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The lecture schedule for Elmira 2017: The Eighth International Conference on the State of Mark Twain Studies is now available. Over three days, participants of the conference will have access to twenty thematic paper sessions, consisting of sixty individual papers. In addition, participants can attend eight topic-focused panels, including: “The Assault of Laughter: A Roundtable” (Judith Yaross Lee, Chair) “The Place of Mark Twain in Digital Humanities Today” (Jeanne Campbell Reesman, Chair) “No Paine, No (Posthumous) Twain” (Terry Oggel, Chair) Read more…


On this day 132 years ago the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported the first “banning” of Adventures of Huckleberry, by the Concord Public Library. Controversy has followed the novel ever since, with the most recent ruckus occurring just a few months ago in a Virginia school district. Recent attempts to suppress the book are prompted by its racially offensive language instead of snobby objections to “rough, ignorant dialect.” Both cases, however, seem fixated on the novel’s admittedly rude linguistic surface while missing the deeper moral undercurrents. Read more…


In 1867, Mark Twain addressed letters to Missouri expressing his disgust at the thought of women’s voting rights. He expressed that women should stick to their “feminine little trifles” that consisted of “babies…and knitting.” Twain speculated that women were not capable of making decisions about politics and should let the “natural bosses do the voting” instead. Twain described women as one might antique furniture: “an ornament to the place that she occupies.” Women are glorified stepping stones, everyday tools to Read more…


Friends of Woodlawn present ‘Close to Clemens‘ monologues, Stephen Foster music Eight friends and family members of Samuel Clemens who are buried close to the famous author in Elmira’s Woodlawn Cemetery will be “resurrected” on Sunday, March 26, to tell their stories. They will appear in a program entitled “Close to Clemens” at The Park Church, 211 Gray Street, Elmira, beginning at 3:00 p.m. The presentation will include monologues interspersed with music by Stephen Foster, a Clemens contemporary with strong ties Read more…


In The Innocents Abroad (1869), Mark Twain’s first bestseller and one of the most successful travel narratives in American literature, the acclaimed young author singled out and celebrated Damascus in his descriptions of Syria. In 1867, as a 32-year-old reporter for The Daily Alta California embedded with the Quaker City pilgrims, Twain had visited the Middle Eastern country. Highlighting the paradisiacal aspect ascribed to Damascus throughout history, Twain recorded that: In March 2016 I travelled from Dubai to Hartford, Connecticut, Read more…


“Fake news” isn’t really anything new. Robert Darnton points out in a recent essay in the New York Review of Books that “the concoction of alternative facts is hardly rare, and the equivalent of today’s poisonous, bite-size texts and tweets can be found in most periods of history, going back to the ancients.” As noted previously in this blog, in his early career as a journalist Mark Twain dabbled in this ignoble practice himself. He confessed in a speech he gave Read more…


James Baldwin said surprisingly little about Mark Twain. I say “surprising” because Baldwin was a renowned analyst of U.S. literary history. Many of the contemporaneous writers with whom he associated, both personally and professionally, published commentaries on Twain’s works, especially Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In many cases, these commentaries were subsumed into persistent public debates about the “N-word” and the appropriateness of Twain’s most famous novel in public school classrooms, where it was then a staple. Baldwin, one of the Read more…


Quarry Farm’s only year-round resident, Caretaker Steve Webb, provides us with occasional, not altogether reliable, updates from the premises. To paraphrase the friendly ghost with whom he shares his home, Mr. Webb’s dispatches include eminently plausible fictions, mildly exaggerated truths, and an exhaustless mine of stupendous lies. The rain froze in a thin black sheet beneath two inches of rapidly-accumulated snow, but that didn’t shake this hearty Northeasterner. I exited the driveway with a confidence that promptly slipped away like Read more…


The Center for Mark Twain Studies is a pivotal partner in an ongoing research project that will culminate at the 8th International State of Mark Twain Studies Conference in August, following a lecture and exhibit in Rouen, France, in June. Did you know that at different times, Clemens acquired, read, and heavily annotated a number of authorities that he later acknowledged in a list at the beginning of his historical novel Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc? And that a Read more…


In marking the beginning of Black History Month the other day, President Donald Trump commended Frederick Douglass as “an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice.” Quibbles over the President’s use of the present tense aside, most would agree that Douglass did in fact accomplish something amazing in escaping slavery to become a leading abolitionist and visionary social reformer/statesman during a turbulent time in our nation’s history, and whose powerful, Read more…


Drawing by Elmira College student, Samantha Berger


Mark Twain described his Autobiography as an “apparently systemless system…a complete and purposed jumble,” and so it is, though it is not wholly without method. Over the course of its composition Twain relied heavily on a biography begun by his daughter, Susy Clemens, when she was just thirteen. Twain would copy a selection from “Susy’s Biography” then expound upon the events and episodes sparsely described therein. This ritual provoked both humor – the celebrated septuagenarian writer debating the details of his Read more…

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