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'My Jim': A New Take on a Twain Classic

American literature is rich with accounts of Antebellum life from the perspective of white slaveholders. Last year's The Known World, by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edward P. Jones, looked at slavery from the black perspective -- in this case, both master and slave were black. In the mid-1960s, the late Margaret Walker wrote Jubilee as an answer to Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind, a classic that was largely considered a mythological view of slavery -- but one that was comfortable for white Americans to believe.

Nancy Rawles' new novel My Jim is the story of Sadie Watson, the wife of "Nigger Jim," as he was referred to in the Mark Twain classic Huckleberry Finn. Jim was the escaped slave who took the journey down the Mississippi (and into American literary history) with runaway Huck.

Rawles says that Jim mentions his family at least twice in Twain's book, but that the classic divulges no details about who this woman was. Starting from that point, Rawles created Sadie, a woman who never resigned herself to involuntary servitude, and who was Jim's lifelong love.

Rawles relied upon new research revealing more about the daily lives of slaves to show how Jim and Sadie -- like real-life slaves in the South -- created family in the midst of chaos, and, whenever they could, sought stability in an environment that offered none. My Jim is an enduring love story as much as it is a chronicle of slavery and resistance to it.

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Karen Grigsby Bates is the Senior Correspondent for Code Switch, a podcast that reports on race and ethnicity. A veteran NPR reporter, Bates covered race for the network for several years before becoming a founding member of the Code Switch team. She is especially interested in stories about the hidden history of race in America—and in the intersection of race and culture. She oversees much of Code Switch's coverage of books by and about people of color, as well as issues of race in the publishing industry. Bates is the co-author of a best-selling etiquette book (Basic Black: Home Training for Modern Times) and two mystery novels; she is also a contributor to several anthologies of essays. She lives in Los Angeles and reports from NPR West.