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Sharon McCoy <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 5 Jan 2011 16:16:04 -0800
text/plain (206 lines)
Like Larry and Gregg, I deeply respect Alan's work and have benefited many times 
from the depth of his scholarship.  But I have read the excerpt of the 
introduction that the publisher has put online 
 and while I respect Alan's position and his stated intention, I have to say 
that I disagree that this edition will achieve his goals--and I deeply fear that 
it will, in some cases, achieve precisely the opposite effect.

I've known many students and many adult readers who have been hurt by the way 
_Huck Finn_ was taught to them . . . and the attitudes that underlie that way 
will not change just because some of the language does.  A teacher who cannot 
handle teaching the books sensitively with the racial epithets intact in the 
text will not be able to teach the book sensitively without them.  Racism is not 
just in a word, but in the attitudes that underlie its use--or its avoidance. 

Please understand that I am not suggesting--by any stretch of the 
imagination--that Alan is racist.  What I am suggesting, though, is that 

students are hurt not simply by the use of this word, but by the climate of the 
classroom.  And that climate will be unaffected by the change.  If the classroom 
is (even unintentionally) a hurtful or unsafe place, it will remain so.  If the 
classroom is a safe and respectful place, it will remain so.  

It can be terrifying to tackle a difficult text with our students, especially if 
we teach in a place where we know that the prevailing situation is volatile.  
This past semester, I had to work to stimulate the critical faculties of a 
white, male student from rural Georgia who argued that Jim's whole problem was 
that he didn't know when he had it good and he should have stayed with Miss 
Watson, where he was pampered and cared for.  In the same classroom, I had a 
student who almost dropped the course when she saw we were reading _Huckleberry 
Finn_ because she'd been deeply hurt by it in a high school class and didn't 
want to face that again.  In her course evaluation, she told me how grateful she 

that she had stayed in the class, and how much she'd actually enjoyed everything 
that we read (and _Huck_ was by no means the only text that used racial 
epithets).  The other student (I'm pretty sure) wrote that we spent too much 
time talking about historical facts.  Pesky things, facts.  

Changing the "n-word" to "slave" wouldn't have changed the difficulty of trying 
to help both of those students to grow.   Or the difficulty of making sure that 
one student's gestures toward growth didn't cause pain to the other.  

But it might actually have made it harder:  I'm afraid that slavery is by no 
means "recognized globally as an affront to humanity" (Gribben, "An excerpt from 
the editor's introduction"), nor are the secession balls and other examples 
Jocelyn mentioned the only remnant of its legacy. Yet even my student who was 
convinced that slaves had a good life knew that casually referring to a black 
man as "nigger" was a dangerous and unacceptable act. And that gave us an 
opening to talk about the underlying issues and historical realities.

If we're going to teach the topics that matter, I don't see any way out but to 
follow Lou's advice and "Keep biting the bullet."  


----- Original Message ----
From: Gregg Camfield <[log in to unmask]>
To: [log in to unmask]
Sent: Wed, January 5, 2011 5:18:50 PM
Subject: Re: Language and Art editing

I agree with Larry.  I appreciate Alan's many contributions; I don't expect 
always to agree with him.  "It is not best that we should all think alike; it is 

a difference of opinion that makes horse races" and, sometimes, wisdom for those 

who listen to the other side.  

I agree that _Huck_ is a hard book to take (as Jim Cox put it) and that teaching 

it can be difficult.  The younger the audience, the harder.  How one confronts 
that difficulty depends on more circumstances than I feel comfortable evaluating 

from my armchair. I haven't yet found a circumstance where I'd want to change 
the language, though I haven't ever taught the book to high school or junior 
high school students, especially those in underfunded, over-crowded public 
schools.  I believe that Jocelyn is right; teaching _Huck_ to such audiences can 

be done well.  I also know that not every public school teacher is able to reach 

the high standard she sets.  Maybe Alan's edition will give those teachers--and 
their students--a chance.  Again, not my choice, but I'm pro-choice in many 


----- Original Message -----
From: Lawrence Howe <[log in to unmask]>
Date: Wednesday, January 5, 2011 10:47 am
Subject: Re: Language and Art editing
To: [log in to unmask]

> Kevin--=0A=0AI agree about being supportive of Alan Gribben, even if 
> some o=
>  f us disagree with his decision on this point.  I think his 
> explanation tha=
>  t his edition serves teachers who would not use the book otherwise 
> has some=
>   merit, though I prefer persuasion to capitulation.  His 
> contributions to T=
>  wain scholarship over the years are not re-shaped by his involvement 
> in thi=
>  s effort. =0A=0AYour call for support reminded me of the attacks on 
> Tom Wor=
>  tham after an article about his collection of Twain memorabilia was circula=
>  ted. I think it was Gregg Camfield who came to Tom's side on that 
> one.  Sad=
>  ly, Tom was quoted in the Keith Olberman piece last night.  I don't 
> know if=
>   Olberman amped up the tone of Tom's criticism, but I thought it was 
> unfort=
>  unate that he was accusing Alan of being a 21st century Bowdler. =0A=0A--LH=
>  =0A=0A--- On Wed, 1/5/11, Kevin Mac Donnell 
> <[log in to unmask]> =
>  wrote:=0A=0A> From: Kevin Mac Donnell 
> <[log in to unmask]>=0A> Su=
>  bject: Re: Language and Art editing=0A> To: [log in to unmask]> 
> Date: Wedn=
>  esday, January 5, 2011, 11:32 AM=0A> > at what point=0A> > does the editing=
>   stop?=0A> >=0A> > Kit Barry=0A> > The Ephemera Archive for American 
> Studie=
>  s=3D=0A> =0A> In this edition I think the editing stops with substituting=
>  =0A> "slave" for =0A> "nigger" and "Indian" for "Injun."=A0 
> Somebody=0A> me=
>  ntiioned the John Wallace =0A> edition of HF, but I'd like to point 
> out tha=
>  t he did much=0A> more than a few =0A> word substitutions. I'll give 
> just o=
>  ne example. In the=0A> famous passage where =0A> Huck replies "No'm. 
> Killed=
>   a nigger" that entire sentence=0A> is deleted in =0A> Wallace's 
> edition, w=
>  ith the result that Huck simply replies=0A> "No'm" which in =0A> turn 
> erase=
>  s all the racism out of Aunt Sally's response. I=0A> don't think any 
> =0A> o=
>  f us can endorse that sort of defanging of Twain's text.=0A> But if 
> all you=
>   do =0A> is substitute the word "slave" in Huck's reply, the 
> racist=0A> imp=
>  act of Aunt =0A> Sally's remark remains intact. There is co 
> comparison=0A> =
>  between this new =0A> edition and the Wallace edition.=0A> =0A> I've 
> also s=
>  een a cyber-comment that Twain would never have=0A> allowed his texts 
> =0A> =
>  to be defanged. Nonsense! He did it all the time, usually=0A> in 
> response t=
>  o =0A> Livy, or Howells, or after road-testing his texts before 
> an=0A> audi=
>  ence. In =0A> `Journalism in Tennessee' there's a newspaper editor 
> who is=
>  =0A> described as a =0A> "crawling insect" who is "braying."=A0 
> Really? An =
>  insect=0A> that brays? =0A> Jack-asses bray, not insects, and in 
> Twain's ow=
>  n copy of=0A> that printed text =0A> he corrected the printed text 
> back to =
>  "jack-ass." Without=0A> original =0A> manuscripts and revised copies 
> of his=
>   printed texts we may=0A> never know the =0A> full extent of Twain's 
> self-e=
>  diting, or how much he allowed=0A> others to fiddle =0A> with his 
> texts. Tw=
>  ain's editing was not limited to word=0A> choices. Didn't he =0A> 
> leave out=
>   a chapter about lynching from one book so as not=0A> to harm sales 
> in =0A>=
>   the south?=0A> =0A> As Twain once remarked when the Concord Library 
> banned=
>   HF,=0A> all of the noise =0A> and chatter would probably just sell 
> more co=
>  pies. I hope=0A> that's the result =0A> this time around. More 
> readers for =
>  HF!!=0A> =0A> One last thought-- quibble as we may among ourselves, 
> I=0A> h=
>  ope we all circle =0A> our wagons if the attacks on Al Gribben 
> escalate. He=
>   is one=0A> of us, a friend, =0A> a boon to Twain scholarship, and a 
> good g=
>  uy. I know a good=0A> safe-house in =0A> Austin, Texas.=0A> =0A> 
> Kevin=0A> =
>  @=0A> Mac Donnell Rare Books=0A> 9307 Glenlake Drive=0A> Austin TX 78730=0A=
>  > 512-345-4139=0A> Member: ABAA, ILAB=0A> 
> *************************=0A> You=
>   may browse our books at=0A>> =0A> 
> =0A> =0A>=
>   =0A> -----=0A> No virus found in this message.=0A> Checked by AVG - 
> www.av=
>> Version: 10.0.1191 / Virus Database: 1435/3359 - 
> Release=0A> Date=
>  : 01/04/11=0A>