Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Americans Won’t Touch “Book of Negroes”

Today on The Guardian Books blog, Award winner Lawrence Hill writes about why the title of his book wouldn’t fly in the United States. It’s a deeply interesting, thought-provoking piece:
It isn’t unusual for British or Canadian books to change titles when entering the American market. It happened to JK Rowling -- Harry Potter has no “philosopher’s” stone in the USA; and to Alice Munro, whose fabulous collection of short stories went from Who Do You Think You Are? in Canada to The Beggar Maid in the USA.

But I didn’t think it would happen to me. When my novel, The Book of Negroes, came out last year with HarperCollins Canada, I was assured by my American publisher that the original title would be fine by them. However, several months later, I got a nervous email from my editor in New York.
Of all the interesting things Hill shares with us here, this is the line that startled me the most:
When I began touring with the novel in some of the major US cities, literary African-Americans kept approaching me and telling me it was a good thing indeed that the title had changed, because they would never have touched the book with its Canadian title.
Since the title derives from a historical document of the same name (one I’d heard of BTW, and I can’t be the only one) this just astonishes me. And it also makes me wonder: how can it be that, at a time when many people claim that reading is at an all time low, language seems to have more power than ever before?

If you’re looking for Hill’s The Book of Negroes in the U.S., it’s published by W.W. Norton under the completely inoffensive and innocuous moniker of Someone Knows My Name.

15 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but I'm with Norton on this one. Too many years of a liberal education, I guess. The word? It offends.

Verena in New Rochelle

Wednesday, May 21, 2008 at 5:26:00 PM PDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nah, the book would have gotten more attention and would have sold better using the original name. American publisher's just think they know better, but in this case they didn't. Stupid move.

Saturday, June 14, 2008 at 10:19:00 AM PDT  
Blogger Soul Touch said...

I also think it was a stupid move as well. The Book of Negroes is what it is, why put sugar on it? so it's easier to swallow? I loved the book and felt the name gave it power.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009 at 10:19:00 AM PST  
Anonymous Debra said...

My friend keeps raving about 'Someone Knows My Name' the book I now know is also titled 'The Book of Negroes' in other parts of the world. I feel it would have gotten more attention in the US if the original title not been changed. I am curious why one of the 'anonymous' bloggers thought the word 'negro' offensive. I have never thought of negro as offensive, now 'nigger' is offensive. That is the real 'N' word. Anyway, I am looking forward to reading the book.

Monday, March 9, 2009 at 5:49:00 AM PDT  
Anonymous Phyllis Stone said...

As a black American, the title does not offend me. I too believe the book title, if kept intact, would have caught greater attention in the US. I happen to love the word, Negro. There are so many positive and proud memories associated with it. But then again, I also like calling myself black and have never (nor ever will) prefer the label 'African-American'. I believe that Negro (or black) connects me with all people of the African diaspora around the world. I like that thought:)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009 at 6:26:00 PM PDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The word "negro" means black. It is not what has come to be known as the "n" word. The term African American is an utter misnomer in many instances. The Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court is a light haired, blue eyed native of South Africa. Is anyone calling her an African American, which she obviously is? Skin color is not the only determinant of heritage.

Sunday, June 28, 2009 at 9:55:00 AM PDT  
Anonymous Tandy said...

I am a white 60+ retired US librarian. I purchased The Book of Negroes on vacation in Canada this summer on the recommendation of the store owner. She mentioned that the title had to be changed in America. I didn't get around to reading it until now (middle October). I loved it.
When Meena understands she is recording all the names of the passengers leaving the country in something called the Book of Negroes, I let out an audible "oh!" How could I have never heard about this event? Or about Black Loyalists? What kind of education have I had?

I think it should be republished as The Book of Negroes and it will get a lot more attention (which is what works in the US) and readership.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009 at 4:20:00 PM PDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The book depicts an amazing story that, although fictional, is based on a history in need of being told. Meena's story reflects the life of too many untold. Naming the book after an actual "book of negroes" is brilliant. There will be controversy over anything and differing views mark our right to have voice. I believe the publisher should have kept the name and had the US citizens make their choice to read the book or not. Isn't that what our world is about? There exists an actual "book of negroes", you can't make it go away by not talking about it or saying it's name.

Monday, December 28, 2009 at 4:38:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was astounded to learn "The Book of Negroes" name was changed in the USA.
I have never associated the word "Negroe" with insult to anyone. Ironically, the same book store in which I bought "Someone knows my name" also sold titles using the words "Bitch" and "Jew" in them. Couldn't those words be thought of as insulting given a negative context? Book of Negroes is a wonderful and apt title. I think an entire program discussing this would be very interesting.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 9:40:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why are some people so quick to think of things as offensive? We have young adults on reality shows getting drunk and having sex on camera, girl fights, Guido's talking about how many girls they can have their way with and it's all so amusing and entertaining. Then you have an intelligent book which takes a descriptive look at our History and it's a problem?!? The title grabbed my attention and made me want to know and learn more about the Book of Negroes. I was definitely NOT offended. The novel is absolutely amazing and the title is appropriate and should not have been changed, especially in the U.S.

Friday, March 5, 2010 at 12:58:00 PM PST  
Blogger MacRae said...

I find it funny that book publishers were so worried about the word negro when my 2010 US Census form gives my husband the option of "Black, African-American, or Negro," a form which every American will have in their house. My husband's birth certificate lists him as a "negro." This word was once commonplace in the US vocabulary. I think that the practice of erasing history, especially Black History, from the minds of Americans is at the root of all of American society's problems. Rather than be offended, we need to face our history and learn from it. This is what The Book of Negroes is trying to do, and it's a shame that the title was changed.

Saturday, March 27, 2010 at 1:32:00 PM PDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

when it comes to uplifting and giving credit to black folks nobody seems to want any part of that. when they call us black folks minorityies just because of colour? when it comes to white folks admitting they did wrong they always try to bury and do not realize how many lives they ruined then and now and have never acknowledge what they have done

Sunday, July 18, 2010 at 9:29:00 AM PDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To the above comment: I'm sorry, how can you assume all white people are the same? What a racist comment.

Thursday, January 6, 2011 at 8:46:00 PM PST  
Blogger Robyn said...

I feel the name change was unnecessary, but at the same time, I really loved the part of the book that the American title comes from. When I got to that part, I thought, "I really like that they used this for the title." I wouldn't have minded the other title, though.

Sunday, April 3, 2011 at 8:22:00 PM PDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was born in Haiti. The word "Negro" or Negre has never had a pejoratif sense to it. Only in the United States. Negro or Negre is only a race. Thank you!!

Sunday, April 10, 2011 at 5:07:00 PM PDT  

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