Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Undoing a Decision

Well, I've been overruled. After deciding to use the "n-word" in a newspaper quote for Theodore Roosevelt for Kids, several people put their heads together and suggested that I not use the full word. They preferred this: "n[*****]."

We went back and forth for awhile emailing. I kinda wanted to stay with what I had, which is the direct quote -- and, if truth be told -- about the mildest one I could find. They feel that the full word isn't appropriate in a book directed at middle graders.

So....I am back to something I went with in an earlier draft. All the colors and fonts reflect the back and forth of edits:

Across the South, newspapers, politicians, and preachers expressed their anger--how dare the president invite a Negro to put his legs under the same table where his wife sat? A paper in Memphis screamed, The most damnable outrage which has ever been perpetrated by any citizen of the United States was committed yesterday by the President...."

What do you think?


  1. Hi Kerrie,
    Thanks for stopping by my blog!
    This is a tough issue about using the n-word. So many people feel so strongly about it, with emotions they don't have for even profane words.
    I can see wanting to be true to history and its ugliness, not wanting to water it down. I can also see not wanting to introduce children to hurtful language, or bring an issue into a classroom setting that might get out of hand. Certainly there is a history here--think of the uproar in high schools about teaching Mark Twain. Have you gotten the opinion of any middle school teachers, particularly in social studies? Handled the right way, including the word could lead to important discussions about the power of language to be harmful.
    Good luck with your decision!

  2. Hi Kerrie - I've run into this issue a few times in my work as poetry editor for Birmingham Arts Journal. We had a poem inspired by To Kill A Mockingbird that contained the offensive N word. I felt it made the piece especially powerful and authentic. But the "big" editor of our journal chose to do what yours suggested: N-----. I'm not entirely sure how the author felt about it, but it was either that, or leave the piece out. I think the risk you run with words like this, is when you put them in, however accurate, then no one can see past the one word. It captures all the attention, and the piece is reduced to that one word. As an appreciator of accuracy in historical writing, this is a bummer for me. But I also understand human nature, and if the reader is distracted... well, that is a very important consideration. We are nothing without are readers!
    Thanks for your nominee for Go Your Own Way Hall of Fame. And good luck with your edits!!

  3. I'm with you on this, Kerrie! Must everything be so PC -- and unrealistic? However, I understand your publisher's qualms. It's just a shame you can't portray the times as honestly as you would like.