N-word change coming to new editions of Mark Twain classics

UPDATED: March 23 at 4:25 p.m.

Following recent national debates regarding censorship of Mark Twain literature, Quincy University TMs Town and Gown Reading and Lecture Series will lead a discussion, Mark Twain's Literary Legacy: Censorship and Whitewashing in a ~PC TM World, led by Cindy Lovell, PhD, QU associate professor of education and executive director of the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum.

Joining Lovell on the panel discussion are Henry Sweets, Mark Twain Museum curator; John Schleppenbach, PhD, QU professor of communication; Ken Oliver, PhD, QU assistant professor of counseling; Maylean Brock, senior student majoring in management from Quincy; and Willie Johnson, junior student majoring in communication. Moderators are Caroline Collins, PhD, QU assistant professor of English and Sharon Sample, Brenner Library access and serials librarian.

Each panel member will offer opening remarks on the topic and then invite questions from the crowd. In addition, participants are encouraged to visit Brenner Library TMs Twain-themed exhibition titled, Mark Twain: Exhibiting the Literary Legend of Samuel L. Clemens.

This discussion will take place at MacHugh Theatre in the lower level of Francis Hall on QU's campus on Thursday, March 24 from 7 p.m. to 8:15 p.m.

Background Information:

In 1885 Mark Twain's Huck Finn helped a runaway slave gain his freedom; 125 years later he is being kicked out of some schools for offensive language. Mark Twain's most beloved novel has endured censorship since its first day of publication for a variety of reasons that continue to change as society changes. Join the current discussion on why Twain's masterpiece should or shouldn't be altered for today's classrooms. Should it be read in high school or only in college, or at all? Is Twain's sermon still relevant? How should educators handle this work? You can now add your voice to this uniquely American discussion: Is Huck fit for America's youth?

The Town and Gown Reading Lecture Series is sponsored by Quincy University TMs Sigma Tau Delta / English Club and the English Department. All events begin at 7 p.m. and are free and open to the public. For information on the Town and Gown Reading and Lecture Series, contact the division of humanities by calling (217) 228-5432, extension 3195.


UPDATED: January 5 at 4:55 p.m.

Mark Twain's "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and "Tom Sawyer" first were published more than 125 years ago.

Both of those books are still getting people talking in 2011.

A Mark Twain scholar in Alabama is working with NewSouth Books to publish a combined volume of the books that are less offensive.

The "N" word is used more than 220 times in both of those books.

The scholar is hoping to replace the "N" word with the word slave.

KHQA's Jarod Wells headed to Hannibal where Twain spent several years growing up for reaction.

Sweets said, "The word 'nigger,' coming from the color black, is referring to a physical characteristic of the person. The term slave is referring to more of the social position of being enslaved, being property of, being controlled by someone else."

Employees of the Mark Twain Museum in Hannibal don't want to change history. They feel that if you change Twain's writing, even just one word, you're changing the whole book.

Mark Twain Museum Executive Director Cindy Lovell said, "In his other books he doesn't go throwing that word around in that way like he does in Huckleberry Finn, but the point of Huckleberry Finn is to make us squirm and to make us uncomfortable so we can have these discussions

Lovell says the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer are common reading for students. She says that's even more reason the "N" word should remain.

Lovell said, "Kids should be asking 'why is Huckleberry Finn talking that way? Why does he use it? Why do all the people talk that this way? What's going on in American History?' So to change that you just lose the impact of the book."

Museum Curator Henry Sweets says Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn to attack racism.

Sweets said, "That's reflected by the term that he used in the book for our black Americans. When you turn to the term slave, you've shifted the emphasis of the book and I think that could be a negative aspect."

Sweets says switching the word slave in for the N word changes the entire meaning of Twain's writing.

Sweets said, "The book is set in a period of American history, it was written for an audience in 1885. I think the mere fact that it causes problems today is reflective that the issues that Mark Twain is discussing in the book have not gone away."

Sweets added that the amount of controversy that has come about at the thought of changing just one word, shows just how important that one word is to Mark Twain's writing.

The revised versions of Mark Twain's books are expected to be released in February.


A new edition of Mark Twain's "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and "Tom Sawyer" plans to replace the "N" word with "slave" in an effort not to offend readers.Twain scholar Alan Gribben is working with NewSouth Books in Alabama to publish a combined volume of the books in February.

He says the "N" word appears 219 times in "Huck Finn" and four times in "Tom Sawyer."Gribben says he has used "slave" instead at public readings and found audiences to be more accepting.But other Twain scholars have blasted his decision and Gribben has received a flood of hateful e-mail accusing him of desecrating the novels.Twain scholar Stephen Railton, a University of Virginia professor, said Gribben was well respected, but called the new version a terrible idea.

In 2010, Hannibal celebrated "The Year of Twain" which included 365 days of celebrations, readings and gatherings to honor Mark Twain. Hannibal, Missouri has been coined "America's Hometown.

KHQA's Jarod Wells will bring you more details, so check this story later and watch KHQA's News at Five, KHQA's Evening News at 6 p.m. and KHQA's Late News at 10 p.m.

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