At Christian Brothers Academy, Eric Knuth’s ninth grade writing students recently discussed the censorship controversy surrounding a reprint of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn: The NewSouth Edition by Dr. Alan Gribben. Gribben is an English professor at Auburn University and a noted Mark Twain scholar. He recently published a combined version of Twain’s Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn that replaced racial slurs with more acceptable terms like “slave.” His actions have become widely controversial, as many criticize his audacity in censoring what are considered classic pieces of American literature.
Before forming an opinion, CBA student Connor Agnew decided to reach out to Gribben to get his side of the story, and the two engaged in the following e-mail exchange:
Dear Mr. Gribben,
Recently in class we read an article that talked about you editing the Mark Twin piece, Huckleberry Finn. After we read the article, I heard a lot of comments about how you shouldn’t have edited this book. My class also went online and looked up other opinions and found that they also disagreed with you. During the entire class I was trying to find out something that showed your side of the argument. The thing is that I couldn’t. When I got home, I researched the story more, but once again I couldn’t find anybody who had heard your side of the ordeal. All I want is to hear why you edited the story. I understand if you do not respond because I imagine that you have a lot on your plate. I am a ninth grader in New York.
Dear Mr. Agnew,
My explanation has been posted all along on the website of my publisher, newsouthbooks.com. Scroll down to the longer blog describing this edition (not the shorter description), and then click on the word “Introduction.” There can you download the relevant part of my Introduction.
I have received quite a few letters of support from teachers in public school districts throughout the country that prohibit the teaching of both TOM SAWYER and HUCKLEBERRY FINN because of the prevalence of a racial slur. By substituting the word “slave” for that derogatory epithet, I am making it possible for these books to re-enter those classrooms, and that was my purpose. These novels are too good to be permanently banned from so many schools, and I have devoted my academic career to understanding and promoting Mark Twain’s writings. I am willing to endure considerable abuse in order to get these novels into the hands of public middle and high school students, if that’s what it takes.
It is too bad that so many journalists and pundits pretend that I am forbidding readers to purchase or read the original versions of Twain’s novels (an absurd conclusion!), but there is not much I can do about the way they misrepresent my aim.
“When we first discussed this in class, I admit I made a snap judgment myself that what the author had done was not a good thing,” said Agnew. “After giving it some thought and talking to my dad, I decided to contact Alan Gribben directly to see what he had to say. I was really surprised that I got a response back so quickly. Dr. Gribben is an expert on Mark Twain and said he did this because he really wanted all kids to be able to read his work. After being in contact with him, I changed my opinion on the author’s actions. Now, when I read something, I try really hard to see both sides,” Agnew said.