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Sanitized Edition Of 'Huckleberry Finn' Causes Uproar

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Sanitized Edition Of 'Huckleberry Finn' Causes Uproar

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Sanitized Edition Of 'Huckleberry Finn' Causes Uproar

Sanitized Edition Of 'Huckleberry Finn' Causes Uproar

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The English professor who proposed a new edition of Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn — without the offensive "n" word — says there's an obsession with the word that makes teachers and students uncomfortable, and stops many schools from using the book in classrooms. Critics say removing the racial slur amounts to censorship and fails to acknowledge America's racist past.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn" has become one of the most banned books in history, in part because of its frequent use of the N-word.

Now one Twain scholar has come up with a solution: use a different word. He hoped the new edition of "Huck Finn" would calm the controversy, but as NPR's Larry Abramson reports, it has just created more.

LARRY ABRAMSON: English professor Alan Gribben of Auburn University in Alabama says he came up with this idea while he was on a lecture tour trying to encourage schools to teach Twain.

Professor ALAN GRIBBEN (English Professor, Auburn University): Teachers would come up to me afterwards and say oh, I would love to use your remarks. I would love to get these books into my curriculum, but it's just not possible. The parents are so uncomfortable with them these days.

ABRAMSON: Because of the use of the N-word more than 200 times in "Huck Finn." So for Gribben, this was a way to revive these books in the schools. Instead of the N-word, this alternative version refers to slaves. Here's what the new book would sound like, read by NPR producer Jim Wildman.

JIM WILDMAN: Slaves would come from all around there and give Jim anything they had just for a site of that five-center piece. But they wouldn't touch it because the devil had had his hands on it.

ABRAMSON: Professor Alan Gribben says this is just an experiment to get past a word that has become such an emotional tripwire, a word that NPR reporters also avoid using on the air.

But Gribben says instead of being hailed for resuscitating a banned book, he's gotten slammed.

Prof. GRIBBEN: Just an avalanche of very, very vitriolic emails.

Mr. KAI WRIGHT (Editorial Director, ColorLines.com): I compared it to abstinence-only education for race.

ABRAMSON: Kai Wright attacked the update at ColorLines.com, where he is editorial director. Wright says the revision actually shortchanges schoolchildren because it skirts the lessons they need to learn.

Mr. WRIGHT: What does it mean both for society then, and what does it mean for society now? That's the kind of thing for a teacher to deal with. You can't really talk about race without talking about the ugly parts.

ABRAMSON: Perhaps Gribben should have known there would be a small rebellion when he laid his hands on "Huck Finn," which Hemingway called the best book we've had. All American writing comes from that.

Barbara Jones of the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom says what Gribben has done is an act of censorship, which the ALA opposes.

Ms. BARBARA JONES (Office of Intellectual Freedom, American Library Association): To remove a word from a book is just a real insult to the author's wanting to, in this case, express how people spoke in that part of Missouri in the 19th century.

ABRAMSON: The new editions were originally intended for a limited print run of about 7,500 copies, directed mostly at schools and libraries. Of course, it's possible the outrage of the blogosphere will spark more sales.

Professor Alan Gribben is undeterred by all the criticism. He says those emails have just demonstrated how much we need this book. He says even though they all argued for leaving the N-word in "Huckleberry Finn," none would use the word itself.

Larry Abramson, NPR News.

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