“This American Life” recently featured the little-known backstory of Forrest Carter, author of the book The Education of Little Tree. The book has become a modern classic and is read in high school literature classes across the country.
“The American Life” traces the genesis of this book through the dark past of its author Forrest Carter. The result is a riveting piece of Southern history. But it is also a story about hermeneutics. Perhaps what it illustrates above all is the central role that authorial intent plays in our interpretation of texts. Is The Education of Little Tree a story of humanity and conservation, or is it a thinly veiled tribute to Jim Crow racism? I don’t know if we know the answer to that question. But the answer really does come down to what the author intended when he wrote it. Once you hear the author’s story, there is more than a reasonable doubt about his good intentions.
You can listen to the story below beginning at 7:15. Highly recommended.