If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.


Our reason for creating WWK originated as an outlet for our love of reading and writing mystery fiction. We hope you love it, too, and will enjoy our holiday gifts to our readers with original short stories to celebrate the season. Starting on 11/16 stories by Warren Bull, Margaret S. Hamilton, Paula Gail Benson, Linda Rodriguez, KM Rockwood, Gloria Alden, and E. B. Davis will appear every Thursday into the New Year.


Our November Author Interviews: 11/8--Ellen Byron, and 11/15--Sujata Massey. Please join us in welcoming these authors to WWK.


November Saturday Bloggers: 11/4 Margaret S. Hamilton and 11/11 Cheryl Hollon.


Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Shari Randall's "Pets" will be included in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies anthology, which will be published in 2018. In the same anthology "Rasputin," KM Rockwood's short story, will also be published. Her short story "Goldie" will be published in the Busted anthology, which will be released by Level Best Books on April 25th.


In addition, our prolific KM will have the following shorts published as well: "Making Tracks" in Passport to Murder, Bouchercon anthology, October 2017 and "Turkey Underfoot," just published, will appear in the anthology The Killer Wore Cranberry: a Fifth Course of Chaos.


James M. Jackson's 4th book in the Seamus McCree series, Doubtful Relations, is now available. His novella "Low Tide at Tybee" appears February 7 as part of Lowcountry Crimes: Four Novellas, which is available for order.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Friday, January 14, 2011

Whose Sensibilities Should we Respect?


NewSouth Books is coming out with a new version of Mark Twain’s work combining Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn in one volume as the author apparently intended originally and clarifying some spelling and grammatical confusion.

More controversially, The editor, Dr. Alan Gribben, has decided to change the word “nigger” to slave and “injun” to Indian. As an author, my immediate reaction was negative. Almost every reaction I’ve read was opposed to his decision. Personally, I am annoyed by efforts to “modernize” the language Abraham Lincoln used to make it more “accessible” to modern readers. I greatly admire Mark Twain. As an author, I felt angered and disrespected by Dr. Gibben’s decision.

However, I took the time to read Dr. Gribben’s explanation and to reflect on it. I think he has some valid arguments. He stated that “the n-word” has become even more offensive as a racial slur over time. He reported that, in his experience, students, parents and teachers have become more reluctant to even consider reading these books, which are classic American literature because of that word. He said his efforts to discuss the context in which Twain used the word often failed because of the powerful emotional reaction engendered by the word itself. He pointed out there are many editions available with the original language. Of course, Twain, like all authors, was edited by others.

I believe his observations are correct. Do they justify changing the original language?

I cannot speak to how a black person might perceive the word. Mark Twain wrote eloquently of overcoming his background of unquestioned racism. In my opinion, Huckleberry Finn is one of the most anti-racist books ever written. How can I convince someone who refuses to read the book because of its language? What about offering the choice between the original and the new edition to people offended by one word? Does that make sense?

I used the word “niggardly” in my novel, Abraham Lincoln for the Defense. When questioned by a black reader, I was able to show that the origin of niggardly is quite different than the word it sounds like. At least one person got fired and others have been reprimanded for correctly using the word niggardly. Should writers abandon the word to avoid confusion?

In an essay I wrote, I described a church of having a changing mixture of ethnic backgrounds in the congregation and increasing economic problems. An editor told me that was a racist statement. Since I wanted to get published I changed it. I did not and do not now think it was racist. The editor did. How do you defend yourself against a charge of racism?

Thoughts? Comments?

14 comments:

towriteistowrite said...

I read both "Huckleberry Finn" and "To Kill a Mockingbird" aloud to (Texas 1980s) high school classes I knew would not (or could not) read outside of class. Suddenly, I was saying The Word, over and over and over. I finally stopped and said, "There's a word here that we consider very offensive. You all know what that word is. If I hear any of you use that word, you will be in trouble. Now--why did the author use it?" The one African-American student in the class, a girl no one would have mistaken for a scholar, said, "Because that's the way they talked then." D'oh. I resumed reading. No big deal.

The most devastating lines in "Huckleberry Finn," as far as I'm concerned, occur when Huck tells Aunt Sally about the accident on the steamboat:

"We blowed out a cylinder-head."

"Good gracious! anybody hurt?"

"No'm. Killed a nigger."

"Well, it's lucky; because sometimes people do get hurt."

If that line is softened, how will readers get the full effect of the dialogue? How will they appreciate Twain's command of the language--that he could say so much is so few words? How will they grasp the irony?

One of the lessons that must be taught in any literature course is that of detachment--we don't have to like everything we read. We don't have to agree with everything we read. We're free to be offended. But we should be committed to understanding. We should be able to step back and analyze the text and our own reactions to it.

Students who read the bowdlerized Huck Finn don't learn any of this.

Whatever happened to Nat Hentoff's "The Day They Came to Arrest the Book?" For anyone likely to find Twain offensive, that novel is a good place to begin. Then move on to the real Twain. That's part of growing up.

Alice Duncan said...

As far as I'm concerned, editing currently politically incorrect words from books, especially classic oldies, is a huge, awful, BAD mistake. I write historical fiction, and even if I didn't, Mark Twain's books--heck, everyone's books--give us a picture of the culture in which they were written. If this continues, we'll never learn our own personal history. The whole notion gives me a stomachache.

Joanna Aislinn said...

An insightful, thought-provoking post. I understand the validity of both arguments, but love the idea of being authentic in use of the dialogue/vernacular of the time. (Never read Twain but did read Harper Lee twice.) Too bad people would judge a book by use of a few period words than consider the much-farther-reaching message of the work itself.

Think there was talk of altering Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House on the Prairie a while back. "Ma" referred to the Native Americans that entered Laura's home unannounced--thus terrifying the ladies who were there w/o "Pa"-as "filthy Indians/savages" or something similar. Not only did Laura relay a significant episosde of life on the prairie, but she spoke in hers (and Ma's) POVs. The context has to be considered when one thinks about altering the classics.


Joanna Aislinn
Dream. Believe. Strive. Achieve!
NO MATTER WHY
The Wild Rose Press
www.joannaaislinn.com
www.joannaaislinn.wordpress.com

E. B. Davis said...

To me there are two issues. One is violating the copyright of the author. Now even though the copyright may be expired (not real astute on these legal matters) changing an author's words to me is illegal. The second issue is presenting historical realism without whitewashing the ugly truth. It reminds me of the USSR censoring reality from the people, which never works--so why even try it. It's stupid. Most black authors want the world to know the truth.

Ramona said...

Good topic, Warren. You can't change our history, including the bad parts. The language reflected the usage and attitudes of the times. I don't think whitewashing words do students any favors. It was what it was.

Warren Bull said...

Excellent points all of you. I have no doubt that good to great teachers can find a way to introduce and discuss racial issues. However, there are people who say they will never read a book with that one offensive word in it. I wonder if having an alternate version along with the original might encourage people how would otherwise completely refuse to read it to give it a chance,

E. B. Davis said...

Why give in to anti-intellectuals, Warren. Off with their heads! (One of my characters is Blackbeard, so I'm writing in character these days. Sorry.)

Warren Bull said...

Peace, my sisters and brothers, I know your anger and I feel it too. Don't mess with one of the greatest American authors of all time!

On the other hand people often act on what they've been told by others. I can see why a teacher would like to be able to offer a compromise to let students make up their own minds.

Pauline Alldred said...

Important topic and I'm glad you raised the question, Warren. I come down on the side of leaving as it is the work of a great writer. Objecting to a word that is now offensive doesn't change the past or make the original work go away. Twain gave us his record of society and I think reading the devastating lines quoted by towriteistowrite is one way to make us not want to ever have such ideas considered acceptable again. Worrying about a word won't stop ignorance but what we do can.

Regan said...

Sadly, for me this is just another mandate to be PC. To be so careful not to offend someone even though it changes the story or the reality of the times. We've so santized history that 100 years from now what we lived will seem so Stepford-esq. In our day to day lives it is becoming so we cannot even express how WE feel because someone else might be offended by our life experience.

Regan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Warren Bull said...

History as I was taught it in school was pretty bland. There was no mention of "The trail of tears" or "The long march"; no Wounded Knee, or purposeful spreading of small pox, or KIt Carson's scorched earth policy toward Navajos. I don't recall anything about the KKK either.

Marja said...

Great topic! Changing what was written deletes part of our country's history. That's just the way it was, and it should be left alone. And I've heard that some textbooks are being changed, too.

There are plenty of words in today's literature that offend me, but the writer has the right to use them, regardless of what I like or don't like. And a hundred years from now someone will read one of today's books and they'll know what our times were like.

As far as I'm concerned, no one has the right to change what was originally written, except the author himself. And he's not here to change it or to defend what he wrote.

Lastly, I'm reminded of my 95-year-old mother-in-law. She used some very politically incorrect terms, but she had no idea they were wrong. She grew up in an age when that was simply the way people spoke. She actually meant no offense.

Warren Bull said...

Mark Twain wrote about his mother who he described as a gentle, thoughtful Christian. She did not see Blacks as fully human but he explained that throughout her lifetime she had never heard a minister or a While person worthy of respect describe Backs as human beings. His change of opinion was all the more remarkable because the society he lived in.