Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Twain, Austen and Angry Robots

Controversy first? A competition for literature? Or an opportunity?

Controversy, then, because this kind of shit always makes my blood boil:

Publishers Weekly is reporting, in my opinion, an assault on a much-loved classic. Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is about to have the word 'nigger' removed by Auburn University Twain scholar Allen Gribben. Quote: "This is not an effort to render Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn colorblind," said Gribben... "I'm hoping that people will welcome this new option, but I suspect that textual purists will be horrified," he said. Unquote.

Is it ever okay to change literature so as not offend the sensibilities of current schoolchildren? My answer is a resounding 'no'. Yes, the word nigger is offensive in today's socially and politically correct climate, but that does not mean it has always been offensive. You cannot change history and to remove a legitimate word from an historical piece negates the value of that piece. There was a reason Twain put the words nigger and injun into his works to make a point; to remove them devalues the book and denies kids the ability to analyse literature.

And while some supporters of this move suggest NewSouth is only a small press and that the idea seeks to make Mark Twain a more attractive option for teachers, I think the argument is a metaphoric pat on the head and a 'don't you worry your little head about it'. I find that contemptuous.

What would be the outcome if an academic decided to change Bronte, Dickens or Austen because they found something offensive in the work?

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And speaking of Jane Austen, the website Bad Austen has a competition: "Write Like Jane". The prize is money and the entry published in an upcoming book, Bad Austen. What makes this fun is that you can write in any genre. The site has works up already and you can vote on your favourite. You need to register to submit your entry.

You're not asked to change any works of Austen, but write in the style of Austen.

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Here's a rare opportunity, Angry Robot Books is holding an Open Door Month in March. This means it will be open to submissions from authors who don't have an agent.

Angry Robot’s Editor, Lee Harris, said, “We’re delighted to be able to offer this opportunity to unpublished and unrepresented novelists. There are a lot of exciting authors out there, just waiting to be discovered, and we’d like to be able to help them kick-start their careers.”

So get your manuscripts ready. It's a new year with new opportunities.

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