New Documentary focuses on Twain’s Time in Buffalo

For over three decades I poked around in the area of Twain’s connection to my hometown, Buffalo, NY.

Mark Twain’s home in Buffalo (472 Delaware Avenue) as pictured in 1947. The home was demolished in 1963.

I spent countless hours in the Grosvenor Room of the Central Library in downtown Buffalo flipping through pages of the over one hundred volumes of the Local History and Local Biographies scrapbooks, taking notes from pasted newspaper clippings that contained relevant information. I read and cross-referenced entries in Buffalo City Directories of the late 1860s and 1870s searching for names and addresses of Twain’s Buffalo Express colleagues, his fellow renters in a boarding house on East Swan Street while he was still a bachelor, various friends and associates that he socialized with, and neighbors in the posh Delaware District community that he moved into once he married Olivia Langdon. A kind and trusting Buffalo History Museum research librarian once even let me borrow an 1869 Buffalo City Directory that had belonged to Millard Fillmore for a weekend so I could study it at home.

I also logged hour after hour hunched over at cumbersome, hand-cranked, dimly-lit microfilm reader machines at public libraries in Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Elmira, at the former Buffalo Courier-Express library, at the Niagara Gazette library, at the Elmira College archives, and at SUNY Buffalo State’s E.H. Butler Library, scrutinizing each issue of the Buffalo Express, the Buffalo Daily Courier and the Buffalo Commercial-Advertiser from 1869 to 1871 for any references to items related to Twain and the Buffalo he resided in, worked at and wrote about.

Finally, I spent much of those thirty-plus years exploring leads gleaned from obituaries, tips from human sources and hunches that led me to identify and contact living descendants of Twain’s Buffalo professional and social circle who generously shared nuggets of family lore about their forbearer’s association with Twain. I was extremely fortunate to have mentors, too, like Vic Doyno, Bill Loos, Charles Brady, and Martin Fried, and countless other librarians, scholars, friends and family members, to nudge me in the right direction. The research was never tedious or boring. Rather, the detective work was gratifying, often exhilarating. Along the way, I published bits of my findings in academic journals, magazines and newspapers, delivered presentations at Twain conferences and gave illustrated lectures to many service organizations.

Next, I embarked on a book-length project intended to comprehensively document Twain’s affiliation with Buffalo. The result was the publication of Scribblin’ for a Livin’—Mark Twain’s Pivotal Period in Buffalo in 2013. In the four years after its release I participated in over sixty book talks and signings. Occasionally, I met people who provided new insights into Twain’s relationship with Buffalo, and on my own I continued to make startling discoveries. Frankly, I was surprised to be stumbling across heretofore unknown facts in the aftermath of what I had hoped would become the “seminal” book about Twain’s Buffalo experience.

I decided that I wanted to add these new revelations and discoveries in a second, revised version of the book. Unfortunately, after the initial print run of 1,500 copies was fully distributed and sold, the original publisher insisted on only filling subsequent orders “on demand.” These print-on-demand (POD) products were inferior—smaller than the original book, with virtually photocopied pages, and with a lower quality cover–in short, an embarrassing-looking book. Furthermore, when I inquired, the publisher was not at all interested in sponsoring a revised edition with new, additional insights into Twain and Buffalo.

So, in January of 2018 I hired an attorney to pursue termination of my contract. Within a few weeks a legal agreement was struck terminating the contract and reverting all rights for the book to me. By springtime, I had lined up a new publisher, NFB Publishing, and by the end of June, a new, expanded version of Scribblin’ for a Livin’, with thirty additional pages of text, a couple of new images, an improved index, and a colorful new cover design, was available.

Around that time I had noticed on NFB Publishing’s website that one of their book titles—a biography of hall of fame 1920s-30s boxer Jimmy Slattery—was accompanied by an entertaining 10-minute documentary about Slattery; the film was meant to tie-in to the new Slattery biography. When I asked if something similar could be done in conjunction with my expanded edition of Scribblin’, the publisher, Mark Pogodzinski, put me in touch with videographer Kevin Heffernan of Rise Collaborative. I invited Amy Pickard, curator of Rare Books for the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library and supervisor of their Mark Twain Room, and Bob Butler, an Emeritus Professor of English at Canisius College, to be interviewed for their thoughts on Twain’s life and times in Buffalo, and I sought permission ffrom various sources to include still images. Kevin Heffernan filmed the interviews with Bob, Amy, and I in late September and early October of 2018 at Canisius and at the Central Library.

In late November, the 10-minute documentary went public, including a sparkling narration by Holly Kirkpatrick, and extra video “bonus commentaries” by Amy and me. The film covers Twain’s Buffalo period and helps to promote the expanded edition of my book. To my knowledge, it represents the first extended documentary ever produced that focuses on Twain in Buffalo.

COMMENTARY: Scribblin’ For a Livin’ – Mark Twain’s Pivotal Period In Buffalo

BONUS COMMENTARY: Mark Twain Used his Bully Pulpit to both Help his Family, Denounce Racism

BONUS COMMENTARY: Buffalo and Erie County Public Library’s Manuscript of Huckleberry Finn

Relive Twain’s Summer of 1884 with the Final Lecture of the “Trouble Begins” 2018 Season

The fall portion of the 2018-2019 The Trouble Begins Lecture Series, presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies, concludes Wednesday, November 7 when presenter John Bird takes the audience through Twain’s summer of 1884 at Quarry Farm.  The final fall lecture begins at 7:00 p.m. in the Barn at Quarry Farm.  The lecture is free and open to the public.

 

Mark Twain working in the Study, circa 1880’s.

Bird, emeritus professor of English at Winthrop University, will present “‘At the Farm’: Reliving Mark Twain’s 1884 Summer at Quarry Farm.”  As he did for many summers, Mark Twain packed up his family (including dogs and cats, and in this case, a bicycle) and left Hartford for an extended stay at Elmira’s Quarry Farm. Part of his current work-in-progress, a micro-biography of Twain in the year 1884, Bird’s presentation will let audiences relive Twain and his family’s experience that summer. Even though Twain wrote his friend Joe Twichell near the end of the stay that he had not accomplished anything of value during the summer, he actually had an interesting and productive summer: he read a proof of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and made some important revisions; he began a sequel even before he published his novel, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn Among the Indians; he became fully engaged in national politics during the presidential campaign; and he sat for the bust Karl Gerhardt made (twice) at Quarry Farm for the frontispiece of Huck Finn. Just as importantly, he engaged with his family, writing a short but charming personal memoir, “At the Farm,” with humorous and heartwarming anecdotes about his daughters. Living with Mark Twain day-by-day for this summer brings him and his family back to life and gives the audience a window into life at Quarry Farm, a place central to his work and his life.

 

Bird is the author of Mark Twain and Metaphor, as well as a number of articles on Mark Twain. He is a past president of the Mark Twain Circle of America.

 

About The Trouble Begins Lecture Series

In 1984, the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies initiated a lecture series, The Trouble Begins at Eight lecture series.  The title came from the handbill advertising Mark Twain’s October 2, 1866 lecture presented at Maguire’s Academy of Music in San Francisco. The first lectures were presented in 1985. By invitation, Mark Twain scholars present lectures in the fall and spring of each year, in the Barn at Quarry Farm or at Peterson Chapel in Cowles Hall on Elmira College’s campus. All lectures are free and open to the public.

Dwayne Eutsey’s Talk Focuses on Joseph Twichell’s Sermons at Elmira’s Park Church

The 2018 Mark Twain Lecture Series, hosted by the Chemung County Historical Society and the Center for Mark Twain Studies, concludes on Thursday, August 23 at the Chemung Valley Museum (415 East Water St., Elmira).  The lecture begins at 7:00 p.m., and is free and open to the public.

“Never Be in a Hurry to Believe”: How Joe Twichell’s Visits to Elmira and Cornell May Have Saved Huck Finn’s Soul” Dwayne Eutsey, Independent Scholar

Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is known for its biting skepticism toward religion.

Joseph Twichell and Mark Twain

However, there is also a deeper and more complex religious undercurrent coursing through Twain’s classic that is often overlooked or misunderstood by contemporary readers. Dwayne Eutsey will explore how the “conservative-progressive” theology of Twain’s good friend and pastor, Joe Twichell, may have influenced these depths with visits to Elmira’s historic Park Church and Cornell’s Sage Chapel in 1876 as Twain was beginning to write his masterpiece.

Dwayne Eutsey is an independent scholar in Mark Twain studies who is writing a book that examines the significant influence of religious liberalism on Mark Twain’s life and writing. Entitled “There is No Humor in Heaven”: Mark Twain and the Religious Liberalism that Shaped His Life, the book will contribute to the ongoing discussion among scholars and the public regarding Twain’s complicated views on religion.

Mr. Eutsey has also written several pieces for MarkTwainStudies.org, which you can read here.

About Chemung County Historical Society

Founded in 1923, the Chemung County Historical Society is a non-profit educational institution dedicated to the collection, preservation, and presentation of the history of the Chemung Valley region. First chartered by New York State in 1947, today CCHS operates two cultural repositories, the Chemung Valley History Museum and the Booth Library. We are the largest general history museum in our region. Open year round, CCHS tells the history of Chemung County through interactive exhibits, educational programming and lectures for visitors of all ages. The Chemung County Historical Society is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums and receives funding from the New York State Council on the Arts.

About the Center for Mark Twain Studies
The Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies was founded in January 1983 with the gift of Quarry Farm to Elmira College by Jervis Langdon, the great-grand-nephew of Samuel Langhorne Clemens. The Center offers distinctive programs to foster and support Mark Twain scholarship and to strengthen the teaching of Mark Twain at all academic levels. The Center serves the Elmira College community and regional, national, and international students and scholars of Mark Twain.

 

Mark Twain Forum Reviews: The Ballad of Huck & Miguel by Tim DeRoche

Editor’s Note: CMTS is proud to partner with the Mark Twain Forum, which has long been a leading venue for reviews of new publications in Mark Twain Studies. Visit their extensive archive. Follow the link at the bottom of the page to read the complete review. A portion of Amazon purchases made via links from Mark Twain Forum Book Reviews is donated to the Mark Twain Project. 

The Ballad of Huck & Miguel. By Tim DeRoche. Illustrated by Daniel Gonzalez. Redtail Press, 2018. Pp. 270. Hardcover. $26.95. ISBN 978-0-9992776-7-6.

Hardly a season passes without another Twain’t springing up from the fertile soil tilled so long ago by Mark Twain. His influence seems everlasting, and his writings, biography, and cultural iconography continue to inspire bountiful crops of works based upon his writings–borrowing characters, titles, or plots–or stories featuring Twain himself as a character. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn alone has inspired attempts to write sequels (beginning with Twain’s own efforts), modern day adaptations, pastiches, stage and musical and movie versions, and even comic books, graphic novels, and one robotic version. These Twain’ts (they ain’t Twain; hence they are Twain’ts) have sometimes taken successful innovative directions, like Jon Clinch’s masterful Finn (2007), that provided a startling dark counterpoint to the original novel, illuminating the character of Pap Finn and shedding light on Huck’s maternity, or Tim Champlin’s recent time-traveling romps for young readers that insert modern characters into reimagined adventures of Huck, Tom, and Becky. Some Twain’ts succeed and some fail, and the vast majority fall somewhere in between, so the arrival of a successful Twain’t is cause for notice.

The partnership of Tim DeRoche (text) and Daniel Gonzales (illustrations) is just such a success. In their deckle-edged, sturdily bound, beautifully designed ballad, their Huck is what Twain’s Huck was–an abused child looking for a safe haven, who struggles and eventually finds humanity and freedom. Like Twain’s Huck, he finds these things through a series of episodic adventures while escaping a hostile world in the company of another outcast of society–an undocumented immigrant named Miguel. Their adventures take place on the Los Angeles River, a concrete-lined urban version of Twain’s Mississippi River that is just as treacherous as Twain’s wild untamed land and waterscape. No attempt is made to imitate Twain’s original work chapter by chapter, or character by character, or even theme by theme, or trope by trope–after all, it takes place more than 150 years after Twain’s adventure in a sky-scrapery West Coast environment, but the reader will certainly notice that the more things change the more they stay the same.

The story is told by Huck, whose language and childish innocence are a modern reflection of Twain’s Huck. Just as in Twain’s original, the characters don’t all talk alike, nor do they try. Huck uses perfectly descriptive words like rubbleshackle, flabbergassed, seriosity, immediously, meamble, adjusticated, proxicality, satisfactual, and earsplicing, and Miguel, who is this modern-day Huck’s paternal mentor in much the same way Jim mentored and protected Twain’s Huck, often speaks Spanish. Huck’s Pap, as would be expected, speaks like a vulgarian, and other characters speak in still other ways, befitting their roles.

Besides the language and viewpoint, the story itself is structured like Twain’s original, and is not merely episodic, but cinematic, a reminder that Twain’s original novel is a modern novel in every way–not because it is ironic and part of the shift toward realism in its day, but in language, viewpoint, and structure. Likewise, just as E. W. Kemble’s sketchy rough-hewn illustrations are integral to Twain’s original, the forty-five sharp linoleum block prints (linocuts) by Daniel Gonzales are integral to DeRoche’s tale. Skyscrapers loom overhead or in the background dwarfing Huck and Miguel, light and dark are in constant contrast and remind the reader that dangers lurk in the shadows, and the characters they meet seem to lunge from the page at the reader exactly as they lunge at Huck and Miguel.

…continue reading Kevin Mac Donnell’s review on the Mark Twain Forum.

Copyright © 2018 Mark Twain Forum

This review may not be published or redistributed in any medium without permission.

The Mark Twain Forum Review Editor is Barbara Schmidt.

Twain Scholar Ben Click Concludes the Spring 2018 Trouble Begins Series

The spring portion of the 2018 The Trouble Begins Lecture Series, presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies, continues Wednesday, May 30 in Cowles Hall, Elmira College.  The lecture begins at 7:00 p.m., and is free and open to the public.

From Chapter 31 of the first edition (1885) of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

The fourth and final lecture, “My Penchant for Silence: Mark Twain’s Rhetorical Art of the Unspoken” will be given by Ben Click, St. Mary’s College of Maryland. There is no shortage of commentary on Twain’s penchant for talk, how he transliterated and employed it. He perfected the mock oral narrative, precisely rendered of frontier and river vernacular, created the stunning narrative method of Huck Finn’s voice, and crafted countless, repeatable maxims (ironically, one being: “I talk until I have my audience cowed”). Yet, silence permeates the writings of Mark Twain–for example, there are over 150 references to silence in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn alone! Examining its functions is an overlooked, yet integral, aspect of his writing for silence mediates and influences the discourses of his fictive and personal worlds. Rhetorical theorist Cheryl Glenn argues, “silence—the unspoken—is a rhetorical art that can be as powerful as the spoken or written word”. Twain too understood that power: “The unspoken word is capital. We can invest it or we can squander it.” Indeed, Twain crafted the full measure of that art on the page throughout his writing life. This talk examines representative (and powerful) rhetorical uses of silence in the arc of Twain’s fictive writing.

Ben Click is a professor of English at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, director of the Writing & Speaking Center, director of the Twain Lecture Series on American Humor Culture, and the associate editor of the Mark Twain Annual. With Larry Howe and Jim Caron, he published Refocusing Chaplin: A Screen Icon in Critical Contexts. He has given numerous lectures and scholarly papers on Mark Twain, published articles and book chapters on the teaching of writing and writing assessment. He is also working on a book that examines humor as a rhetorical strategy in environmental writing, a genre that is sometimes seen as taking itself too seriously.

About The Trouble Begins Lecture Series

In 1984, the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies initiated a lecture series, The Trouble Begins at Eight lecture series.  The title came from the handbill advertising Mark Twain’s October 2, 1866 lecture presented at Maguire’s Academy of Music in San Francisco. The first lectures were presented in 1985. By invitation, Mark Twain scholars present lectures in the fall and spring of each year, in the Barn at Quarry Farm or at Peterson Chapel in Cowles Hall on Elmira College’s campus. All lectures are free and open to the public.

When Will WE Listen? Mark Twain Through the Lenses of Generation Z

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Duluth Public School District in Minnesota recently decided to drop two novels from their curriculumAdventures of Huckleberry Finn and To Kill A Mockingbird. Jocelyn Chadwick, current President of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and a former Professor at Harvard Graduate School of Educationis both an expert on secondary education in the U.S. and an acclaimed scholar of Mark Twain, having authored The Jim Dilemma: Reading Race in Huckleberry FinnShe takes this opportunity to discuss the importance of these controversial texts to contemporary students. 

“I use the word nigger, and I don’t think much about it. So, I want to read Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for myself so that I can understand the history around the word and think about it again for myself.” – Student, Capitol Preparatory Magnet School (2017)

That we as adult citizens of the United States of America yet find ourselves seemingly inextricably enmeshed in the morass that is racism continues to be disturbing. Of course, parents and we who educate children, especially English language arts teachers, are not only cognizant of troubling social issues, including racism and America’s dark history, but also other isms and the accompanying violence that are increasingly prevalent. Both Minnesota’s Michael Cary and Stephan Witherspoon articulated these concerns most recently within the context of students’ reading two texts: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird:

“The feedback that we’ve received is that it makes many students feel uncomfortable,” said Michael Cary, director of curriculum and instruction for the district. “Conversations about race are an important topic, and we want to make sure we address those conversations in a way that works well for all of our students.”

and

“Our kids don’t need to read the ‘N’ word in school,” Witherspoon said. “They deal with that every day out in the community and in their life. Racism still exists in a very big way.”

At present, because of the social and political and economic upheavals our children have and continue to experience, our English language arts classes — PreK-16 — are the places and spaces where our children can explore, question, analyze, and evaluate serious issues, troubling moments, and sensitive topics, particularly, the issue of RACE.

Interestingly, some who would censor such texts as Huck Finn and Mockingbird often overlook what lies at the core of just how such texts foment conversations and thoughts which have populated our children’s’ minds. Difference and/or the issue of Other permeate students’ minds and experiences; ethnicity including race, comprises a portion but decidedly not the whole of challenges and concerns our children encounter and confront every single day as they head out to school, to community activities, to play, to interact on social media, even to interact with family members.

As a life-long educator and Mark Twain scholar who remains in schools across our country from elementary to college, my question always is, Where are the students’ voices? I agree with Mr. Cary and Mr. Witherspoon that our nation’s children have been surrounded by the dis-comfortable discourse they encounter online, on television, in their communities, and on the streets of America. All too often, our nation’s children see, watch, hear, read, sometimes sing to and/or dance to songs with the history-laden and blood-soaked word nigger, or some variant iteration of it.

Rather than our hiding away and pushing down exploration, analysis, research, and open-discussion, our nation’s English language arts classrooms are safe spaces that do not, as Freire says “deposit” information into students’ minds; rather, today, our ELA classrooms and educators create sustained learning and exploratory opportunities for our students—instructional opportunities where students’ voices and perspectives are encouraged and honed for both daily living and college and career. The literature our students experience from fairy and folk tales to sobering fiction and nonfiction — all allow them to peer deeply into life’s troubles, challenges, discomforts, decisions and consequences, encountering noble and ignoble individuals and actions, but from a safe distance. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird are no different from “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Beloved, Othello, Merchant of Venice or Douglass’ Monthly, to cite a very few formative and critical texts. All are sensitive, all controversial, all totally reflective of the world then and now: verisimilitude. And all contain some form of sensitive, historical usage.

Just what are the consequences of our not fighting on behalf of our children to keep these texts in front of our children? For me the answer to my ever-present query emerges with an interesting juxtaposition between Frederick Douglass and Mark Twain. I frequently reference these two speeches:

Frederick Douglass’ 1852 speech to the citizens of Rochester, NY “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” and Mark Twain’s 1907 speech to The American Society in London on “The Day We Celebrate.” I frequently recommend this pairing to teachers and also share myself with students because Douglass and Twain, without conscious intent, literally recreate a rhetorical call and response, using compelling, written prose. Douglass states his ire and the irony of his being asked to address the import fellow Abolitionists (most of whom are white) place on celebrating a national holiday that neither champions him nor his kind. He concludes the sobering and blistering speech with his call:

At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. Oh! Had I the ability, and could I reach the nation’s ear, I would today pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, the earthquake. . . . The conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be denounced.

55 years after Douglass’ speech, Mark Twain would galvanize an audience with his response:

. . . The Fourth of July, and the one which you are celebrating now, born, in Philadelphia on the 4th of July, 1776—that is English too. It is not American. . . . We have, however, one Fourth of July which is absolutely our own and that is the great proclamation issued forty years ago by that great American . . . Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln’s proclamation, which not only set the black slave free, but set the white man free also. The owner was set free from the burden and offence, that sad condition of things where he was in so many instances a master and owner of slaves he did not want to be. That proclamation set them all free.

Provided even these short excerpts, our students today through their unique lenses hear, see, and reflect quite differently from students of the 20th century: not just equality but equity; not just equity and equality, but both set within an ethical and universal context.

We now exist in an environ where those who should know better regularly give verbal life to such limiting and, yes, racist ideas that if one is not of the specific color, then one cannot write about a different race or ethnicity. Just what does such a stance express to our children of the 21st century? Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Pauline Hopkins, Henry James, Harper Lee, Mark Twain, Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, Jacqueline Woodson, Jimmy Santiago Baca—and so many, many more have shown us this position is one devoid not only substance but also and more importantly, such positions lack Equity, Equality, Ethics. Though many of our children may indeed be challenged and constricted by economic class, gender, sexual orientation, educational attainment, religious practice, as well as other social and personal contexts — regardless of ethnicity and because of it — our consciously limiting access to and for them through the literature experienced in ELA classes is faulty logic and incredibly dangerous.

Students today across our country view works like Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird quite differently than did we, than did our parents, or even our grandparents. Students today view these works as informative because they find themselves ensconced in the 24/7 turmoil Mr. Cary and Witherspoon cite, across racial lines. The classroom, especially the ELA classroom, provides a safe distance through which our nation’s children — all of them — can inquire, examine, and make meaning through their lenses — not ours.

The one and primary caveat about which we ELA educators must remain ever-vigilant: the imperative of better preparing educators who feel they are not wholly prepared for such instruction. We who can help must help. We must help because these books and others like them are important. We dare not censor history, not even its language, for when we do, we sanitize it and our children’s Memory fades forever. How can they learn and move forward into their future without sustaining and always holding onto their and our Memory?

CMTS announces the Spring 2018 “Trouble Begins” Lineup

The Spring 2018 Trouble Begins” Lecture Series

Previous “Trouble Begins” lectures can be found and downloaded in the “Trouble Begins Archives” or by clicking here.

Wednesday, March 21 in Cowles Hall on the Elmira College Campus 7 p.m.

“Mark Twain: Travelin’ Man”  Ron Powers, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, media critic, and New York Times best selling author

Mark Twain’s prodigious travels around his region, then the nation, and then the world, have provided pleasure and scholarly thought for more than a century. Somewhat less appreciated has been the transformative effect his lifelong appetite for exploration (“move–move–Move!”, he wrote in a letter to his family–) produced upon American literature, the legitimacy of common vernacular, and even the nation’s final psychic break with Old Europe. Speaking (mostly) in sentences even shorter than the preceding, I will examine this divine compulsion that hastened America’s literary Declaration of Independence.

Ron Powers is a Pulitzer Prize- and Emmy Award-winning writer and critic.  He is the author or co-author of more than a dozen books, including Flags of Our Fathers (2000), a New York Times #1 bestseller.  He has written extensively on Mark Twain and his literature, including a biography, Mark Twain: A Life (2005), also a New York Times bestseller.  His current book, No One Cares About Crazy People: The Chaos and Heartbreak of Mental Health in America (2017), has been named a finalist for the PEN/E.O Wilson Literary Science Writing Award.  It has also been named “Notable Book of the Year” by the Washington Post and one of the Top Ten books of the year by People magazine.

Wednesday, May 9 in The Barn at Quarry Farm 7 p.m.

“High Style in Mid-Nineteenth Century Elmira: The Architecture and Interiors of the Jervis Langdon Mansion” Walter G. Ritchie, Jr., Independent Scholar

Jervis Langdon

By the 1860s, Jervis Langdon, Mark Twain’s father-in-law, was ready to create a home that announced his status as one of Elmira’s most successful and influential businessmen.  After purchasing a house built in the 1850s, he immediately arranged to have it enlarged and remodeled in the fashionable Italianate style. The result was an imposing three-story brownstone mansion that was counted among the largest and most elegant residences in the city.  Langdon then commissioned Pottier & Stymus, one of the leading cabinetmaking and decorating firms in New York City, to decorate and furnish a number of the principal rooms on the first floor of the house.  After her husband’s death in 1870, Olivia Lewis Langdon continued to patronize the firm, purchasing bedroom suites and other furniture.  This lecture will explore the architecture, interiors, and furnishings of the Langdon mansion, sadly destroyed in the 1930s, but well documented by period photographs showing both the exterior and interior.  Surviving pieces of furniture made by Pottier & Stymus, now preserved in various museum and university collections, will be discussed to illustrate how the Langdons, through the guidance of the firm, demonstrated their good taste and familiarity with the latest modes in household decoration and furnishing.

Walter G. Ritchie, Jr. is an independent decorative arts scholar and architectural historian specializing in nineteenth-century American architecture, interiors, and furniture.  He has written, lectured, and taught courses on a variety of decorative arts subjects, in addition to having served as director and curator of a number of historic house museums.  He is currently researching and writing a book on the history, furniture, and interior decoration of Pottier & Stymus.

Wednesday, May 16 in The Barn at Quarry Farm 7 p.m.

“Raising the Bar: Satirizing Law in Puddn’head Wilson and The Sellout” Rebecca Nisetich, University of Southern Maine

From the Harper & Brothers edition (1889) of Puddn’Head Wilson

This lecture explores how American writers use satire to expose the ways that “race” operates in our political institutions, social practices, and cultural discourses. In Puddn’head Wilson, Twain shows what happens when legal discourse is taken to its logical extreme. Contemporary novelist Paul Beatty similarly satirizes America’s racial structure and—like Twain—he takes aim at the legal system that support it. Twain’s novel is produced in the legal wrangling leading up to the Plessy v. Ferguson decision; Beatty’s novel responds to the present-day nadir of African American jurisprudence: the 2013 Supreme Court ruling which overturned critical aspects of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the effect of the subprime lending crisis on African American homeowners, and the spate of “Not Guilty” verdicts in the deaths of African American men. As Twain, Beatty, and others demonstrate, we cannot escape these fundamentally racist legal and social structures until we have created other viable options. As racial satirist Patrice Evans writes, “When we laugh…we are making light, but [we are] also setting the groundwork for raising the bar.” For these American writers, satire becomes a powerful means for undermining racist narratives.

Rebecca Nisetich directs the Honors Program at the University of Southern Maine, where she teaches inter-disciplinary courses on race and identity in the U.S. Her manuscript, Contested Identities, explores characters whose identities are not clearly articulated, defined, or knowable. The project underscores indeterminacy—as opposed to ambiguity or “mixture”—as enabling writers to undermine the “one-drop” conceptions of race that dominated the discourse on race in early twentieth century America. Her essays have appeared in African American Review, Studies in American Naturalism, and elsewhere.

Wednesday, May 23 in Cowles Hall on the Elmira College Campus 7 p.m.

“An American Cannibal at Home: Comic Diplomacy in Mark Twain’s Hawai’i” Todd Nathan Thompson, Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Image from Chapter 73 of the first edition (1872) of Roughing It

During and after his 1866 visit to Hawai’i, Mark Twain wrote about the place, its people, and their relationship to the United States in several different genres: newspaper articles, first as a correspondent for the Sacramento Union (1866) and then for other papers, including the New York Herald; a popular lecture titled “Our Fellow Savages of the Sandwich Islands” (1866-1873); two travelogues, Roughing It (1872) and A Tramp Abroad (1880), and an unfinished novel (1884). In my talk I will investigate the comic strategies he employs in these works—particularly self-effacement, satiric levelling, comic foils, physical comedy, and sarcastic irony—to show how Twain leveraged the ambivalence of social humor’s to stoke Americans’ interest in Hawai’i while simultaneously defending Hawaiians from “other”-ing stereotypes that—even as early as 1866—he saw as intimately tied to Americans’ imperialist urges.

Todd Nathan Thompson is Associate Professor of English at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where he also serves as Assistant Chair of the English Department. He is author of The National Joker: Abraham Lincoln and the Politics of Satire (Southern Illinois University Press, 2015). Thompson’s work on political satire and pre-1900 American literature has also appeared in Scholarly Editing, Early American Literature, ESQ, Nineteenth-Century Prose, Journal of American Culture, Studies in American Humor, Teaching American Literature, the Blackwell Companion to Poetic Genre, and elsewhere. He is currently at work on a new book project entitled Savage Laughter: Nineteenth-Century American Humor and the South Seas.

Wednesday, May 30 in Cowles Hall on the Elmira College Campus 7 p.m.

Image from Chapter 31 of the first edition (1885) of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

“’My penchant for silence’: Mark Twain’s Rhetorical Art of the Unspoken” Ben Click, St. Mary’s College of Maryland

There is no shortage of commentary on Twain’s penchant for talk, how he transliterated and employed it.  He perfected the mock oral narrative, precisely rendered of frontier and river vernacular, created the stunning narrative method of Huck Finn’s voice, and crafted countless, repeatable maxims (Ironically, one being:  “I talk until I have my audience cowed”).  Yet, silence permeates the writings of Mark Twain–for example, there are over 150 references to silence in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn alone!  Examining its functions is an overlooked, yet integral, aspect of his writing for silence mediates and influences the discourses of his fictive and personal worlds. Rhetorical theorist Cheryl Glenn argues, “silence—the unspoken—is a rhetorical art that can be as powerful as the spoken or written word” (9).  Twain too understood that power:  “The unspoken word is capital.  We can invest it or we can squander it.”  Indeed, Twain crafted the full measure of that art on the page throughout his writing life.  This talk examines representative (and powerful) rhetorical uses of silence in the arc of Twain’s fictive writing.

Ben Click is a Professor of English at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, Director of the Writing & Speaking Center, Director of the Twain Lecture Series on American Humor Culture, and the Associate Editor of The Mark Twain Annual.  With Larry Howe and Jim Caron, he published Refocusing Chaplin:  A Screen Icon in Critical Contexts (Scarecrow, 2013). He has given numerous lectures and scholarly papers on Mark Twain, published articles and book chapters on the teaching of writing and writing assessment. He is also working on a book that examines humor as a rhetorical strategy in environmental writing, a genre that is sometimes seen as taking itself too seriously.

For a PDF copy of the Spring 2018 “Trouble Begins” flyer, click here.

About The Trouble Begins at Eight Lecture Series

In 1984, the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies initiated a lecture series, The Trouble Begins at Eight. The title came from the handbill advertising Mark Twain’s October 2, 1866 lecture presented at Maguire’s Academy of Music in San Francisco. The first lectures were presented in 1985.

The lectures are now held annually in the fall and spring of each year. By invitation, Mark Twain scholars present lectures in the Barn at Quarry Farm or in Cowles Hall on the Elmira College campus in Elmira, NY. Each lecture is digitally recorded after the event and can be downloaded.  This ever-growing digital archive can be found in the “Trouble Begins Archives” or by clicking here.

Dispatches from Quarry Farm: Huck! Speak Up. We Need You.

Caretaker Steve Webb and his son are the only year-round residents of Quarry Farm. Steve provides us with occasional, not always altogether reliable, updates from the premises.

The word and all it carries.

My son and I live in the space where Huck and Tom were called into existence. He’s nine and quickly approaching age that the boys were in Mark Twain’s stories. So it only seems appropriate that I’d read the great novels to him here at Quarry Farm. But how do I explain the struggles and cruelty, the dehumanizing hate and ignorance, the misguided belief and responsibility that is all packed into that one word—a box that will bust open, I know, the first moment it reluctantly passes over my lips as I read.

When I was young I was inadvertently armed with that word—definitely old enough to know better, but I didn’t. I just assumed it ranked somewhere near the “F-word” on the scale of words I don’t say in front of my mom. I was sitting at the lunch table with my little school buddies and I flung it out like it was funny, like just the word itself was a punch line. The table went quiet. They all looked down and through the tops of their eyes, at me, then over at Matt. His brown face darkened with red and his eyes shot me with shock, pain, anger and a cutting finality all in a split second. He grabbed his books and he left. He never came back to the lunch table again for the rest of the year. My apology later in the locker room was a jittery, stuttering, failure that he didn’t even turn to acknowledge. I never saw him again. Yes, we were in classes together and passed in the hallway but all I saw was a stoic black face looking straight ahead. When I see that same look on people of color today, I can’t help but think about it; it’s probably not a coincidence.

The real tragedy is that I didn’t even mean it in any malicious way. I was merely insensitive and ignorant. I was irresponsible. I think Matt took it so hard because I was nice and shy and smiled a lot. He had known me for years and probably trusted me as someone wasn’t a racist, then out of nowhere I let that word fly. It probably made him question his sense of judgment. Is everyone a racist?

More than twenty-five years later I still think about this nearly everyday. How do I prevent my son from making the same mistake? For him it’s not even the deeper problem of unlearning obvious prejudice that has been conditioned by school, church, and society, as Huck chose to—and as an unfortunate segment of our population still needs to. It’s the conveyance of responsibility and empathy and the willingness to stay open and teachable. It’s the awareness that society and culture still place those biases in our heads like air, invisible and everywhere, and as a white man raising a little white boy the responsibility to know them and correct them as they arise is as important as any lesson I teach him. But how do I convey all this to a nine-year-old boy who displays, as I try not to cringe, more traits of a young, outspoken, mischievous, Tom Sawyer than of the sensitive and thoughtful Huck Finn? How the hell should I know?

Again, jittery and stuttering—apparently my default—I explained the word he will soon hear me read over and over. My language smoothed out and I tried to be objective. I told him that this word was not mine or his or any other white person’s word and outside of this story you’ll never hear me say it. I told him it was the ugliest and most hurtful word in the English language.

“Worse than the F—word?”

“Not even in the same league.” I said in a low gravely whisper that pulled his attention closer.

I think he got it. His stare was intense and earnest as he lay tucked into his little bed with a look of impending punishment. Too much? In this case too much is better than too little. Too much may not be possible.

As I began to read and I settled into the best Hal Holbrook drawl I could muster he began to lighten. See, a mischievous boy will quickly recognize a fellow artist when he sees one. He fell into Hannibal and the “hymn to boyhood.” I had to explain much of the language, unfamiliar to a 9-year-old in 2017, but as I got into the flow of reading, he got into the flow of hearing. I just hope he heard everything.

Weeks later when I was picking him up from school he had a story to tell me. He started off jittery and stuttering: hyper, not scared.

“You know Zach in my class? Not my cousin Zach, but the Zach from my class.” (He clarifies this every time….I get it.)

“Yep.”

“He said that word today! The word from Mark Twain (I know, one step at a time.) He called Mariah that right to her face! I got up and said ‘You can’t say that!’ and told the lunch lady. He got suspended.”

Most of the time the job of parenting haunts me with two questions. First, How am I screwing this kid up? I have a long list of unfavorable answers. And second, What kind of world am I leaving him with? I rarely have even one good answer. I wish that Matt hadn’t had to experience my ignorance way back then, but at least it helped Mariah see that she wasn’t alone and she didn’t have to leave the lunch table— and I hope she never adopts that stoic stare.

As for those two haunting questions of parenting, with about the frequency of Haley’s comet you get ‘em both right.

Dr. Sarah Ingle Continues The Park Church Lecture Series

The 2017 Park Church Summer Lecture Series, presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College, continues Wednesday, June 21 at 7:00 p.m., with the lecture, “Conjuring the Superstitions of a Nation: Magic, Memory, and Huckleberry Finn,” presented by Sarah Ingle, English lecturer at the University of Virginia.

In Following the Equator (1897), Mark Twain wrote, “Let me make the superstitions of a nation and I care not who makes its laws or its songs either.” Yet, despite this indication that Twain viewed superstition as a supremely powerful social force, scholars have had surprisingly little to say about the role of superstition in Twain’s most famous novel. From Jim’s fortune-telling hairball to Tom Sawyer’s “witch pie,” magic and folklore are much more than mere manifestations of “local color” and minstrel show humor in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Conjuring is Twain’s metaphor for the twin powers of memory and prediction that are at the heart of the novel’s critique of post-Reconstruction America. In Huckleberry Finn, conjure becomes a metaphor for two competing ways of reading: Jim’s fortune-telling and Huck’s transformative retrospection.

Sarah Ingle received her Ph.D. in English literature from the University of Virginia in 2014, specializing in 19th-century American literature and African American literature. She has visited Elmira several times as a Quarry Farm Research Fellow and as a presenter at several conferences. She has also taught a class on “Huck Finn and Cultural Conflict” and has delivered conference papers and published articles about the works of Mark Twain, Charles Chesnutt, Edgar Allan Poe, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Pauline Hopkins, and others. This talk is adapted from a chapter of her book manuscript, Conjured Memories: Race, Place, and Cultural Memory in the American Conjure Tale, which she hopes to publish.

The Park Church Lecture Series is free and open to the public.  Doors open at 6:30 p.m. for guided tours of The Park Church, with lectures beginning at 7:00 p.m.  The Church is located at 208 W. Gray Street, Elmira.