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article imageNew edition of Huckleberry Finn'to replace 'N word'

By Chanah Rubenstein     Jan 4, 2011 in Arts
A new edition of the American classic, Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, will have the controversial and derided 'N word' replaced. The more politically correct word, 'slave', will be used instead.
Publishers Weekly has reported that NewSouth Books and Twain scholar Alan Gribben are issuing a new edition of "Huckleberry Finn" and "Tom Sawyer", in a single volume, which will eliminate the 'N word' and will instead use 'slave' in its place.
Alan Gribben, head of the English department at Auburn University in Montgomery, Alabama has made it a habit to replace the much loathed word with ‘slave’ when reading the books aloud, Publishers Weekly reports.
"This is not an effort to render Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn colorblind. Race matters in these books. It's a matter of how you express that in the 21st century," said Gribben.
NPR reports that Gibben believes the word itself prevents people from reading the book. He equates the book to the classics Mark Twain spoke of “which people praise and don’t read.”
He said in Publishers Weekly, "For a single word to form a barrier, it seems such an unnecessary state of affairs."
While he says he never heard the word used growing up, he realized the affect it had on readers when he moved to the South and had children.
“My daughter went to a magnet school and one of her best friends was an African-American girl. She loathed the book, could barely read it," he told Publishers Weekly.
It is also reported by Publishers Weekly that NewSouth was asked to create an edition of “Tom Sawyer” for 2009’s Big Read Alabama. NewSouth asked Gribben to write the introduction for the edition, which led him to give multiple readings of the book across Alabama.
"After a number of talks, I was sought out by local teachers, and to a person they said we would love to teach this novel, and Huckleberry Finn, but we feel we can't do it anymore. In the new classroom, it's really not acceptable," Gribben said.
From there he wanted to create an alternate version that everyone could enjoy.
"I want to provide an option for teachers and other people not comfortable with 219 instances of that word…We'll just let the readers decide," he told NPR.
Gibben knows that it won’t be received well by everyone. "I'm hoping that people will welcome this new option, but I suspect that textual purists will be horrified," he said. Adding, "Already, one professor told me that he is very disappointed that I was involved in this."
In an interview with Publishers Weekly, another Twain scholar from UCLA, Thomas Wortham, said, "A book like Professor Gribben has imagined doesn't challenge children [and their teachers] to ask, ‘Why would a child like Huck use such reprehensible language?' "
In a report by NPR, Professor Stephen Railton at the University of Virginia, said the new version is "a terrible idea" and that Gribben was not being true to the period Mark Twain was writing; that the use of the 'N word' depicts the language of America’s past.
Professor Railton has his own version of “Huckleberry Finn” coming out this year. The version is unaltered and includes context for schools to explore racism and slavery in the book.
"If we can't do that in the classroom, we can't do that anywhere," he told NPR.
The criticism doesn’t stop there; Gribben has also received a slew of hate-filled emails opposing the project. He told NPR that the emails only prove the word makes people uncomfortable. "Not one of them mentions the word. They dance around it," he said
NewSouth has been vocal in praising both the project and Gribben. Co-founder of NewSouth, publisher Suzanne La Rosa told Publishers Weekly, “We recognized that some people would say that this was censorship of a kind, but our feeling is that there are plenty of other books out there—all of them, in fact—that faithfully replicate the text, and that this was simply an option for those who were increasingly uncomfortable, as he put it, insisting students read a text which was so incredibly hurtful."
She added, "Dr. Gribben recognizes that he's putting his reputation at stake as a Twain scholar…But he's so compassionate, and so believes in the value of teaching Twain, that he's committed to this major departure. I almost don't want to acknowledge this, but it feels like he's saving the books. His willingness to take this chance—I was very touched."
NPR also reports that “Injun Joe” will now read “Indian Joe” and that “half-bread” will read “half-blood”.
Including the table of contents, the 'N word' appears in “Huckleberry Finn” 219 times.
“Huckleberry Finn" was published in 1885. NPR reports that according to “Banned in the U.S.A.” by Herbert N. Foerstal, it is the fourth most banned book in school.
Publishers Weekly is reporting that NewSouth is producing "Mark Twain's Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn: The NewSouth Edition," as a hardcover for $24.95, and is hoping to have the books, with 7,500 in the first printing, on shelves by February.
More about Mark twain, Huckleberry finn, Classic american literature