‘American Fiction’ Author Percival Everett Explains Why N-Word Is ‘Inoffensive’ in the Right Context | Video

His new novel “James” tells the story of Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn” from enslaved co-protagonist Jim’s point of view

Author Percival Everett, whose 2001 book “Erasure” was adapted as the film “American Fiction” last year, has a new book out. “James: A Novel” is a reimagining of Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” from the perspective of Jim, the enslaved Black man who befriends Huck and who Finn seeks to help escape.

Speaking with CBS’ Martha Teichner, Everett described those who have banned the original “Huckleberry Finn” as “small and frightened people, an attempt to control a world that they can’t control.”

The topic of banned books came up for an obvious reason: “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” has often been banned across the United States — both for its use of the N-word throughout and for its criticism of racism, among other reasons. Teichner asked Everett if he anticipates that “James” will face similar opposition.

“Oh sure,” he replied. “Probably for more reasons than I had imagined before this.” When asked what he had previously imagined, Everett continued, “Well, just the presence of that unfortunate word is enough to ban, apparently, ‘Huck Finn.’ Ironically, the presence of that word is not offensive in any way, because it makes perfect sense in the story.”

“Without it, it would be impossible to understand the world in which the story happens. It would be impossible to understand the character of the people who were oppressing Jim and all of his family. People who seek to ban that book, let’s face it, haven’t read it. If they have read it, they’re not capable of understanding it,” he added.

“We now have a state of Florida that doesn’t want to acknowledge the fact that anybody was ever enslaved, or that slavery was a bad thing,” Everett added, alluding to recent conservative moves by its government including around banning books. “So, for that reason, I think, Florida should probably ban ‘James.’”

“Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” was banned as soon as it was published in 1885. The book has since been banned somewhere every single year since its release. Twenty years after it came out, the New York Public Library banned the book because the title character scratched himself when he itched.

Author Mark Twain was thrilled and said that banning the book would only encourage others to buy it. He was proven correct over and over again.

The Free Speech Center at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) describes book banning as “the most widespread form of censorship in the United States” and notes that literature written for children is banned most often. Complaints about books have frequently originated with parents, school boards and public interest groups.

In 2022, the New York Times reported that efforts to ban books are increasing across the United States. That year, the American Library Association (ALA) reported 330 challenges seeking book bannings, each of which could include multiple books.

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