The Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College is pleased to announce the 2021 Park Church Summer Lecture Series, which will be offered in-person at the historic Park Church, 208 W. Gray Street. The lecture series, which features three lectures in July, is free and open to the public. Lectures begin at 7:00 p.m.
The first lecture on Wednesday, July 7 is “Twain’s Modernism: The Death of Speech in Huckleberry Finn as the Birth of a New Aesthetic,” presented by Mika Turim-Nygren of 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. 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.”
On Wednesday, July 14, the Series continues with “Material Sanctity: Salvaging the Sacred in The Innocents Abroad,” presented by Merav Schocken of the 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. Schoken’s talk examines The Innocents Abroad within this context of burgeoning tourism, suggesting that self-deception played an important role in Twain’s depiction of Holy Land pilgrimage.
The Series concludes on Wednesday, July 28 with “Memory-Building and Memorializing in Elmira: Mark Twain and John W. Jones in Relation,” presented by Jillian Spivey Caddell of the University of Kent in 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.
About The Park Church – Founded in 1846 by a group of abolitionists, The Park Church has been a strong presence in Elmira’s history and some members of its congregation were close friends and family members to Mark Twain. Known for its striking architectural features, The Park Church contained Elmira’s first public library and has a long history of charitable service to the Elmira community. Currently, it is an “Open and Affirming Congregation,” welcoming all people to worship and participate in its communal life, regardless of ethnic origin, race, class, age, ability, gender, or sexual orientation.
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.
About Elmira College – Founded in 1855, Elmira College is a private, residential, liberal arts college offering 35-plus majors, an honors program, 17 academic societies, and 18 Division III varsity teams. Located in the Southern Finger Lakes Region of New York, Elmira’s undergraduate and graduate student population hails from more than 20 states and nine countries. Elmira is a Phi Beta Kappa College and has been ranked a top college, nationally, for student internships. The College is also home to the Center for Mark Twain Studies, one of four historically significant Twain heritage sites in the U.S., which attracts Twain scholars and educators from around the world for research on the famous literary icon. Proud of its history and tradition, the College is committed to the ideals of community service, and intellectual and individual growth.