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Since the title derives from a historical document of the same name (one I’d heard of BTW, and I can’t be the only one) this just astonishes me.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.


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 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 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 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 5:49:00 AM PDT  

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