Next month, NewSouth Books will publish a combined edition of Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and "Tom Sawyer" which will omit a particular racial epithet.
Spearheaded by Twain scholar and Auburn University-Montgomery professor Alan Gribben, the new edition will remove the word "n----r" and/or substitute it for "slave." The word appears in "Huck Finn" over 200 times and has been the source of much contention since the book was published in 1885. According to the American Library Association, it has also been among the top five books challenged or banned during the 1990s.
Gribben said he hopes that teachers wary of the incendiary language would now be willing to re-embrace the novel. "For a single word to form a barrier, it seems such an unnecessary state of affairs," Gribben told Publishers Weekly. "I'm hoping that people will welcome this new option, but I suspect that textual purists will be horrified."
The news has spread rapidly through district librarians, some of who described the new edition as changing a work of art.
'"I don't think it's a good idea because I think it takes 'Huckleberry Finn' out of the context in which it was written," said Gale Ranch Middle School Librarian Katie Williams. "I understand why (Gribben) wanted to do that because it's a great work and if it makes it more palatable to schools and libraries, I think that's admirable. But I also think that we as educated people can understand why the word was used."
Still, Gribben said he has routinely substituted "slave" at public readings and hears "an audible sigh of relief" from the audience.
"When the younger reader is staring at that word five times on a given page and the instructor is saying, 'Mark Twain didn't mean this and you have to read it with an appreciation of irony,' you're asking a lot of a younger reader," Gribben said.
Dolores Fabel, Monte Vista High's library media teacher, said she plans to discuss the topic at her next librarian meeting.
"Should we change a work of art is the real question," she said. "This is, in a sense, historical fiction. Twain wrote the way it was at the time and if you change that you change the whole complexion and tone of the time."
The controversy made its way up the publicity ladder when Roger Ebert tweeted "I'd rather be called a Nigger than a Slave." Ebert later conceded that he wasn't speaking from personal experience said "I'll never be called a Nigger *or* a Slave, so I should have shut the **** up."
Gribben maintains that readers will still be able to understand Twain's message and social criticism.
"All I'm doing is taking out a tripwire and leaving everything else intact. All his sharp social critique, all his satirical jabs are intact. This novel cannot be made colorblind," he said to USA Today.
While district employees in charge of textbooks were unavailable for comment, SRVUSD Community Relations Coordinator Terry Koehne said the district "hasn't even broached" the subject of replacing old editions of "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and "Tom Sawyer" with NewSouth's version.