have LeVar Burton — a longtime friend and ally of the National Book Foundation — join us to celebrate the power of stories,” Ruth Dickey, executive director of the National Book Foundation, said in a statement announcing the new selection.

Burton also hosted the 70th National Book Awards in 2019, but his encore appearance in 2023 feels especially timely. Just last week, the actor and host served as the honorary chair of Banned Books Week 2023, an annual series of events that draws attention to the rising movement to remove books from libraries and schools in the United States.

“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,” Dickey added in the statement. “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.”

Burton was the founding host of the celebrated PBS series “Reading Rainbow,” which premiered in 1983 and ran for 26 years. He’s also known globally for portraying Kunta Kinte in “Roots” and Geordi La Forge on “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” “The Right to Read,” the 2023 documentary on which he served as executive producer, frames literacy as a civil rights issue. The film debuted at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival and follows an NAACP activist and educator, a first-grade teacher and two families.

In May, Burton was the guest of honor when the L.A. Times Book Club hosted an evening on books and censorship in partnership with Arizona State University. Burton said his love of reading stemmed from his mother, who made reading mandatory in his family’s home growing up. “You had to read in my mother’s house. I like to say that you either had to read a book, or got hit in the head with one,” he joked to Times Column One editor Steve Padilla.


“I’m a big believer in the power of the written word,” Burton said in the foundation’s announcement, “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.

“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.”

The National Book Award winners in the categories of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, translated literature, and young people’s literature will be announced live on Nov. 15 at the invitation-only 74th National Book Awards Ceremony & Benefit Dinner, featuring special guest Oprah Winfrey, at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City.

The 2023 National Book Awards shortlist named 25 titles, including books by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Monica Youn, David Diop and Aaliyah Bilal.

Oct. 3, 2023

The National Book Foundation will broadcast the ceremony on YouTube, Facebook and the foundation’s website at

The five finalists in each category were announced earlier this month; they include previous National Book Foundation honoree Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, David Diop, Monica Youn and Aaliyah Bilal.