Entertainment Weekly isn’t the only one buzzing about NewSouth‘s upcoming volume of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Tom sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, edited by Twain scholar Dr. Alan Gribben. Publishers Weekly has plenty to add to the debate after an interview with Dr. Gribben:
“This is not an effort to render Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn colorblind,” said Gribben, speaking from his office at Auburn University at Montgomery, where he’s spent most of the past 20 years heading the English department. “Race matters in these books. It’s a matter of how you express that in the 21st century.”
The idea of a more politically correct Finn came to the 69-year-old English professor over years of teaching and outreach, during which he habitually replaced the word with “slave” when reading aloud. Gribben grew up without ever hearing the “n” word (“My mother said it’s only useful to identify [those who use it as] the wrong kind of people”) and became increasingly aware of its jarring effect as he moved South and started a family. “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.”
Including the table of contents, the slur appears 219 times in Finn. What finally convinced Gribben to turn his back on grad school training and academic tradition, in which allegiance to the author’s intent is sacrosanct, was his involvement with the National Endowment for the Arts’ Big Read Alabama.
Tom Sawyer was selected for 2009’s Big Read Alabama, and the NEA tapped NewSouth, in Montgomery, to produce an edition for the project. NewSouth contracted Gribben to write the introduction, which led him to reading and speaking engagements at libraries across the state. Each reading brought groups of 80 to 100 people “eager to read, eager to talk,” but “a different kind of audience than a professor usually encounters; what we always called ‘the general reader.’
“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 became determined to offer an alternative for grade school classrooms and “general readers” that would allow them to appreciate and enjoy all the book has to offer. “For a single word to form a barrier, it seems such an unnecessary state of affairs,” he said.
Read the full article here.