Jacket Copy

Books, authors and all things bookish

« Previous Post | Jacket Copy Home | Next Post »

The man behind the expurgated Huck Finn to appear on '60 Minutes' on Sunday

March 18, 2011 |  4:13 pm


The man who decided to purge Mark Twain's classics "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" of language he finds offensive, Randall Williams, will appear on the television program "60 Minutes" on Sunday. The new editions are being released in a single volume by the small press NewSouth Books.

When the books were announced in January, David L. Ulin explored the issue here on Jacket Copy:

NewSouth Books, a publisher based in Montgomery, Ala., announced plans to release an omnibus edition of Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" with a couple of offensive words removed. Most prominent, of course, is "nigger," which appears 219 times in "Huckleberry Finn" and has been the source of repeated efforts to ban or restrict the novel since it was published 125 years ago. In this new edition, the word in question has been replaced by "slave."...

The N-word is not acceptable -- although I'm not sure "slave" is much of an improvement, with its unthinking conflation of servitude and race....

I've discussed "Huckleberry Finn" in the classroom, and it is always difficult and awkward to work around that word. This, however, is precisely why it needs to remain part of our experience of "Huckleberry Finn."

Literature, after all, is not there to reassure us; it's supposed to reveal us, in all our contradictory complexity. The fact that it makes us uncomfortable is part of the point -- like all great art, it demands that we confront our half-truths and self-deceptions, the justifications and evasions by which we measure out our daily lives.

Williams, who is white, says the expurgated versions will be more acceptable to school districts that have banned the book.

Countering this perspective on the program will be David Bradley, a black professor of creative writing at the University of Oregon. He tells "60 Minutes": "You use the term 'teachable moment' and that's what ... gives you. That's why it's important to keep it in there."


The expurgated 'Huckleberry Finn'

Twain scholar Laura Trombley reviews "Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1"

Inside the next volume of Mark Twain's autobography

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: A photograph of Mark Twain on display at the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum in Hannibal, Mo. Credit: Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times