2021 CMTS Lectures Recap

In 1985, the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies inaugurated The Trouble Begins at Eight lecture series. The title comes from a handbill advertising Mark Twain’s October 2, 1866 lecture presented at Maguire’s Academy of Music in San Francisco. The lectures are now held in the Fall and Spring of each year, either in the Barn at Quarry Farm or at Peterson Chapel in Cowles Hall on Elmira College’s campus. In 2016, CMTS expanded the series, creating the Park Church Summer Lectures Series, hosting talks in Elmira’s historic Park Church.  Founded in 1846 by a group of abolitionists, The Park Church has been a strong presence in Elmira’s history and some of its congregation were family members and close friends to Mark Twain. Additionally, CMTS works closely with the Chemung County Historical Society to help facilitate CCHS’s own lecture series.

All CMTS lectures are free and open to the public. CMTS has been recording lectures since it began the series. A large number of past lectures are available to listen to all over again in the Trouble Begins Archive.

In 2021 CMTS held and/or sponsored 14 public lectures. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic some lecturers had to pre-record their talks and display them exclusively online; while other scholars had the opportunity to present their lecture live at Quarry Farm or the Park Church.

“Memory-Building and Memorializing in Elmira: Mark Twain and John W. Jones in Relation” 

Jillian Spivey Caddell, University of Kent, Canterbury, United Kingdom

When Mark Twain’s sister-in-law Susan Crane was asked in 1896 to contribute to a study of Elmira’s abolitionists, she turned to John W. Jones, the celebrated Elmiran who escaped slavery and became a leader of Black civic and religious communities, as the last living vessel of these local memories. This lecture will think about Jones’s contributions to Elmira’s collective memory and its memorial landscape, using geographical proximity as well as personal familiarity to place Jones and Mark Twain in conversation. Jones is most famous today for a remarkable act of care: burying 3,000 Confederate soldiers who died at Elmira Prison with respect during the Civil War. Yet Jones’s legacy extends far beyond this one act. By placing his life story in relation to Twain’s fictionalized portraits of memory and storytelling inflected by the vestiges of slavery, this lecture offers a study in how Elmira’s dynamic monumental landscapes illuminate post-Civil War intersections of race and memory that continue to be arbitrated today.  

Jillian Spivey Caddell is a lecturer in nineteenth-century American literature at the University of Kent and a tutor at the University of Cambridge’s Institute for Continuing Education. She teaches and writes about Civil War literature, art and culture. Her work has appeared in The New England QuarterlyJ19Apollo: The International Art Magazine, the C19 Podcast, and a variety of edited collections, including a chapter in the forthcoming Cambridge Companion to Literature of the Civil War and Reconstruction, from which this lecture is drawn. She is also working with Kristen Treen of the University of St. Andrews on the Civil War Monuments Database, a digital map of American Civil War monuments with data, interpretive essays, teaching resources, and more.

“Complementary Genius: The Sardonic Humor of Kurt Vonnegut and Mark Twain”

Richard Coronado, South Texas College

Many readers have found similarities in the works of Mark Twain and Kurt Vonnegut. The day after Vonnegut’s death in 2007, The New York Times compared Vonnegut’s corpus to Twain’s: “Like Twain, Mr. Vonnegut used humor to tackle the basic questions of human existence…He also shared with Twain a profound pessimism.” A philosophical consistency undergirds their ostensible conclusions about a mechanical universe, a determinist grip on mankind’s agency, and our inability to ameliorate the suffering that pervades human existence. The similarities in style, tone, subject matter, tropes, and motifs are so striking, in fact, that one must wonder if Vonnegut was guilty of what Twain himself confessed committing, “unconscious plagiarism.” Twain’s influence on Vonnegut is so pronounced, one must conclude a conscious borrowing. When one reads Vonnegut, they may as well be reading Twain, and, conversely, reading Twain feels like reading Vonnegut. A host of examples illustrating the parallels demonstrate how Vonnegut’s indebtedness transcends mere coincidence and how his work is in many ways a tribute to his predecessor.

Richard Coronado teaches English classes at South Texas College. He has presented several papers on the work of Kurt Vonnegut, Katherine Mansfield, and others. His literary interests include the philosophical novel, literature of the absurd, and modern and postmodern poetry. As an educator, he organizes annual lecture series that focus on the humanities, on social issues, and on literature that influences social thought. He lives in Weslaco, Texas.

“Twain’s Hartford”

Jodi DeBruyne, The Mark Twain House & Museum

Mallory Howard, The Mark Twain House & Museum

Samuel Clemens, his wife Olivia, and their three daughters, Susy, Clara, and Jean, called Hartford, Connecticut home for twenty years. Clemens called it the happiest and most productive period of his life. At the time Hartford was one of the wealthiest cities in the nation, booming with industry, publishing, and the arts. Today their Hartford house, which Clemens referred to as “the loveliest home that ever was,” is now the Mark Twain House & Museum (MTH&M). Join Assistant Curator Mallory Howard and Director of Collections Jodi DeBruyne as they take you through the House and the MTH&M collections using art, artifacts, and archives to share stories about the family’s daily lives and their engagement with the Hartford community. 

The Mark Twain House & Museum’s Director of Collections Jodi DeBruyne and Assistant Curator Mallory Howard share the responsibility for the care, exhibition, and interpretation of the Mark Twain House and the museum’s collection of more than 20,000 artifacts and documents. Howard has aided countless researchers, done important work herself on Twainian subjects, and has spoken on aspects of Twain’s life and work in venues ranging from scholarly conferences to Mississippi riverboats. She earned her B.A.in American History at Central Connecticut State University and was inducted into the national history honor society Phi Alpha Theta. She holds a certification from the Modern Archives Institute in Washington, D.C. DeBruyne has worked at museums across the country including the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, VA, the City Museum in Juneau, AK, and the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor, ME. She earned her B.A. in Art History at Old Dominion University and her M.A. in Museum Studies from Johns Hopkins University. 

“Mark Twain’s Roadshow: Travels, Travails, and the Inspirations of a Literary Giant”

Laura DeMarco, Independent Scholar

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts,” Mark Twain wrote in 1869. Few writers saw more of America, or the world, than Twain — a Southerner, Westerner, miner, river boat pilot and international traveler who died a Yankee. In her book Mark Twain’s America Then and Now, Laura DeMarco traces Samuel Clemens’ life journey through 69 major locales that shaped the great writer. His biography is told chronologically against the backdrop of the places where he lived and worked and visited. It begins in a one-room cabin in rural Missouri and ends in a sprawling mansion in Connecticut. In her talk, Laura will bring these sites and other lesser known stops on Clemens travels alive by pairing historic images with modern day viewpoints of the same location from the same angle and perspective —  revealing how many of the sights important to Twain are with us today, and how his legacy continues to influence so much of American culture.

Laura DeMarco is a writer, historian and lecturer in Cleveland, Ohio. She is the author of the books Lost ClevelandCleveland Then and Now and Mark Twain’s America Then and Now (Pavilion Books). Her newest book, Lost Civil War: The Disappearing Legacy of America’s Greatest Conflict (Pavilion/Rizzoli) will be released in June 2021. Laura spent 20 years at the Cleveland Plain Dealer daily newspaper, and has written for a wide range of national publications. She is a frequent commenter on Cleveland television stations. She specializes in history, lost landmarks and literature. She also writes about historical preservation, architecture, art, film, and travel. She lectures at museums, schools, colleges and historical societies on these topics and more. She has a degree in English literature and art history from John Carroll University.  Laura was honored by Cleveland City Council for “outstanding commitment, dedication and significant contributions as an Arts and Culture reporter for The Plain Dealer specializing in local history and lost landmarks.”

“‘A Work of Art?’: Mark Twain’s Influence on the American Use of Humor in Criticism”

Silas Kaine Ezell, Oklahoma Baptist University

My talk will explore the influence of Mark Twain’s famous roasting of James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales and its unspoken influence on contemporary film criticism found in comedic video essays on social media. Using parody and satire, Twain vents his rage at Cooper’s fiction and does much to convince his reader of Cooper’s crimes against literature. The essay has had remarkable staying power in American anthologies even though multiple critics have dutifully and successfully revealed Twain’s manipulations and exaggerations of Cooper’s text to arrive at his conclusions. Nevertheless, reception to Cooper’s novels has been forever altered by Twain’s criticisms. Many YouTube channels that provide satirical commentary on popular culture fulfill a similar function for the early 21st century, but the best example of Twain’s combination of humor and satire are the “Plinkett Reviews” on RedLetterMedia. Both Twain and RedLetterMedia serve as clear examples of the use of humor in the critical review of fiction that seeks to make broader arguments about how criticism can inform our sensibilities as consumers in American culture.

Silas Kaine Ezell is an Associate Professor of English at Oklahoma Baptist University, where he teaches courses in American Literature and English Education. He is the author of Humor and Satire on Contemporary Television: Animation and the American Joke (2016), which explores the influence of American literary humorists on American animated television programs. In case it isn’t obvious, Ezell is fascinated with linking the past with the present, and his current research involves tracing the use of humor in critical review and its influence on the rise of the YouTube critical video essay.

“Sick of War or Just the War Stories? Reading the Harper’s Weekly Civil War Stories with Mark Twain”

Joe B. Fulton, Baylor University

In December 1864, with the Civil War rushing toward its denouement at Appomattox Court House, Mark Twain published what was to become one of his most popular Civil War stories: “Lucretia Smith’s Soldier.” The narrator declares this a response to those “sickly war stories in Harper’s Weekly,” stories steeped in sentimentality, usually depicting hospital scenes rather than battle scenes. Having grown up in the border state of Missouri, Twain rebelled against the easy resolution of dilemmas seen in these “sickly war stories. Just as he would later blame Sir Walter Scott’s romantic fiction for causing the Civil War, in “Lucretia Smith’s Soldier,” Twain suggested that our tolerance for war was related to a romantic and sentimental writing. Reading those original Harper’s Weekly stories alongside Twain reveals his early rejection of romantic fiction as an aesthetic but also the antiwar sentiments visible throughout his career. Stories like “Lucretia Smith’s Soldier” show that Mark Twain was indeed sick of war stories, for he viewed them as contributing to our tolerance for war in the first place.

Joe B. Fulton is Professor of English at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, where he has been honored as a “Baylor University Class of 1945 Centennial Professor.” Dr. Fulton has published five books on Mark Twain, including The Reconstruction of Mark Twain: How a Confederate Bushwhacker Became the Lincoln of Our Literature (Louisiana State University Press 2010) and Mark Twain Under Fire: Reception and Reputation, Criticism and Controversy, 1851-2015 (Camden House 2018). He currently serves as Editor of the Mark Twain Journal.

“Traveling with Twain in Search of America’s Identity”

Loren Ghiglione, Northwestern University

Over three months, I traveled 14,000 miles by van with two young journalists, Alyssa Karas and Dan Tham. We followed the path of Mark Twain around America, beginning in his boyhood hometown of Hannibal, Missouri.  Stops followed in St. Louis, Chicago, Cleveland, Buffalo, Elmira, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. (with a side trip to New England). We then headed south along the Mississippi to New Orleans, north to Keokuk and Muscatine, Iowa, and west to San Francisco where our van fell victim to smash-and-grabbers.  Along the way we interviewed 150 Americans about race, sexual orientation, gender, and other hot-button identity issues, reflecting on the differences and similarities in attitudes between Twain’s time and ours.

Loren Ghiglione is an emeritus professor at Northwestern University and a former dean of Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, is the main author of Genus Americanus: Hitting the Road in Search of America’s Identity (2020). Loren is the author or editor of nine books. Prior to his 21-year career in academe, he put out New England newspapers for 26 years and served as president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors.  He received a B.A. from Haverford College, a Ph.D. in American studies from George Washington University, and a Master of Urban Studies and a law degree from Yale.  He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2004.

“'[T]ie some buttons on their tails, and let on they’re rattlesnakes’: Twain’s Anti-sentimentality and Contemporary African American Satire”

Sheri-Marie Harrison, University of Missouri

Of all the shenanigans in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, what returns to me most is Jim, imprisoned in a shed and tormented by Tom’s increasingly baroque efforts to free him. Here, the pairing of absurdity and violence indicts Tom’s and Huck’s inability to see the person they are attempting to free as a human being who, like them, feels pain and anguish — it is an indictment that extends to the reader who finds the harrowing violence of this situation funny. Jim’s time in the shed is among the ways the novel makes clear how dangerous white sentimentality can be. This is a danger that remains today and is taken up with implicit and explicit allusions to Twain’s work by African American writers like Paul Beatty and Kiese Laymon, particularly in their satirical novels. The pairing of absurdity and violence found in Jim’s confinement in the shed provides the occasion for this lecture’s discussion of the Twain’s significance to Black satire and the continued role of sentimentality in antiracist struggles.

Sheri-Marie Harrison is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Missouri, where she researches and teaches Contemporary literature, and mass culture of the African Diaspora. She is the author of the book Negotiating Sovereignty in Postcolonial Jamaican Literature (Ohio State University Press, 2014) as well as essays in Modern Fiction StudiesSmall AxeThe Journal of West Indian LiteratureThe Oxford Research EncyclopediaContemporaries, and The Los Angeles Review of Books. Among her ongoing projects is an author study of Marlon James, a monograph on genre in contemporary Black fiction, and she is also one of the a co-editors for the Routledge Companion to the Novel (forthcoming 2023).

“‘Now don’t any of you gentleman get my bones mixed up with yours’”

Ryan Heryford is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Literature in the Department of English at California State University, East Bay, where he teaches courses in nineteenth- and twentieth-century American literature, with a focus in ecocriticism and cultural narratives of environmental justice. He has published, or has forthcoming articles, on environmental thought in the works of William Faulkner, Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson, Édouard Glissant, and M. NourbeSe Philip. His scholarship has been supported by the William Faulkner Society, the Emily Dickinson International Society, and the University of California Center for Global California Studies. His current book-length project, “The Snugness of Being:” Vitalism and Decay in Nineteenth Century American Literature, explores the influence of nineteenth-century environmental and biomedical philosophy on constructions of self and subjectivity within the works of Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson, and Herman Melville.

“Out of The Shadows: Nina, Mark Twain’s Granddaughter”

Alan Rankin, Independent Researcher

Alan Rankin is a writer, independent researcher, and 2021 Quarry Farm Fellow with an abiding interest in the unexplored corners of history. Since 1992, he has been studying the life of Nina Gabrilowitsch, Mark Twain’s granddaughter. His presentation “Nina: The Lost Diary of Nina Gabrilowitsch” was received with acclaim at the 2019 Clemens Conference in Hannibal, Missouri. The companion piece, “Finding the Lost Diary of Mark Twain’s Granddaughter,” appears on the website for the Center for Mark Twain Studies. His work-in-progress chronicles the lives of Nina and her parents, Ossip Gabrilowitsch and Clara Clemens, in Europe and America during the Roaring ’20s. He also writes a biographical column for Renaissance Magazine.

“A Turn of The Century Case of Serendipity: Lawrence Joseph ‘Cooney’ Rice, The Boys of Frog Hollow, and The Youth from Twain’s Charmed Circle”

Laura Rice, Oregon State University

Laura Rice is Professor Emerita in the School of Writing, Literature and Film at Oregon State University. Specializing in comparative literature, literary translation, and sustainable development, she has written widely on Colonial and Postcolonial literatures, Cultural Studies, and Gender in international context. Her books include Revolutions in Tunisian Poetry, co-edited and co-translated with Karim Hamdy, and Of Irony and Empire: Islam, the West, and the Transcultural Invention of Africa. As Principal Investigator, she designed and conducted federally-funded research and development and academic exchange projects on the MENA region, with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Fulbright, US Department of Education, and the US Department of State. Her current book project, focusing on Elmira in the last two decades of Twain’s life, brings her research back to the U.S. and to archives concerning her own family.

“Material Sanctity: Salvaging the Sacred in The Innocents Abroad”

Merav Schocken, University of California, Santa Barbara

When Mark Twain traveled to the Holy Land in 1867, he was repeatedly disappointed by what he perceived to be a desolate scenery, devoid of divinity. At the time, Americans traveled to the Holy Land in hopes of validating their faith, escaping modernity, and connecting to an imagined point of origin through which they could understand their identity. My talk examines The Innocents Abroad within this context of burgeoning tourism. I suggest that self-deception played an important role in Twain’s depiction of Holy Land pilgrimage. While the travel narrative is known for its cynical portrayal of religion, I focus on Twain’s uncharacteristic attempt to safeguard the sanctity of material relics at traditional pilgrimage sites. Such strategies, I claim, constitute self-deceptive practices that aim to counterbalance disillusionment with the land and escape spiritual darkness. I consider Twain’s attempts at reconciliation as reflective of the broader nineteenth-century struggle between faith and doubt. Specifically, these attempts must be understood, I argue, in the context of American concerns over the materialization of the spiritual in an increasingly secular society.

Merav Schocken is a a PhD candidate in English at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her research interests include nineteenth-century American literature with a particular emphasis on critical race studies and topics of space and place. Her dissertation explores practices of self-deception in nineteenth-century American literature.

“Twain’s Modernism: The Death of Speech in Huckleberry Finn as the Birth of a New Aesthetic”

Mika Turim-Nygren, Bard High School Early College DC

While critics may wrestle with Huckleberry Finn’s role in the American canon – including what Hemingway meant by singling it out for praise – they usually agree that Huck sounds as lifelike as “a real boy talking out loud.” Yet Twain himself believed that “the moment ‘talk’ is put into print” it turned into a “corpse.” His solution was a specifically written mode of ‘talk’: while Huck’s catchphrases derive from racialized speech, they have been severed from their origins so as to belong on the page rather than in anyone’s mouth. For Hemingway, then, Twain provides a model for overcoming the problem of artificial dialog not because his printed talk sounds just like the real thing, but because it’s no longer primarily trying to. When Hemingway himself starts composing dialog by replacing what was ‘really’ with obviously stilted translations, he reveals Twain as an unexpected source of American literary modernism. Huck’s voice transforms the kind of minority speech associated with the country’s deepest divisions into the kind of literary language that everyone could recognize as “purely American.”

Mika Turim-Nygren is an American Literature Faculty member at Bard High School Early College DC, part of the Bard College network. Her current book project concerns 19th-century American dialect literature, and more broadly, the relationship between racialized dialect and the formation of national literatures worldwide. Published work related to this project includes “Twain’s Modernism: The Death of Speech in Huckleberry Finn as the Birth of a New Aesthetic,” in the Spring 2020 issue of J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists, and “Bret Harte’s Birtherism: Dialect Literature and the Fiction of Native-Born Citizenship,” forthcoming in the Spring 2021 legal issue of nonsite.org.

“Becoming Mark Twain”

Jeffrey Weissman, Educator, Actor, Writer, Director, Producer

45-year acting veteran Jeffrey Weissman, takes us through his history as a performer on stage, television and in major motion pictures. First he will focus on his work portraying classic comedians; Stanley Laurel, Charlie Chaplin, Groucho Marx, Larry Fine and others though study of their performance, private lives, postures, gestures and vocalizations. Then he will delve into what led him to portray Mark Twain in the PBS movie, Dreamland: Mark Twain in Jerusalem in 2008, (released in 2017). He will share his incredible stories and photos of how he helped a low-budget production obtain several ‘million dollar’ impossible-to-get shots. Finally, Jeffrey will bring us to the present, where he finds himself in demand as a Twain performer. He is currently in development of the Mark Twain’s American History: As I Know It television series. We’ll get a sneak peek of the ‘proof of concept’ video and preview the different subjects he is tackling in the series scripts, which reveal the arc of Twain’s struggles and enlightenment, going from one side of an important social/political question to the other.

Jeffrey Weissman is an educator, actor, writer, director and producer. He co-stars in Hollywood blockbusters, Back to the Future II IIIPale RiderTwilight Zone Movie and over 70 other film and television shows. On stage he has performed in hundreds of shows, and he has played characters at theme parks, conventions and events around the world. Jeffrey trained at the American Conservatory Theatre, San Francisco State University and elsewhere. He teaches at Bay Area Professional Actors Studio, San Francisco Acing Academy and has taught at Sonoma State University, Dominican College, Ruth Azawa High School of the Arts, California Education at Berkeley and many other institutions. Jeffrey has performed, written, and directed dozens of shows for living history events, Universal Studios Hollywood, and Universal International in Osaka, Japan.