Alan Gribben is a professor of English at Auburn University at Montgomery in Alabama and a noted Mark Twain scholar. He was Distinguished Research Professor from 1998 to 2001 and the Dr. Guinevera A. Nance Alumni Professor from 2006 to 2009. He engendered widespread controversy in 2011 when he announced the publication of expurgated versions of Twain's works.
Gribben earned a B.A. at the University of Kansas, an M.A. at the University of Oregon and a Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley. At the University of Texas, Austin, Gribben was Assistant Professor from 1974 to 1980, Associate Professor from 1980 to 1988, and Professor from 1988 to 1991. He became Head and Professor, Department of English and Philosophy, Auburn University at Montgomery in 1991, where he remains. He was co-founder (1986) of the Mark Twain Circle of America, a scholarly society. He was a Member, Executive Board, American Literature Association from 1989 to 1996, a Henry Nash Smith Fellow, Center for Mark Twain Studies (1997–1999) and Distinguished Research Professor, Auburn University at Montgomery (1998–2001).
Edited version of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn
Gribben published a new combined edition of Twain's Tom Sawyer (1876) and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) with NewSouth Books in February 2011. This edition replaces the word "nigger" (which occurs 219 times in the original Huckleberry Finn novel) with "slave", "Injun Joe" with "Indian Joe," and "half-breed" with "half-blood". No other changes to the original texts are planned besides these word replacements. Only 7,500 copies are planned.
Gribben stated in the foreword to the new edition that he "want[ed] to provide an option for teachers and other people not comfortable with 219 instances of that word". He added:
For nearly forty years I have led college classes, bookstore forums, and library reading groups in detailed discussions of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn in California, Texas, New York, and Alabama, and I always recoiled from uttering the racial slurs spoken by numerous characters, including Tom and Huck. I invariably substituted the word "slave" for Twain’s ubiquitous n-word whenever I read any passages aloud. Students and audience members seemed to prefer this expedient, and I could detect a visible sense of relief each time, as though a nagging problem with the text had been addressed.
But Gribben's view has been widely challenged. Executive director Cindy Lowell of the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum has said that "the book is an anti-racist book and to change the language changes the power of the book." The removal of "nigger" from the text of Huckleberry Finn has been especially controversial. According to a writer at The Economist, one cannot “fully appreciate why ‘nigger’ is taboo today if you don't know how it was used back then, and you can't fully appreciate what it was like to be a slave if you don't know how slaves were addressed. The ‘visible sense of relief’ Mr Gribben reports in his listeners is not, in fact, desirable; feeling discomfort when you read the book today is part of the point of reading it.”
Gribben commented on the criticism, pointing out, for instance, that the n-word was de facto banned from many of the publications in which his critics called for its restoration: "I had to laugh whenever the professional commentators avoided pronouncing or printing the very word they were mocking me for substituting and that they are expecting public school teachers to read aloud in integrated classrooms." He suggested that Twain himself, "probably our most commercially minded author ever", might not be displeased with "a revision that would reinsert his boy books back into school classrooms and gain new readers", and cited a number of positive responses he received from teachers.
- Alumni Faculty Service Award, Auburn University at Montgomery (2005)
- Michael Tomasky, "The new Huck Finn" January 7, 2011.
- "New Huck Finn edition removes 'n' word". United Press International. 6 January 2011. Retrieved 9 June 2011.
- Gribben, Alan (2011). "An excerpt from the editor's introduction to Mark Twain's Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn: The NewSouth Edition". NewSouth Books. Retrieved 9 June 2011.
- "Furore over 'censored' edition of Huckleberry Finn". BBC News. 6 January 2011.
- G. L. (The Economist), ”There Weren't Any Niggers, Then”, The Economist (7 January 2011).
- Gribben, Alan. "Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer Go Back to School". Independent Publisher. Archived from the original on 22 July 2011. Retrieved 14 June 2011.