Posts Tagged ‘“Shelley Fisher Fishkin’

The “future of the past” – and a small victory in Hannibal, Missouri

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016

fisherfishkinTwo months ago, I wrote about Shelley Fisher Fishkin‘s newest book, Writing America, and her presentation at the Stanford University Libraries. Read about it here. She gave a great talk, and she revisits many of the same themes in “The Future of the Past,” in this week’s Chronicle of Higher Education. The Twain scholar makes a passionate argument for literature as a doorway to the past, and the necessity of understanding the past in the first place (not to be assumed as a “given,” nowadays).

An excerpt:

In hindsight, history often looks inevitable. But it rarely is. It is shaped by the choices individuals make as events are unfolding, by their distinctive perspectives and understandings of their world. Literature can help us enter into those moments when choices must be made and can help us grasp the consequences of those choices. Coming to terms with a past shaped by human actors, in all their messy complexity, can influence how our own words and actions shape the future.

And she returns to the subject of her talk in December, centering on Hannibal, Missouri, and her beloved Mark Twain:

huck_finn“An assignment I was given in high school prompted me to re-examine the past myself, and it changed my life: Write a paper on how  used irony to attack racism in Huckleberry Finn. That paper ignited a lifelong engagement with issues of race and racism in America’s past as well as with the work of Mark Twain.

“It led me, in Lighting Out for the Territory, to excoriate the powers-that-be in Hannibal, Mo., a town that runs on Twain tourism, for its failure to acknowledge the role of slavery and racism in its past and in Twain’s work, and for its erasure of African-American life in Hannibal during the century and a half after emancipation. Hannibal may have been keen about historic preservation, but the history it chose to preserve involved little white boys playing marbles, not little black boys sold from their mothers.

huckjim“Faye Dant, a fifth-generation Hannibal resident whose ancestors had been enslaved there, said that book, and my earlier book Was Huck Black? Mark Twain and African-American Voices, had inspired her to work to recover and preserve for future generations the history that the town had ignored. Her efforts culminated, in September 2013, with the grand opening of Jim’s Journey: The Huck Finn Freedom Center. The black-history museum is now the first building visitors encounter when they turn off the highway en route to the Mark Twain Historic District.”


Read the whole thing here.

Fishkin’s Writing America tells a nation’s story through its literature – and its forgotten voices

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015

fishkinbookShelley Fisher Fishkin presented her new book Writing America: Literary Landmarks from Walden Pond to Wounded Knee (Rutgers) yesterday evening at Stanford’s Green Library, opening with a few words from E.L. Doctorow. Literature, the author observed, “endows places with meaning” by connecting “the visible and invisible” and finding “the hidden life in the observable life.”

No surprise, then, that her book focuses on a range of historical sites, and ones we might not anticipate: streets, theaters, a factory, a body of water, graveyards, a pump house.

She told her story from many overlooked perspectives – of the Latino farmworkers, of Jewish emigrants crammed in tenements, of Native Americans hunted and killed, of the workers at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.

But perhaps the one that moved me the most was the story of Mary Ann Cord, the cook in the household of Mark Twain‘s in-laws Theodore and Susan Crane in Elmira, New York, where the Clemenses spent their summers. She was born into slavery in Maryland, and had lost her husband and seven children when the family was broken up and sold around 1852. She was reunited with her youngest son, Henry, thirteen years later, when he was a soldier in the Union army.

Twain had no idea when he casually asked her about her life. “He wrote down her words before they were cold,” said Shelley. He published the account, “A True Story, Repeated Word for Word as I Heard It,” in The Atlantic Monthly in 1874. Knowing Twain’s short stories, readers waited for the joke, but there was no joke. The story revealed “the agony of slavery, the enigma of cruelty,” Shelley said. “America would never be the same.” Twain would never be the same, either; he published The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn a decade later.

I looked the story up online. It begins this way:


An unsung heroine: Mary Ann Cord

It was summer time, and twilight. We were sitting on the porch of the farm-house, on the summit of the hill, and “Aunt Rachel” was sitting respectfully below our level, on the steps, – for she was our servant, and colored. She was of mighty frame and stature; she was sixty years old, but her eye was undimmed and her strength unabated. She was a cheerful, hearty soul, and it was no more trouble for her to laugh than it is for a bird to sing. She was under fire, now, as usual when the day was done. That is to say, she was being chaffed without mercy, and was enjoying it. She would let off peal after peal of laughter, and then sit with her face in her hands and shake with throes of enjoyment which she could no longer get breath enough to express. At such a moment as this a thought occurred to me, and I said:

“Aunt Rachel, how is it that you’ve lived sixty years and never had any trouble?”

She stopped quaking. She paused, and there was a moment of silence. She turned her face over her shoulder toward me, and said, without even a smile in her voice: –


It changed his life.

“Misto C –, is you in ‘arnest?”

It surprised me a good deal; and it sobered my manner and my speech, too. I said: –

“Why, I thought – that is, I meant – why, you can’t have had any trouble. I’ve never heard you sigh, and never seen your eye when there wasn’t a laugh in it.”

She faced fairly around, now, and was full of earnestness.

“Has I had any trouble? Misto C –, I’s gwyne to tell you, den I leave it to you. I was bawn down ‘mongst de slaves; I knows all ‘bout slavery, ‘cause I been one of ‘em my own se’f. Well, sah, my ole man – dat’s my husban’ – he was lovin’ an’ kind to me, jist as kind as you is to yo’ own wife. An’ we had chil’en – seven chil’en – an’ we loved dem chil’en jist de same as you loves you’ chil’en. Dey was black, but de Lord can’t make no chil’en so black but what dey mother loves ’em an’ wouldn’t give ‘em up, no, not for anything dat’s in dis whole world.

You can read the whole thing here.

From Writing America: 


Author, author! (Photo: L.A. Cicero)

“At a time when the speech of African Americans was widely ridiculed in the nation at large, Twain recognized that African American vernacular speech and storytelling manifested a literary potential that was rich, powerful, and largely untapped in print. He went on to change the course of American literature by infusing it with lessons he had learned from African American speakers. And at a time when African Americans themselves were classified as inferior specimens of humanity by pseudoscientists and so-called educators, Mark Twain’s awareness of black individuals of courage and talent impelled him to challenge this characterization in fiction, nonfiction, quips, quotes, and unpublished meditations that he wrote from the 1870s until his death.”

And don’t forget to buy Shelley’s book here.

How the Chinese built the railroads

Thursday, November 12th, 2015

When I spoke to Shelley Fisher Fishkin a few days ago (we’ve written about her here and here and here), she waxed enthusiastic about the current exhibition featuring the photographs of Beijing-based photographer and computer engineer Li Ju. Shelley is one of the scholars working on the Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project – a Chinese-American collaboration that is one of the more exciting projects afoot at Stanford. From the website: “Between 1865 and 1869, thousands of Chinese migrants toiled at a grueling pace and in perilous working conditions to help construct America’s first Transcontinental Railroad. The Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project seeks to give a voice to the Chinese migrants whose labor on the Transcontinental Railroad helped to shape the physical and social landscape of the American West. The Project coordinates research in North America and Asia in order to create an on-line digital archive available to all, along with books, digital visualizations, conferences and public events.” And, as the poster below notes, the railroads are how Leland Stanford built the fortune that eventually created Stanford in the first place.

The exhibition started a few days ago, and continues through next Wednesday, November 18, at the Packard Electrical Engineering Building. And if you haven’t heard about the project – a short video below. Shelley is in it.


Why every kid in China knows Mark Twain

Friday, January 10th, 2014

Not just a funny guy.

Mark Twain is popular in China – and not only (predictably) for Huckleberry Finn, which has more than 90 different translations into Chinese. A lot of his fame comes from an obscure short story called “Running for Governor,” Twain’s imaginative account of his (fictional) 1870 gubernatorial run in New York.

Amy Qin, who calls Twain the “founder of the American voice,” tells the story in the New York Times hereand says that Twain’s tale of American incompetence, greed, sham, corruption, and lies made the piece required reading for middle school students across China, “along with other short stories that were seen to reinforce the anti-Western, anti-capitalist, socialist education agenda.”

According to literary scholar Guiyou Huang on the Library of America website, “ ‘Running for Governor’ was translated and filtered down into the high school textbooks throughout the country as a model piece of critical realism that exposes the so-called false democracy in a capitalist country. In other words, all high school graduates [in China] know who Mark Twain is.”

Our favorite Twain expert, Shelley Fisher Fishkin inevitably enters into the NYT story (we’ve written about her here and here and here and here, among other places):

“In a speech delivered in 1960 in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Twain’s death, the eminent Chinese writer Lao She hailed Twain as an ‘outstanding writer of critical realism in the United States’ and a bracing social critic who had been reduced by Americans to a figure who told jokes.


She knows everything. (Photo: L.A. Cicero)

“That Twain was until recently remembered more as a humorist than as a satirist or social critic in the United States is not inaccurate, said Shelley Fisher Fishkin, an English professor and expert on Twain at Stanford University.

“’In a sense we threw out the baby with the bath water,’ said Professor Fishkin, citing the imperatives of the Cold War as a major reason for the distortion of Twain’s more serious accomplishments. For much the same reasons that China played up Twain’s social commentary and critiques of imperialism, the United States, she said, played them down. …  today in the United States, more than a hundred years after Twain’s death, many of his critiques of hypocrisy, ignorance and greed — ‘Running for Governor’ included — still ring true. ‘Twain the social critic who uses satire to skewer his society’s foibles is a Twain that is increasingly of value to us today,’ Professor Fishkin said.”

Read the Twain story over here.  Or read the story about the story here.

Commencement season brings (yet more) honors for biographer Arnold Rampersad

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013
A winner

A winner … again and again

We’re in the middle of commencement season – but Arnold Rampersad has already picked up his honors (we’ve written about his previous triumphs here and here).  Rampersad, a leading biographer of African-American writers and cultural figures, including Ralph Ellison, Langston Hughes, W.E.B. Du Bois, Jackie Robinson, and Arthur Ash, received an honorary doctor of letters degree from Columbia University.

He also received one of four “Centennial Citations”  from his alma mater, Harvard, where he received his PhD in 1973.  The award honored him  “for showing us how biography can illuminate culture and history, and how literature transcends barriers…”

From Harvard Magazine here:

How did this native of Trinidad develop the perfect pitch that allowed him to capture the tensions of American writers, the fullness of what it is to be black in America? When Rampersad was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2010, he gave credit in part to his early education in literature, which, he said, “some people might dismiss as ‘colonial.’ It nevertheless served me well in dealing with the complexities of American biography.”

His work as a biographer began at Harvard, where he wrote his dissertation on W. E. B. Du Bois. He has said that he was drawn to that work because Du Bois changed his life, and the historians who had written about him had not been able to explain why: they missed, he said, “his genuine essence—which is, in my opinion, the grandly poetic imagination he brought to the business of seeing and describing black America and America itself.”

When the dissertation was published as the masterful intellectual history The Art and Imagination of WEB Du Bois, the acclaim it received drew notice from the executors of the Langston Hughes estate. Rampersad’s resulting two-volume biography, released in 1986 and 1988, was a Pulitzer Prize finalist and is widely considered the definitive work on this most important Harlem Renaissance poet. Exploring the complexity of Hughes’s ambition, intelligence, and commanding talent, Rampersad set him in his time, chronicling not just the life of one black American but the changing world of all black Americans at the time.

Arnold Rampersad

Arnold Rampersad accepting the National Humanities Medal from Obama

His revelatory biography of Ralph Ellison, published in 2007, considers the full arc of Ellison’s life and — as the San Francisco Chronicle put it — “the extent to which family tragedy, failed ambitions and a prickly, imperious nature combined to isolate him in the years following Invisible Man.

“I know of no other scholar who has consistently told stories that matter so deeply to our society as whole,” says Rampersad’s Stanford colleague Shelley Fisher Fishkin. “Arnold Rampersad has left an indelible mark on our understanding of who we are as Americans.” She recalls co-editing Oxford’s Race and American Culture book series with Rampersad as “an extraordinary education. Arnold’s vision of what kinds of scholarship could move the field in productive directions was always spot-on; his judgment about what authors needed to do in order to transform a good manuscript into a great book was illuminating.” …

Rampersad has said that he was “was drawn to biography because I saw the African-American personality as a neglected field despite the prominence of race as a subject in discussions of America. African-American character in all its complexity and sophistication was, and still is, by and large, a denied category in the representation of American social reality.” There is no other scholar who has done more to undo that denial, to assert the grace and the terrifying complexity of the American experience, than Arnold Rampersad.

Rampersad is also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society.  He held a MacArthur fellowship from 1991 to 1996.


“A chill went through me”: How a Twain scholar discovered a long-lost letter on racism

Sunday, January 27th, 2013


“Is He Dead?”

Shelley Fisher Fishkin has scored a lot of “firsts” with Twain – we wrote about her rediscovery of a long-lost Twain play Is He Dead? some time ago here.  In a recent interview in the journal Americana here, she discusses her lifelong partnership with the author.

Her adventures began shortly after her 1988 From Fact to Fiction: Journalism and Imaginative Writing in America was published:

My first wild adventure with Mark Twain happened shortly before that book was published. I was infuriated by the efforts of a black educator named John Wallace to close down a production of Huck Finn at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, and to take the book out of the nation’s schools, on the grounds that the novel and its author were racist. (He wanted to replace Twain’s book with his own edition of it – which, like the recent New South Books edition, replaced every use of the word “nigger” with “slave.”)

I wrote an op-ed that the New York Times published on the 100th anniversary of the publication of Huck Finn in the U.S.  I observed that Mark Twain had had to turn to satire in the first place because his direct exposés of racism (towards the Chinese in San Francisco) were censored; but now he faced the prospect of censorship once again because some readers couldn’t understand his irony.

The day that op-ed appeared in the Times, I was awakened by a phone call. A woman said, “I don’t know you, but I just read your piece in the New York Times, and I’ve got to see you right away.  I have a letter Mark Twain wrote that nobody knows about yet, and after reading your column, I know you’ll know what to do with it.  Here’s what it says.”  She read me the letter over the phone. A chill went through me as I realized that the letter contained the only direct, non-ironic condemnation of racism that we had from Twain during the period in which he published Huck Finn. Indeed, it was written the same year that Huck Finn was published.

The woman who called me was an antiques dealer who had found it in an old desk. I authenticated the letter and I researched its context single-mindedly over the next few weeks, reconstructing a story that ended up intriguing others as much as it fascinated me: Warner T. McGuinn, the young  black law student Twain wrote about in the letter,  a young man whom he would end up funding  through his own private “affirmative action” plan,  went on to become a major civil rights lawyer who was a mentor to Thurgood Marshall.  The story (which the New York Times ran on its front page) got huge national and international attention.

The discussion includes the book that made her a Twain superstar, her 1993 book Was Huck Black? Mark Twain and African-American Voices:

I was somewhat astonished by the ruckus it caused!  Why should people have been so surprised by the idea that black and white writers and speakers had been shaping each other’s work throughout our nation’s history? Segregated lunch counters may have disappeared in the 1960s, but segregated syllabi were still alive and well in the 1990s.  In the early 1990s, there were “American Literature” courses, which were populated almost completely by “white” writers, and there were “African-American Literature Courses” that focused on writers who were invariably “black.” My book challenged the usefulness – and accuracy – of those segregated silos. …

If I were to have the chance to write Was Huck Black? Mark Twain and African-American Voices, again, I would do one thing differently: I would explain the title.  It was a mistake to assume that everyone would know that my title was signifying on the “one-drop rule.” Some of my critics ridiculed my argument by charging me with denying that any white voices had shaped Huck’s voice in the book, which is preposterous.  My title was simply playing with the idea that if we applied the “one-drop rule” to culture, and if Huck’s voice was shaped at least in part by black voices, then Huck was “black.” I should have said so.

They started more than literary firestorms: Twain, Thoreau meet Smokey the Bear

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

Fire and the 4th go hand in hand

Traditional 4th of July celebrations involve fireworks, campfires, sparklers, gunfire and cannons, and all sorts of other incendiary tomfoolery.  What better way to celebrate than with the tale of two inadvertent literary firebugs?

Twain scholar Shelley Fisher Fishkin apparently agrees, according to her new post on the Library of America’s “Reader’s Almanac” blog.

Here’s the story:  Through their own naïveté and carelessness, Mark Twain burned 200 acres of forest around Lake Tahoe. He failed to break Henry David Thoreau‘s earlier record of setting 300 acres of his beloved Concord woods aflame.

“Yet each man kills the thing he loves,” wrote Oscar Wilde.  He might have had Twain in mind, for Twain loved Tahoe with a passion that all later lakes failed to arouse.  Italy’s famous Lake Como was as nothing.  The renowned Sea of Galilee was a downright disappointment.  (I understood this completely when I saw the mud puddle called the Jordan River.  Where was the mighty, rolling river of the spirituals?  It occurred to me as I gazed at the sluggish, fetid waters that the slaves had the Mississippi in mind.)

“Three months of camp life on Lake Tahoe,” wrote the dazzled Twain in Roughing It, “would restore an Egyptian mummy to his pristine vigor, and give him an appetite like an alligator. I do not mean the oldest and driest mummies, of course, but the fresher ones.”

America's answer to Como, Galilee

Yet he built a campfire on the shore one autumn day in 1861 and left it unattended while he returned to his boat.  A gust of wind did the rest.

Seventeen years earlier, a stray spark from Thoreau’s campfire started a conflagration.  According to Shelley:

Both writers were struck by the “glorious spectacle” (Thoreau’s words) of the fires they had started; Twain found the “mighty roaring of the conflagration” to be “very impressive.” Neither Thoreau nor Twain showed much remorse for the destruction he had caused. “I have set fire to the forest,” Thoreau wrote in his journal six years later, “but I have done no wrong therein, and now it is as if the lightning had done it.”

Twain, at least, has not been forgiven.

Said Shelley:  “Last week I asked a firefighter at Fallen Leaf Lake, in the Tahoe Basin just south of Lake Tahoe, whether Mark Twain was still persona non grata in the area. He nodded grimly.”

Having fled my own home with suitcases and pets during two wildfires in that part of the world and stayed at home for a third close call, I can understand the firefighter’s umbrage.

Read the whole cautionary tale here.

Mark Twain, filmed by Thomas Edison in 1909

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

My peregrinations around the internet led me to this charming footage of Mark Twain, filmed by Thomas Edison at the author’s estate in Stormfield, Conn., in 1909 – one of the many wonders of youtube. Twain is shown walking around his home and playing cards with his daughters Clara and Jean. The flickering is caused by film deterioration.  This is the only known footage of the author of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It is, of course, a “silent.”

A long day and a late night – more later.  I’d be curious, however, to hear what Twain expert and friend Shelley Fisher Fishkin thinks of this short film, 1 minute and 48 seconds long.

Russian translators get a shot at the Joseph Brodsky/Stephen Spender Prize and Ms. magazine celebrates its 40th with an essay contest

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

Two recent emails, alerting me to two very different kinds of literary contests:

1. The first commemorates the long friendship between Joseph Brodsky and Stephen Spender.   The Joseph Brodsky/Stephen Spender Prize, launched by Maria Brodsky and Natasha Spender, also celebrates the rich tradition of Russian poetry.

Details are here.  You supply the original Russian, your translation, and some commentary.  But do you translate a long novel, an essay, a few poems?  It doesn’t say.  Up to you, I guess.

The contest offers three prizes: £1,500 (first), £1,000 (second) and £500.

Entries must be received by August 31.  Judges of the 2011 competition are: Sasha Dugdale, Catriona Kelly, Paul Muldoon.

(Valentina Polukhina, one of the supporters of the contest, wrote to let me know.)

2.   Ms. magazine is celebrating its 40th birthday, and you are invited, too.

A group of Stanford faculty and Ms. editors are inviting you to submit a 150-word essay about one of the magazine’s 40 covers.

Ten $100 cash prizes will be awarded for the best short essays. Entries will be judged on originality, vision, awareness of feminist issues and quality of expression. Winning entries will be displayed alongside the Ms. covers on the Stanford campus in January 2012.

The contest will run from August 1, 2011 – October 15, 2011. Click here for more details.

There’s more:  In January 2012 at Stanford, Ms. founding editor, Gloria Steinem, will offer a keynote address, with a month-long series of events that looks back on the history of the magazine.

The contest and the month-long series of events are sponsored by Stanford’s American Studies Program, the Clayman Institute for Gender Research, and the Program in Feminist Studies, in conjunction with Ms. Magazine.

(This invite courtesy Adrienne Johnson and Shelley Fisher Fishkin.)

Teaching Huck Finn: Novices need not apply.

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

The nation, and even the world, is still talking about Alan Gribben‘s new edition of Huckleberry Finn, which eliminates the notorious n-word.  The general public seems to be agin’ it — except for educators, who are showing an interest.  Although the conversation is winding down, I expect it will continue  for some time to come.

Ray: Prepare the students

The latest installment comes from Elaine Ray, journalist and cofounder of the Parent Network for Students of Color.   (She is also, by the way, editor of My Father’s Posts, an intriguing exploration of the writings of her Barbados-born father, also a journalist.)  Here it is:

Imagine being a 12 or 13-year-old Asian-American middle school student in our pre-“post racial society.”  You are in a school in which there are only a handful of black students and race is rarely dealt with in a direct or constructive way, though racially tinged adolescent jokes and taunts are common. Now imagine being a black girl in that class watching your Asian friend squirm as he is asked to read passages from Huckleberry Finn aloud to the rest of his mostly white class.

I am the parent of that black girl who came home from 7th grade that day horrified at her friend’s embarrassment. Of course, my daughter probably felt her own anguish, but it was easier to project her discomfort on to her friend.

When her father and I approached the teacher about that discomfort, the teacher’s best defense was that she didn’t believe in censorship. I tried to explain to the teacher that I was with her on that, but it was not “whether” she taught the novel that I was concerned about, but “how” she prepared her students for what they were being asked to read. I suggested that she review the work of scholars who had devoted their life’s work to exploring effective approaches to teaching the book.

She didn’t seem to get it, but I trust that in the intervening years, she’s gained some experience as a teacher and has a better understanding of the issue. Perhaps she’s reading the current debate.

My argument has always been that the novel should be taught as it is, but that the adult who is responsible for introducing it to students better damn well know what he or she is doing. Not only do these teachers need to understand and have the skills to articulate the context in which the novel was written, they also need to understand who their students are and the racial context of their lives. Internalizing Jim’s humiliation might be far different in a classroom with a critical mass of black students than it would be in a room in which there is only one.

My daughter’s friend likely was no stranger to the N-word, which by then had pervaded popular culture, but he was sophisticated or intuitive enough to understand the difference between the word’s use in a bravado-filled rap song and its use as a tool of derision in the mouth of Huck.

In a Jan. 16, op-ed piece in the New York Times, author Lorrie Moore writes that the novel is best saved for “college — or even graduate school — where it can be put in proper context.”

She argues that at a time when people are asking themselves how to get boys, particularly black American boys, to read, Huckleberry Finn is likely to turn them off.

“The young black American male of today, whose dignity in our public schools is not always preserved or made a priority, does not need at the start of his literary life to be immersed in an even more racist era by reading a celebrated text that exuberantly expresses everything crazy and wicked about that time . . ..” Moore writes.

What impact the 7th grade experience had on the members of my daughter’s class, I’ll probably never know. But there is no doubt that her teacher’s cavalier approach to the novel made the prospects for an honest discussion about race in America ever more unlikely.

In “Send Huck Finn to College,” Moore also points out that the remedy is not to replace “nigger” with alternative terms like “slave,” since “the latter word is already in the novel and has a different meaning from ‘nigger,’ so that substitution just mucks up the prose — its meaning, its voice, its verisimilitude.”  She writes:

Moore: Teach it in college

Huckleberry Finn is suited to a college course in which Twain’s obsession with the 19th-century theater of American hucksterism — the wastrel West, the rapscallion South, the economic strays and escapees of a harsh new country — can be discussed in the context of Jim’s particular story (and Huck’s).

An African-American 10th grader, in someone’s near-sighted attempt to get him newly appreciative of novels, does not benefit by being taken back right then to a time when a young white boy slowly realizes, sort of, the humanity of a black man, realizes that that black man is more than chattel even if that black man is also full of illogic and stereotypical superstitions.”

Fishkin: Give teachers tools (Photo: L.A. Cicero)

Shelley Fisher Fishkin, incidentally, agrees with Elaine.  In an article about the controversy in The Scotsman, she said:  “Huckleberry Finn is a very challenging book to teach, and if teachers are not prepared to engage in the history of racism in America then they probably shouldn’t teach it,” says Fishkin. “But I think a better strategy than bowdlerisation is to give teachers the tools to teach it effectively. For the last three decades I have been involved in doing that.”

(Incidentally, the journalist, Dani Garavelli, wrote about the n-word:  “Indeed, even writing this article presented a dilemma, as it is has long been the editorial policy of Scotland on Sunday that the word be printed with asterisks, one of only three words that fall into that category, the others being two commonly used swear words.”)

Postscript on 1/20From Frank Wilson over at Books Inq.:  “Here’s an idea: Start the class by playing some rap tunes in which the dreaded word appears. Then ask if anybody found the use of the word in those songs offensive. Then read a passage from Huck in which the word also appears. Then ask the same question.”

Postscript on 1/21: Over at Bill Peschel‘s blog — “Would Mark Twain have removed n***** from Huck Finn?  Hell, yes“:

“…Twain had a history of censoring his works, even on “Huckleberry Finn.” He was a working writer, supporting his growing family, his big house in Hartford and his investment in an invention that would have revolutionized newspaper typesetting if it had worked. He worked for a living, and he shaped his writing and his opinions accordingly.”

Bill tells the story about how Twain had three people “patrolling the pages of Huck Finn for outrages against public taste.”  It’s here.