Thursday, July 23, 2015

Editors’ filters reshape authors’ worlds

At Huffington Post, Deborah Plummer examines the impact of an editor upon the radically different portrayal of Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, compared to his depiction as “racist-rhetoric ranting, card-carrying member of the Klu Klux Klan” in Lee’s Go Set a Watchman.

“As is now widely known, in 1957, after ten rejections, Go Set a Watchman fell into the hands of veteran editor, Tay Hohoff, who painstakingly worked with Lee over a two-year period editing the book into what we have come to know and love as To Kill a Mockingbird. Lee wrote Go Set a Watchman with a character who was a racist. Hohoff, raised as Quaker, shaped the racist character into a character that was a progressive white hero. This editorial change is remarkable not just from the standpoint that by doing so Hohoff created an enduring classic, but with that change she also reinforced the myth of the white savior, turning our attention to revering and honoring the Atticuses of the world while doing little to eliminate the structural racism that gave birth to the character’s nobility.”

Plummer argues that editors have “that same privilege today,” of using “their own personal filter” to shape worlds constructed by writers. And she argues that to truly achieve greater diversity in publishing, these “select gatekeepers” need to adopt a broader worldview.

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