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Archive for January, 2011

Deadline, based on Mark Ethridge’s Grievances, begins filming

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011 by Brian Seidman

We want to be first in line next year when the movie Deadline, based on Mark Ethridge’s novel Grievances, arrives in theaters. The movie stars Steve Talley (Brothers & Sisters) and Academy Award nominee Eric Roberts (Runaway Train, Heroes, Entourage) as newspaper reporters working to solve a twenty year-old civil rights murder in South Carolina; the story is based on actual events from Ethridge’s work as a newspaper reporter.

Director Curt Hahn expects to shoot most of the film in Tennessee, using financial incentives created by the state to bring in more film crews. As reported by The Tennessean in the article "Nashville gets another taste of Hollywood" about the film, Hahn expected to recruit most of the film’s actors from the West Coast, but found a wealth of talent in Tennessee, and most of the film’s actors hail from the area.

Many of Deadline’s newsroom scenes will be shot at The Tennessean, and a video on the newspaper’s website site interviews Ethridge and Executive Producer Hunter Atkins. Regarding a scene that takes place amidst the presses in the Tennessean’s basement, Atkins notes that Deadline shows "kind a view of the newspaper that people really don’t get to see very often in movies [and] we think that makes it unusual."

Ethridge, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, first reported the story of the civil rights murder when he worked at the Charlotte Observer in the 1970s and 1980s. Ethridge told the Tennesean that the book and movie are "really a movie about how one person can make a difference." Pat Conroy called Grievances "a beautifully written, compelling tale of race and redemption … one of the most deeply satisfying novels I have read in a long, long time."

Learn more about Deadline at the movie’s official website, DeadlineFilm.com. You can read more about filming at the Tennessean and watch a video interview with Mark Ethridge at their website.

Grievances is available direct from NewSouth Books, Amazon.com or your favorite local or online bookstore.

Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly profiles Reverend Robert Graetz

Friday, January 14th, 2011 by Brian Seidman

PBS’s Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly television show will profile Reverend Robert Graetz, author of A White Preacher’s Message on Race and Reconciliation, published by NewSouth Books, in an episode that begins airing Sunday, January 16.

Watch the full episode. See more Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

Rev. Graetz was the only white minister of an African American church during the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott. His church and home were both bombed during the boycott, and the lives of he and his wife Jeanie were threatened, but Graetz never wavered in his support of the black community. He describes his experiences in rich detail in his memoir, which the Human Rights Campaign’s Religion and Faith newsletter called “extraordinary.”

The Religion & Ethics episode emphasizes Rev. Graetz’s relationship with Martin Luther King during the civil rights movement. In the interview with correspondent Kim Lawton, Graetz talks about meeting their neighbor Rosa Parks, and also Dr. King. “I decided that anybody who sounded as smart as he was and was articulate as he was, and had the name Martin Luther, I had to get to know him better,” Graetz recalls.

Rev. Graetz remembers that church officials had expressly told him not participate in any “trouble” when they sent him to Montgomery, but after much prayer he decided the only way he could be a pastor to his church was to take part in the civil right movement. “I want you all to stay off the buses,” Graetz told his congregation. “I’ll be out in my car all day long. If you need a ride, I’ll be glad to come and take you wherever you need to go.” He became the only white member of the Montgomery Improvement Association overseeing the Montgomery Bus Boycott, alongside Dr. King and Rev. Ralph Albernathy.

In the interview, Dr. Howard Robinson, archivist for the National Center for the Study of Civil Rights and African American Culture at Alabama State University, says that “the Graetzs were really like one of the very few white people in Montgomery who took a very overt, obvious position in support of the boycott, and they suffered because of it,” referring to the bombing of their house recounted in Rev. Graetz’s memoir.

Lawton notes that the Graetzs have remained active in social justice causes, including their current work consulting at Alabama State’s Civil Rights Center.

Rev. Graetz tells Lawton that while “people will say to us, ‘We really appreciate what you did,’ … our response always is it wasn’t just us. It was 50,000 black people who stood together, who walked together, who worked together, who stood up against oppression. If it had not been for this whole body of people working together, this would not have happened.”

Learn more about the Rev. Graetz profile at the Relgion & Ethics NewsWeekly website. You can also read more about Rev. Graetz and his wife Jean from the Huffington Post and Christian Century.

A White Preacher’s Message on Race and Reconciliation: Based on His Experiences Beginning with the Montgomery Bus Boycott is available from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite local or online bookstore.

Washington Times praises “gracious days” of Senator’s Wife Remembers

Friday, January 14th, 2011 by Brian Seidman

A Senator's Wife RemembersA review by James E. Person in The Washington Times extolls the “good people” who are the subject of A Senator’s Wife Remembers: From the Great Depression to the Great Society by Henrietta Hill. The memoir by the wife of the late Alabama senator Lister Hill, who served in Congress from 1938 until 1969, was discovered and edited by the Hills’ daughter Henrietta Hubbard. Comprised of a diary and a stash of letters, the book recounts episodes and events from an era in which the rounds of Washington, D.C. political life were marked by a genteel atmosphere.

“…this is largely a memoir of a more civil time than our own. Many of the episodes and anecdotes Mrs. Hill records concern social get-togethers in Washington and who was wearing what, with passing references to the events of the day. Distinguished personages cross the stage of the author’s memory, sometimes in passing glances, sometimes in telling detail.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gen. John J. Pershing and numerous others put in brief appearances and then vanish. Long stretches of Mrs. Hill’s narrative have a dashed-off, letter-to-my-mother feel about them. (In fact, many of the sections of this work were originally letters from Mrs. Hill to her mother.) They are newsy but somewhat dry to the eyes of us outsiders.

However, there are several instances in this work in which the author records short, often funny stories of things that happened during the course of a given day that provide a window into an era when everything seemed possible, even when the nation’s social and economic circumstances were uncertain. These passages add much to the value of A Senator’s Wife Remembers as a snapshot in time as well as a view into the lives of good people.”

Person points out that the book details the “long cultural transition” that took place between the landmark events of the title: the Great Depression and the Great Society.

The vast cultural changes that occurred during the mid-twentieth century form the background to the society events and minutiae of daily life expounded upon by Mrs. Hill in her diaries and letters. As the Times appreciates, the details serve to inform knowledge of the whole.

A Senator’s Wife Remembers: From the Great Depression to the Great Society is available from NewSouth Books, Amazon.com, or your favorite retail or online bookseller.

Bestselling author Rick Riordan offers thoughtful comments on NewSouth’s Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn edition

Monday, January 10th, 2011 by Brian Seidman

NewSouth Books is grateful for a posting by Rick Riordan, New York Times bestelling author of the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series and the 39 Clues series from Scholastic, to his Myth & Mystery blog about the controversy surrounding NewSouth’s Mark Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.

Riordan is a two-time Mark Twain Award winner for his books, and we feel he does a good job of summarizing the issues and responding thoughtfully and fairly to them.

In the post, Riordan notes that Dr. Alan Gribben, editor of NewSouth’s Twain edition, was his teacher at the University of Texas, and “was responsible for igniting my interest in Mark Twain and helping me find my own voice as a writer.” Riordan continues:

For the record, Dr. Gribben was an excellent teacher. He was very conscious of the racially charged language in Huck Finn, and was careful to put the novel in its historical context and explain Twain’s choice of words. In class, we spent several days discussing Twain’s language and having a free and open debate about what it was like to read this text in a modern multiracial classroom. As uncomfortable as the “n-word” might be, Dr. Gribben believed firmly that for our purposes, as college English students, the author’s text should be read as it was originally written. He even went out of his way to order editions of Mark Twain’s books that preserved the original page layouts and illustrations …

To be sure, as an author, I am instinctively opposed to censorship. I believe that the author’s intent and word choice should be respected. … If the debate were about replacing the language in all editions of Huck Finn, then of course, I would be opposed. But we’re not talking about that. We’re talking about offering an alternate version as a choice for classroom use. I don’t have any problem with offering teachers, students and general readers more choices, especially if it makes the text more accessible and causes less unease for students (and parents) who might otherwise have a hard time getting past the language to Twain’s message, which is a bitter indictment of slavery.

And let’s remember, tinkering with a classic text is hardly a new idea, nor is it usually done with as much delicacy and careful consideration. There are dozens of abridged “young reader” versions of Huck Finn in print that hack huge portions out of the text and also clean up or dumb down the language. There are numerous graphic novel versions. These are commonly used in classrooms without generating national headlines, and take much greater liberties with Twain’s story for worse reasons …

Of course, I’ll keep reading Mark Twain in the original. Most people will prefer this, and for good reason. Language is important. The author’s word choice is important. Judging from his classroom teaching and his many interviews, I have no doubt Dr. Gribben would agree. But if some teachers find a version without the n-word helpful for classroom teaching, I don’t have a problem with that. In fact, I would start the unit by explaining exactly how the text was modified, and why, and have a discussion in class about whether or not this was necessary. As I said earlier, this makes for a great teachable moment if the teacher has the dexterity to make use of it.

I have no doubt Alan Gribben understood that he was in for a storm of criticism when he announced the new version of Huck Finn, but he did it with the best of intentions, and I applaud his courage. Whether you agree with his decision or not, the controversy is sure to sell more copies of Huckleberry Finn and get more people reading the novel to see what the fuss is about. Mark Twain, who was no stranger to grabbing headlines, would surely approve.

You can read Rick Riordan’s entire post, “The Huck Finn Controversy,” at his Myth & Mystery blog.

Conversations on NewSouth’s edition of Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn

Monday, January 10th, 2011 by Brian Seidman

NewSouth Books appreciates all the attention and thoughtful debate generated by our publication of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, edited by Dr. Alan Gribben. We are still taking in the unprecedented media coverage of the book, and reading closely the comments and letters we’ve received.

While it would be difficult to link to all the coverage of the book, here’s a selection that stuck out to us over the course of last week, beginning with a retrospective from Publishers Weekly:

“NewSouth Moves Ahead with Controversial ‘Huck Finn,'” Marc Schultz, Publishers Weekly:

Since Monday, when PW first reported the publisher’s plans to release Twain’s most celebrated and challenged works without the “hurtful epithets” that have caused it to be dropped from school curricula, the story has generated enormous interest in both new and old media outlets — on Tuesday night, the report from ABC’s Diane Sawyer focused more on the Twitter debate than the who or why of the story.

“Cutting N-word from Twain is not censorship,” Boyce Watkins, CNN

Let’s be clear, Gribben’s actions do not represent censorship, at least not in its purest form … It’s not as if Gribben is asking that all original copies of the text be burned. He is not following the lead of the Chinese government and attempting to block websites that make reference to the book … He is expanding the freedom of teachers and parents to choose a version of the book that they might find more acceptable for children of a certain age.

The notion that any form of filtering, in any context, for any age group, is unethical is not only exceedingly idealistic, it is disconnected from reality. No matter how cherished a film or song might be, work presented to students in public school is going to be screened to determine whether it matches the age group for which the material is being presented.

Yes, our nation needs an honest conversation on race. That conversation shouldn’t start and end with “Huckleberry Finn.” In fact, the urgency with which some defend the use of this book as a tool for teaching racial history reflects our desperate and unfulfilled need to address the atrocities of slavery.

Keith Olbermann, Countdown with Keith Olbermann:

I despise censorship … on the other hand, it’s madness that Huckleberry Finn is essentially off-limits to anybody until college or later.

“Huckleberry Finn gets self-censored, loses ‘n word,'” David Rosenthal, Baltimore Sun:

I’m not big on censorship, but this word is so weighted that it gets in the way of a true discussion of the merits. Any teacher who assigns the new version should be required to explain the self-censorship. That way, at least, the tough prose won’t be completely white-washed.

“New edition removes Mark Twain’s ‘offensive’ words,” Phil Rawls, Associated Press:

The book isn’t scheduled to be published until February, at a mere 7,500 copies, but Gribben has already received a flood of hateful e-mail accusing him of desecrating the novels. He said the e-mails prove the word makes people uncomfortable. “Not one of them mentions the word. They dance around it,” he said.

Gribben, a 69-year-old English professor at Auburn University Montgomery, said he would have opposed the change for much of his career, but he began using “slave” during public readings and found audiences more accepting. He decided to pursue the revised edition after middle school and high school teachers lamented they could no longer assign the books.

Gribben conceded the edited text loses some of the caustic sting but said: “I want to provide an option for teachers and other people not comfortable with 219 instances of that word.” … Gribben knows he won’t change the minds of his critics, but he’s eager to see how the book will be received by schools rather than university scholars. “We’ll just let the readers decide,” he said.

“This painted child of dirt that sticks and stings …,” Lee Ricketts, superstition is all we have left (blog):

My overall view would be that if the books have been excluded from schools because of the slurs, it is rather the case that they have been excluded because of bad, lazy teaching. … If schools are prepared to rather just ban something as important as great works of literature rather than teach them in a way that puts them in context – something that is surely required to educate anyway – then there is something fundamentally wrong with the direction education has taken. You cannot and should not airbrush history. However ugly or uncomfortable, history must be faced.

… I wouldn’t have the first clue as to what Mr Twain would have made of it, but I would hope that he would acknowledge something that has been lost in all the fuss around these new versions -– that is his original texts shall not be erased entire, that these changes pertain to one version only. For a random example, when The Rolling Stones changed the words to “Let’s Spend The Night Together” to “Let’s Spend Some Time Together” for an American TV show, the original version of the song didn’t vanish, after all, and the result was that the song was heard by as wide an audience as possible.

One thing I do take offence to in regards of this whole matter is the comments made about Alan Gribben. Many people have labelled him as “stupid,” “crazy” and several other slurs which question his sanity and intelligence. He is a man with a great passion for literature in general and Mark Twain in specific, and is doing everything he possibly can to expose his works to as wide an audience as possible. One suspects he expected such a backlash but pushed ahead anyway. As far as I can see, looking at the wider picture, he deserves a great deal of credit for his actions, not the widespread vilification he is getting.

“Controversial Changes to Public Domain Works,” Christopher Parsons, Technology, Thoughts, and Trinkets:

… In the case of NewSouth, however, we’re dealing with a localized, particular, non-uniform transformation. There is a change to the words of the text but this doesn’t have the same qualitative impact as an all-out uniform and unquestionable modification. NewSouth should be encouraged for doing something daring with a public domain work.

This said, encouraging transformative uses doesn’t mean that we accept changes without question; we need to seriously and critically interrogate the modifications. What is important, however, is that we not prevent those changes: part of authorship and being an engaged citizenry is critically engaging with the way cultural artifacts are produced and disseminated. The ire raised by NewSouth indicates that we’re dealing with a transformation that is inciting members of society to talk about issues of truth, culture, history, racism, and so forth.

These are incredibly important issues, and it’s a good thing to have discussions about them as members of a (hyper)literate society. Transformation of works is to be encouraged, and it’s something that’s often discouraged by contemporary instantiations of copyright – this is one of the key ways that copyright works to stiffle and muffle free speech …

“Voices: The Huckleberry Finn Controversy,” compiled by Arturo R. García, Racialicious:

The idea that we can somehow make any of these cultural products clean and nice is foolish. The whole point of culture and of literature is to challenge us.

Professor Melissa Harris-Perry, associate professor of Politics and African-American Studies, Princeton University.

For a single word to form a barrier, it seems such an unnecessary state of affairs.

Alan Gribben, editor, Mark Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn: The NewSouth Edition.

“Hipster Huckleberry Finn Solves Censorship Debate By Replacing ‘N-Word’ With ‘H-Word,” The Village Voice:

Richard Grayson, a Brooklyn writer and editor, has gone above and beyond angry or satirical tweets in response to [NewSouth Books’s] announcement that they would release version of Huckleberry Finn (and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer) without the word “nigger.” He’s released a whole new version of the book, entitled The Hipster Huckleberry Finn, which replaces every instance of the offending word with “hipster.” Seriously.

If you’ve been moved by the ongoing debate and you have children in school, solicit a list of what books they’ll be reading this year, and if no often-banned books appear on the list, encourage your child’s school to assign one (of the often-banned books like Catcher in the Rye, The Color Purple, or Huckleberry Finn as part of the curriculum). We invite you to purchase a copy of Huckleberry Finn in whatever edition pleases you, read it to your children if you’re so inclined, and help change Huckleberry Finn‘s status as the fifth most banned school book in the country. We hope everyone takes this as an opportunity to rediscover the pleasures of reading Mark Twain.

A word about the NewSouth edition of Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011 by Suzanne La Rosa

A new edition of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, forthcoming from NewSouth Books in mid-February, does more than unite the companion boy books in one volume, as the author had intended. It does more even than restore a passage from the Huckleberry Finn manuscript that first appeared in Twain’s Life on the Mississippi and was subsequently cut from the work upon publication.

In a bold move compassionately advocated by Twain scholar Dr. Alan Gribben and embraced by NewSouth, Mark Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn also replaces two hurtful epithets that appear hundreds of times in the texts with less offensive words, this intended to counter the “preemptive censorship” that Dr. Gribben observes has caused these important works of literature to fall off curriculum lists nationwide.

In presenting his rationale for publication, eloquently developed in the book’s introduction, Dr. Gribben discusses the context of the racial slurs Twain used in these books. He also remarks on the irony of the fact that use of such language has caused Twain’s books to join the ranks of outdated literary classics Twain once humorously defined as works “which people praise and don’t read.”

At NewSouth, we saw the value in an edition that would help the works find new readers. If the publication sparks good debate about how language impacts learning or about the nature of censorship or the way in which racial slurs exercise their baneful influence, then our mission in publishing this new edition of Twain’s works will be more emphatically fulfilled.

Learn more about Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn and read an excerpt from the introduction at www.newsouthbooks.com/twain. See also a feature story on the volume by Marc Shultz at Publishers Weekly.