King Historian Introduces His New 'Autobiography'
Stanford University professor Clayborne Carson read excerpts from his new book, which he described as an autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr., in a speech last night at the Barker Center.
Carson, who is also the director and senior editor of the Martin Luther King Jr. Papers Project, pieced together King's writings, correspondences and interviews into what reads as a firstperson narrative of King's life.
In response to an audience member's question, Carson acknowledged that his work has sparked some controversy. Carson said he thought he was able to place King's words in the proper context, even though he never met the civil rights leader.
"I think I'm more aware of the context than most book editors," Carson said. "I've spent more time studying King's [papers] than he spent in his public life producing them."
Carson did say he faced some problems in editing the book.
"Putting it together was difficult because I was doing something I don't think had been attempted before, and so I didn't know what the rules of the game were," he said. "How could I make it flow seamlessly, so that readers aren't aware that it's switching from document to document?"
The passage Carson read was drawn from a letter King wrote to his fiancée six months after they met. The letter symbolizes the book's importance, Carson said, because it has never been published previously and sheds new light on King's life.
"King wrote his own autobiography, but it was just dispersed among all his writings," he said. "He was very aware of the need to write down what happened in his life."
The preface to Carson's book explains that the autobiography is a chronological compilation of King's writings. Carson says he made minor changes in grammar, such as changing verb tenses, pronouns, references to time and spelling.
Still, Carson said, the book represents King's own words. "We have very different writing styles--King has a very leisurely way of telling a story," he said. "I had to let it go--I could have told the story in half the space, but that would not be King."
Carson was introduced by Geyser Carson began working on the project in 1985,upon the request of King's widow, Corretta ScottKing. Thus far the Martin Luther King Jr. PapersProject, which is associated with StanfordUniversity and King's estate, has produced threevolumes of a planned 14-volume compilation ofKing's works
Carson began working on the project in 1985,upon the request of King's widow, Corretta ScottKing.
Thus far the Martin Luther King Jr. PapersProject, which is associated with StanfordUniversity and King's estate, has produced threevolumes of a planned 14-volume compilation ofKing's works