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Ramona Hyman

Ramona Hyman
Huntsville, Alabama,
March 13
Author, performance artist, poet, Dr. Ramona L. Hyman serves as an Associate Professor of English at Oakwood University in Huntsville, AL.


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APRIL 11, 2011 2:39AM

Mark Twain's "Nigger": Take the Noose from Around Its Neck

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Mark TwainMark Twain.

Imagine Mark Twain opening and reading "Mark Twain's Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn: New South Edition edited by Dr. Alan Gribben; a word is missing. New South's publisher Randall Williams agreed to publish Twain's text, without the word-- nigger. He can do that because the novel is now in the "public domain."

Twain fades into my historical memory; I shake my head. The reinvention of this great American writer's text-- sad!

As an American, I weep. Twain's text  has been dragged on a dark road like an "enslaved" human being --no voice, no rights, no power.  I hear the James Farmer character in the movie The Great Debaters saying, "they lynched a nigger" today.  Taking the word nigger out of Mark Twain's novel is, indeed, a lynching.  As a community of readers, writers, critics, Americans, and  thinkers,  we must understand this is a problem.

NoosePull the noose from around the word "nigger." Let it breath and live in the integrity of its own historical fact, especially  since Mark Twain struggled to place it in his text for a particular reason, and I mean 219 particular reasons.

I hear the arguments against  the use of the word nigger. However, the use of the word nigger is apart of American social, cultural, political, and  literary history. In its historical context, Nigger is a representation of a painful moment in American history. Let's engage our students intellectually and emotionally as they travel through the history of the word, its experience and its pain. There are lessons in American history.

My intent  is not to argue whether the word and thought--nigger--should be taken out of Twain's  original text. I am  not going to argue whether the word, slave, should replace the word nigger. David Bradley and others have  completed that essential task.

The challenge for me is this: The words of a writer must not be changed--ever! Writers struggle, some sweat for a letter, a word.  Let's keep this discussion simple:  Is there a difference between the words sit and set? To change one letter, one  word is to revise its meaning and to marginalize  the writer.

I am reminded of Amiri Baraka's, poem "Black Art." This poem is an anthem of the Black Arts Movement. There are words in  the poem--"bullshit, nigger'-- that may make me shutter;however, the intrinsic meaning of the poem is housed in each and every word, including those that may be disturbing.  The words  of a creative work are reflective of real and imaginary conditions.  Nigger is real.

I want to suggest a legal way to prevent literary debacles where publishers will consciously lynch classical  canonical text  like  Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  

I am  calling for  an  amendment  to the copyright  law concerning works in the "public domain." The new law would read: The text in a literary work that is in the public domain can not be changed by an editor or  publishing company.

Author tags:

books, nigger, mark twain

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...The only reason that someone would change a writers wording is that they are not comfortable within themselves to understand that the deleted phraseology is what made the story.