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Information About Suntrust Bank v. Houghton Mifflin Company

April 12, 2001
Contact: Patti Embry-Tautenhan
BSMG Worldwide

Leading Authors and Scholars Join Houghton Mifflin in Effort to Protect Author’s First Amendment Rights

BOSTONTwenty leading authors joined Houghton Mifflin today in opposition to the efforts of the Mitchell Trusts to prohibit the publication of Alice Randall’s book The Wind Done Gone.

The 20 authors, among them Harper Lee, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., Shelby Foote, Nell Irvin Painter, John Berendt, and Charles Johnson, signed a letter in support of Houghton Mifflin’s effort to prevent an injunction by the Mitchell Trusts against publication of The Wind Done Gone. The letter was filed in the Northern District Court in Atlanta, where the case is being heard.

Randall’s book, written in the form of a diary by a mulatto daughter of a southern planter, is a parody of Gone With the Wind. The Mitchell estate has filed a lawsuit against Houghton Mifflin seeking a restraining order and preliminary injunction to block publication of the book.

"The discussion of the painful legacy of slavery is ongoing among American citizens across the nation," the letter states. "Because of the extraordinary popularity of Gone With the Wind and its unique mythic status, Mitchell’s novel has become a prime source of knowledge about plantation life for much of mainstream America. Now is the time for the American public to hear another perspective on this legend."

"Publishing rests on the two principles of copyright and the First Amendment," said Houghton Mifflin Executive Vice President Wendy Strothman. "Houghton Mifflin has vigorously supported its authors and protected those principles since its founding in 1832. We have included the letters of support because we want to ensure that everyone understands the public interest and creative issues central to this dispute."

This issue of protecting the First Amendment in regards to creative expression has attracted many well-known literary figures. Lee, author of To Kill A Mockingbird; Schlesinger, Pulitzer Prize–winning historian; Berendt, author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil; Painter, professor of American History at Princeton and author of Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol; Foote, author of The Civil War: A Narrative; and Johnson, Professor of English at the University of Washington and author of Middle Passage, among others, signed the joint statement. In addition, Pat Conroy, author of The Prince of Tides and Beach Music, and scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. have submitted individual affidavits in support of Houghton Mifflin.

"Alice Randall’s book is a parody and a grand send-off of Gone With the Wind," writes Conroy. "She is uncommonly talented and a great welcome to American letters. If you censor her book, then Saturday Night Live has no right to exist, nor does any comic strip, or late-night TV show, or any novelist who makes fun of another author or book."

Wrote Gates, chair of the Department of Afro-American Studies at Harvard University, "Scholars have long established that parody is at the heart of African American expression, because it is a creative mechanism for the exercise of political speech, sentiment, and commentary on the part of people who feel themselves oppressed or maligned and wish to protest that condition of oppression or misrepresentation. The African American tradition abounds with examples of parody, and The Wind Done Gone is only the most recent instance of a long and humorous tradition."

Houghton Mifflin is a leading publisher of textbooks, instructional technology, assessments, and other educational materials for elementary and secondary schools and colleges. The company also publishes an extensive line of reference works and fiction and nonfiction for adults and young readers. The company’s Internet site can be found at www.hmco.com.

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Suntrust Bank v. Houghton Mifflin Company Court Papers

Houghton Mifflin Company's Press Statements

Questions and Answers about this dispute
Letter of Support
List of Authors
Biography of Alice Randall

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