Archive for the 'Huck Finn' Category

Alan Gribben videos, podcasts on Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn

Friday, July 15th, 2011 by Brian Seidman

As teachers across the country prepare to return two classic works to their classrooms with the help of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn: The NewSouth Edition, book editor Alan Gribben has released a series of online videos and podcasts intended to guide educators in presenting these books.

Dr. Gribben, a nationally-recognized Twain scholar, released the NewSouth Edition of Twain’s books when he discovered that schools were commonly and quietly dropping the books from their reading lists due to concerns over the content. Gribben’s NewSouth Edition reunites Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn in one volume as Mark Twain originally intended, and replaces the racial epithets in the book in a consistent manner so as to eliminate some of the controversy that keeps schools from assigning the works. In a thorough introduction to the volume, Gribben details his changes, the context of the racial epithets Twain used in the books, and the historic debate over using Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn in schools.

The six videos available on YouTube are “Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn as Companion Works,” “Three Criticisms Leveled at Huck Finn,” “Teaching Advantages of Mark Twain: The NewSouth Edition,” “Eliminating the Controversy, Preserving Twain’s Messages,” “Why Mark Twain Used Racial Epithets in his Books,” and About Mark Twain and the N-Word Debate.” The videos can be watched separately, or used as a series to help create curriculum around Mark Twain: The NewSouth Edition.

The videos and four additional audio podcasts are also available for free from iTunes. Additional topics include “Why Huck Finn is Banned from Schools,” “How the ‘N-Word’ Affects Readership of Modern Audiences,” “How ‘Slave’ Maintains Twain’s Message,” and “What Huck Finn Offers Beyond the ‘N-Word.'”

Kevin Mac Donnell of the Mark Twain Forum praised Gribben’s NewSouth Edition, noting that “Gribben artfully draws more attention to the [racial epithets] as a topic for class discussions or as a ‘teachable moment’ than it would be otherwise.”

View the Mark Twain: The NewSouth Edition video playlist on YouTube, or download the videos and four additional audio podcasts from iTunes.

Mark Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn: The NewSouth Edition is available from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite local or online book retailer.

Alan Gribben talks Twain in Costco Connection, Independent Publisher

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011 by Brian Seidman

Mark Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn: The NewSouth Edition

Dr. Alan Gribben, editor of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn: The NewSouth Edition, discussed the new volume this past month with the Costo Connection and Independent Publisher magazines. Each magazine gave Gribben the opportunity to continue to explain his motivation for releasing the edition, which offers replacements for the racial epithets found in the original text.

In the “Informed Debate” section of the May 2011 edition of Costo Connection, the magazine asks, “Should literary classics be sanitized,” noting that “the original version of [these books have] been banned in some schools and libraries … [supporters] say a revised edition maintains the mood, context, and style of the original; allows everyone to enjoy the work; and encourages reading.” Customer Randi Wilkinson writes, “Parents can expose their children to the original edition if they feel the kids are mature enough, or they can read the revised edition now.”

In the Costo Connection, Gribben explains that public schools have been “increasingly reluctant” to assign Twain’s works because of the epithets within, such that many students never encounter Twain at all; “the NewSouth Edition,” Gribben continues, “offers readers a chance to sidestep the “n-word” acrimony that has dominated and distorted public discussions of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn for 40 years [and] focus on deeper messages in these novels: the thrill of adventures that lead to discoveries, the yearning for freedom that makes terrible risks worthwhile and the price of social conformity that blinds people to immoral practices.”

Gribben presents more details in his Independent Publisher column, describing his early statewide speaking tour to tout Twain’s works at Southern schools, and the conversations he had with public school teachers who told him they weren’t allowed to teach Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn because of the epithets. Gribben writes:

It occurred to me that I was equipped by my lifetime of studying and teaching Mark Twain to prepare an edition of Twain’s two novels that could offer teachers and school districts a workable alternative to avoiding the books. After all, I had reconstructed Twain’s library and reading in a 1,000-page catalog, co-edited a collection of his travel writings, and published numerous essays investigating his biography, prose style, and celebrity image. What if I produced an edition of both Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn that retained every phrase, sentence, and chapter in them except the offensive racial slurs? …

Although my publishers at NewSouth Books, Randall Williams and Suzanne La Rosa, had expressed initial reservations about whether we would be able to sufficiently alert teachers to the availability of this niche edition, that concern of theirs soon turned out to have been needless, to put it mildly. … The Wall Street Journal reported nearly 60,000 posts about the edition on Twitter and Facebook within a four-day period in January. Debate teams at high schools and colleges eagerly took up its implications. College and local newspapers tussled with the issues involved. … I sensed an enormous disconnect between the university and media intelligentsia and the world of the public school teacher. Early critics of the edition at least took into account my scholarly record and credited me with being “well-intentioned,” but as bloggers fanned the flames with falsehoods the subsequent commentators were not so kind. …

During the weeks preceding the volume’s appearance, media pundits and entertainment personalities on radio and television exaggerated the news to make it seem as though all other existing editions of the two novels would hereafter be abolished. People outside academe wrote to me in consternation, fearful that they would never again be able to read the original versions of Twain’s novels. I referred them to the relevant part of my Introduction citing authoritative editions that do contain the n-word and urging readers to consult them. I had to laugh whenever the professional commentators avoided pronouncing or printing the very word they were mocking me for substituting and that they are expecting public school teachers to read aloud in integrated classrooms. The editors’ newspapers routinely reject letters to the editor that contain the word. Media broadcasters and columnists know that their own jobs would be forfeited if they dared to violate a tacit protocol by uttering or publishing that dreaded word. …

My publishers resolutely refused to halt or postpone the NewSouth Edition in spite of the invectives hurled at them, and more than a month after its issuance the tide began to turn. “60 Minutes” and its CBS television affiliates aired on March 20, 2011 … a probing debate in which one teacher acknowledged the “pain” that the n-word inflicts in high school classrooms. For the most part, hostile commentary about the edition dampened after that. Besides, readers were now able to obtain copies of the book and see for themselves the Introduction and notes. The publisher and I soon received grateful letters of support from classroom teachers who had given up on assigning Huckleberry Finn. “It is a great move on your end,” wrote one high school instructor.

Dr. Alan Gribben’s full column, “Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer Go Back to School,” is available from the Independent Publisher website. Read “Informed Debate” from Costo Connection at

Mark Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn: The NewSouth Edition is available from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite local or online book retailer.

60 Minutes discusses NewSouth’s Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn

Monday, March 21st, 2011 by Brian Seidman

The important conversation continues on the NewSouth edition of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. On last night’s episode of 60 Minutes, reporter Byron Pitts held a far-reaching conversation with NewSouth Books editor Randall Williams and University of Oregon professor David Bradley about the controversies surrounding Twain’s works, the use of racial epithets in today’s society, and NewSouth’s publication.

We respect Dr. Bradley’s belief that a full exploration of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn requires a discussion of the epithets; as Williams told Pitts, we encourage teachers who feel comfortable addressing the epithets to continue to teach original editions of Twain’s works. The NewSouth edition remains an alternative for teachers who want to use the books in their classrooms, but are unable to present them in their original form because of pressure from parents or administrators to exclude the books.

View the full interview with Randall Williams on the 60 Minutes website. You can also watch extra material, including Pitts and 60 Minutes editor Ann Silvio discussing 60 Minutes‘s decision to use racial epithets, and unaired segments from Pitts and Williams’s conversation (embedded below).

For more on Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn: The NewSouth Edition, please read volume editor Dr. Alan Gribben’s introduction to the book. We also recommend the following articles:

“Trouble on the Raft: Defending an ‘Other’ Huck Finn,” Dr. Alan Gribben (editor of the NewSouth edition), Publishers Weekly

“Huck Finn controversy much ado about nothing,” Otis L. Sanford, Memphis Commercial Appeal

“Matt gets a Letter From the Professor,” Matt Appling, Church of the People blog

“Slave and Injun — In defense,” Today in Publishing

“How Dare You Censor the, Um, ‘N-Word,'” Mark Leiren-Young, The Tyee

Mark Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn: The NewSouth Edition is available in paperback and ebook from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite local or online book retailer.

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.”

All the racial differences that Twain points out have no scientific confirmation, as well as the fact that Viagra works differently on men of different races. This information was just a publicity stunt to increase sales.

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 See also a feature story on the volume by Marc Shultz at Publishers Weekly.

Alan Gribben Talks Mark Twain’s Life, Looks to Unique New Edition

Thursday, August 19th, 2010 by Robert

Alan Gribben, Auburn University Montgomery professor and noted Mark Twain scholar, spoke Saturday at the inaugural “History at High Noon” lecture series at Old Alabama Town.

Dr. Gribben’s lecture, “The World According to Mark Twain,” taught listeners about Mark Twain’s life and the full range of his writings. Gribben explained that even though Twain’s reputation has in recent years rested on The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, he was better known in his lifetime for his travel writing. “People during that time did not think of him as a fiction writer,” Gribben noted, as reported by Alvin Benn of The Montgomery Advertiser. “Twain had difficulty at times developing plot lines for his novels and much preferred his travel books,” mainly because a trip had already formed the structure of those works.

Dr. Gribben wrote the introduction to NewSouth’s Alabama Big Read edition of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, published last year. Currently, he is working with NewSouth on a combined edition of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn that replaces the books’ racial epithets-which Twain used to reflect the societal standards of the nineteenth century-to enlarge the potential audience of students and teachers.

Gribben explains that Mark Twain’s novels “can be enjoyed deeply and authentically without those continual encounters with hundreds of now-indefensible racial slurs.” Numerous editions use the derogative words, and Gribben believes that their presence has gradually diminished the readership of Twain’s two masterpieces. This new edition will be the first of its kind to make this substantive change.

The Alabama Big Read Edition of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is available from NewSouth Books,, or your favorite retail or online bookseller. Alan Gribben’s new volume, Mark Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn: The NewSouth Edition, will be available in February 2011.