CMTS' 2020 Strategic Plan

For a full version of the Center for Mark Twain Studies 2020 Strategic Plan, click HERE.

Strategic planning is a useful tool for the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies (CMTS) to assess its past and design its future.  Strategic management helps CMTS cultivate a continuing commitment to its mission and vision, promotes a culture that includes meaningful input from all stakeholders and encourages a focus on the annual agenda by means of a transparent decision-making process.  The annual strategic plan allows the staff of CMTS to identify and respond to its most fundamental and immediate issues, and develop strategies for fostering fiscally sustainable growth in moving CMTS toward being a leading internationally recognized academic center.  Finally, the CMTS strategic planning process fosters proactive discussion and formulation of action plans by all staff members, both within their spheres of influence and within the organization as a whole.

CMTS continues to strive for transparency in all its endeavors and is more than willing to make its strategic plan available to the public.

Vision Statement of the Center for Mark Twain Studies

The Center for Mark Twain Studies strives to renew and deepen its identity as a scholarly center for Mark Twain Studies and any and all related academic disciplines with the goal of becoming one of the best academic centers in the country.

To achieve this vision, the Center for Mark Twain Studies must harness its great energy and talents, inspire its supporters, and most importantly, exercise the collective imaginations of the greater Mark Twain community to build and maintain an even better Center for Mark Twain Studies for its current constituents and future generations.

Mission Statement of the Center for Mark Twain Studies

The Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies (CMTS) is dedicated to fostering and supporting scholarship and pedagogy related to all aspects of Mark Twain.  The primary purpose of CMTS is to serve an international community of scholars and educators.  The responsibilities of CMTS also include oversight and preservation of two historic landmarks: Quarry Farm, which has been designated a cultural humanities site dedicated to scholars and writers working in Mark Twain Studies, and the Mark Twain Study, now located on the Elmira College campus.  Starting in 1871 and for over twenty consecutive summers, Twain lived at Quarry Farm and worked in his octagonal Study.  It was here that the author wrote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and many other important works, signifying his most productive and successfully creative time of his life.

In addition, CMTS closely collaborates with the Elmira College Mark Twain Archive, the home of primary and secondary sources dedicated to Twain and his circle.  CMTS also seeks to enrich local and regional community members and organizations by promoting and preserving the legacy of Twain and his deep connection to Elmira.  CMTS fulfills its mission through the sponsorship of academic and creative research fellowships-in-residence; the creation of content for MarkTwainStudies.org, the website of CMTS; and through the facilitation of a number of scholarly events, including annual symposia, academic lectures, teaching institutes, and the quadrennial International Conference on the State of Mark Twain Studies, the world’s largest scholarly conference focusing on Mark Twain.

Strategic Goals

Reflecting its vision and mission statement, the Center for Mark Twain Studies has established the following strategic goals:

  1. Enhance and sustain service to all constituents of CMTS
    1. Scholarly community
    1. Internet community
    1. Local and regional community
    1. Elmira College community
  2. Increase the quality and quantity of scholarly production associated with Quarry Farm
  3. Enhance and sustain the services and materials offered by the Mark Twain Archive to the academic community
  4. Preserve the historical infrastructure of Quarry Farm, the Study, the Exhibit, and the Archives
  5. Increase financial sustainability to support CMTS’ mission and strategic goals

For a full version of the Center for Mark Twain Studies 2020 Strategic Plan, click HERE.

CMTS Announces the 2020 Class of Quarry Farm Fellows

At the heart of the Center for Mark Twain Studies mission is service to scholars. Nothing reflects this better than the Quarry Farm Fellowship program.  When the Langdon family bequeathed Quarry Farm to Elmira College on December 31, 1982, the Langdons insisted that the main house be used exclusively as a cultural humanities site dedicated to Mark Twain Studies. As a result, the Center for Mark Twain Studies funds national and international scholars, allowing them to fully engage in scholarly pursuits at Quarry Farm.  CMTS makes a concerted effort to include graduate students, independent scholars, and scholars with new doctoral degrees to ensure the robust future of Mark Twain Studies, ensuring the continuation and rejuvenation of Mark Twain as a central figure in American literature and the field of the Humanities.

The Center for Mark Twain Studies is honored to announce the 2020 Class of Quarry Farm Fellows


Max Cavitch

Sponsor: Christopher Looby, University of California, Los Angeles

Max Cavitch is Associate Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania, where he is also an affiliated faculty member of the programs in Comparative Literature, Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies, and Psychoanalytic Studies. He is the author of American Elegy: The Poetry of Mourning from the Puritans to Whitman (2007) and of numerous essays on topics in American and African American Literature, Cinema Studies, Poetry and Poetics, and Psychoanalytic Studies. He is the editor of the forthcoming Oxford World’s Classics edition of Walt Whitman’s Specimen Days and co-editor, with the historian Brian Connolly, of the forthcoming essay collection, Situation Critical! Critique, Theory, and Early American Studies. He also edits and regularly contributes to Psyche on Campus: A Blog on Teaching Psychoanalysis in the Undergraduate Classroom, which he launched in August 2019.

The book I’m presently writing, Passing Resemblances: A Critical Inventory of Autobiography, is meant to appeal to readers interested not only in autobiographical writing but also in genre studies, identity studies, narratology, history and historiography, psychoanalysis, and philosophy. Indeed, it is a book for anyone who takes more than a passing interest in the stories we tell about our lives and about the selves that live them. My basic argument is that autobiographical writing can best be studied as a long history of narrative efforts to reconcile the question of the self (autós) with the problem of living (bíos). Passing Resemblances is no simple descriptive survey but a comparative, interrogative, and propositional work of criticism and theory, focused on the relational foundations of human subjectivity and experience. Mark Twain’s Autobiography is one of the key works to be discussed in my book—not least because of Twain’s canny and often confounding play with the very notion of selfhood. My time at Quarry Farm will be spent researching and writing the chapter-section devoted to this monumental work, which is of great importance to any exploration of the roles played by fame, publicity, mass media, and duplicity in autobiographical writing.


Ryan Heryford

Sponsor: Eileen Barrett, California State University, East Bay

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.

My project considers some of the more neglected writings from two radically distinct periods of Mark Twain’s life, considering his earliest travel correspondence in Nicaragua and Hawai’i alongside his late, unpublished manuscript “3000 Years Among the Microbes.” Reading the young journalist’s narrative meditations on a diversity of flora and fauna as entangled within his commentaries on settler-occupation in the Pacific and Central America, I trace out Twain’s alignment toward and departure from a tradition of writing about non-European ecologies as bearers of disease and decomposition, dangers to the legibility and coherence of a traveler’s bodily integrity. I go on to consider one of Twain’s final manuscripts, “3000 Years Among the Microbes,” which tells the unusual story of a human-turned-germ named Huck who infects the body of a Hungarian immigrant named Blitzowski. This unfinished book, I argue, represents a return to Twain’s earliest writings and their ambivalent meditations on US imperialism, revisiting scenes of corporeal boundary-crossing as well as radical imaginings of entwined human and nonhuman communities. Engaging Twain’s interest in the ever-transforming discourse of nineteenth century science with his shifting relations to anti-imperial activism, I hope to both better unearth the author’s radical visions of the human body and its surrounding ecologies, as well as acknowledge these under-considered early travel writings and late-unpublished manuscripts as essential bookends in Twain scholarship.


Hsuan Hsu

Sponsor: Henry B. Wonham, University of Oregon

Hsuan L. Hsu is a Professor of English at Concordia University in Montreal and the author of Geography and the Production of Space in Nineteenth-Century American Literature (2010) and Sitting in Darkness: Mark Twain’s Asia and Comparative Racialization (2015). He is currently completing a book entitled The Smell of Risk: Olfactory Aesthetics and Atmospheric Disparities (forthcoming with NYU Press). His research interests include American literature, critical race studies, the environmental humanities, cultural geography, and the sense of smell. He serves on the executive committee of the MLA’s 19th-century American forum and the editorial boards of American Literature, the Journal of Transnational American Studies, Literary Geographies, American Literary Realism, and The Broadview Anthology of American Literature.

I propose to spend my time in residency conducting research for an essay entitled “Twain’s Olfactory Gags: Realism, Atmospherics, and Human Fermentation.” The project aims to better understand not only Twain’s olfactory humor throughout his career, but the ways in which olfaction stages a little-explored aspect of Twain’s realism: the materiality of socially and geographically stratified atmospheres.  The essay will begin by surveying Twain’s scattered comments on the smells of rotting fish (Huck Finn), the stench of Chinatowns (Roughing It), the ethical significance of working-class odors in a church congregation (“About Smells”), the smell of plague-ridden bodies (Connecticut Yankee) and the detective’s sensitive nose as a racially loaded “gift of the bloodhound” (“A Double-Barreled Detective Story”). In examples such as these, olfactory disjunctions establish a realist sense of atmosphere as a medium that intangibly structures social and economic life. The second half of the essay will offer an extensive reading of “The Invalid’s Story,” a humorous story in which Twain offers an extended gag associating the smell of Limburger cheese with a rotting corpse. The story complicates Twain’s realist treatments of smell by emphasizing its psychological determinants: Twain’s “invalid” narrator is sickened not by the miasmatic stench of a rotting corpse, but by his culturally constructed tendency to gag in horror at this putative smell. “The Invalid’s Story” demonstrates Twain’s attention to both the materiality of air and its inflection by culturally variable meanings. If the specter of “human fermentation”—in which the materiality of the human body becomes a site of bacterial “culture”—debilitates the narrator, this may be because human fermentation undercuts the central fiction of ableist embodiment, in which the individual is a self-reliant body sealed off from material exchanges with their environment. The essay concludes with a brief discussion of the contemporary Sissel Tolaas’s Human Cheese projects, in which she produces cheese using bacteria sourced from humans. A bit more explicitly than Twain, Tolaas resists the Enlightenment drive towards deodorization by reminding us that humans—and human “culture”—are constitutively entangled with microbes.


Ben Murphy

Sponsor: Matthew A. Taylor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Benjamin J. Murphy is a teacher and Ph.D. candidate in English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he specializes in American literature of the long nineteenth century (approximately 1830-1914) and the history of science. At UNC, he is also Maynard Adams Fellow for the Public Humanities and an editorial assistant for the journal American Literature. Ben’s dissertation focuses on crowd psychology, discourses of race and racism, and mob violence in the period between the end of Reconstruction and the turn of the century. Research on related topics has been published in Mississippi Quarterly and Configurations, and you can find other examples of Ben’s writing—including reviews, essays, and interviews—through outlets such as ASAP/J, boundary2, The Carolina Quarterly, The Chicago Review of Books Full Stop, The Millions Pedagogy and American Literary StudiesPopMatters, and symploke. For links to this work, visit benjamin-murphy.com.

My fellowship project contributes to an in-progress dissertation chapter. Provisionally titled “Lynching by the Numbers,” the chapter in question analyzes the role of quantitative representation and rhetoric in the transhistorical archive of anti-lynching discourse. Beginning with present-day lynching scholarship before turning back to assess Mark Twain alongside Ida B. Wells and W. E. B. Du Bois, I argue that numbers (and social scientific protocols of knowledge more broadly) have long played a vexed role in efforts to decry racial violence. My time at Quarry Farm will be dedicated to the Twain sections of this argument, which consider “The United States of Lyncherdom,” a complex essay drafted in 1901 but only published posthumously. Drawing from existing criticism and a restored version of the essay that corrects changes imposed by Twain’s editor, I argue that “Lyncherdom” is obsessed with linking the problem of lynching to numbers—to counts, rates, statistical laws, and even to meticulously calculated dimensions of planetary geometry. But even as lynching is yoked to numbers, Twain’s quantitative treatment has the adverse effect of making the mas violence seem insurmountable and overwhelming. I aim to show how Twain’s apparently doomed gravitation to scientific numeracy complements his elsewhere-expressed views on mob behavior and human cowardice. This broader understanding of Twain’s sense for the transits between numbers and lynching violence provides something of a foil to the other writers and discourses I plan to address in my chapter, many of whom articulate a more positive understanding of the activist potential of numbers.


Sarah Nance

Sponsor: Brian Kim Stefans, University of California, Los Angeles

Sarah Nance is an Assistant Professor of English at the United States Air Force Academy. Her work examines late 19th, 20th, and 21st-century literature and art through the lens of the medical humanities, and her current scholarly book project explores the intersections of illness, violence, and scale in contemporary literature. She is also at work on a collection of poems about the strange temporality of grief and the physical locations associated with loss. Her critical and creative work has appeared or is forthcoming in venues such as Literature and MedicineArizona QuarterlyThe Los Angeles Review of BooksASAP/JBelletristParenthesesMuse/A, and elsewhere.

During my fellowship at Quarry Farm, I will be finishing the manuscript for my first collection of poetry, Ghost Traveler, which explores the physical locations and situational manifestations of grief, particularly through the lens of late 19th and early 20th century traditions, customs, and writings on grief and loss. Ghost Traveler is orientated around the changing geographical spaces and altered temporalities of grief. Although much of my original framing of my manuscript included figures central to my current location in Colorado Springs—such as the “unsinkable” Margaret “Molly” Brown, infamous survivor of the Titanic’s sinking and major Denver philanthropist, and Nikola Tesla, called the “Wizard of Electricity” by the Colorado Springs Evening Telegraph when he arrived in town to set up a laboratory—I was surprised by the ways that the national renown of these figures meant that they had also crossed paths with Twain.

Perhaps more importantly, however, I am interested in Twain’s own relationship to grief and loss. As a writer known colloquially for his sense of humor, I have been struck by Twain’s own intimate kinship with pain and sorrow, a contrast that he acknowledges in a conversation with a friend who was examining an early draft of Roughing It: “I knew it! … I am writing nothing but rot. … I have been trying to write a funny book, with dead people and sickness everywhere. Mr. Langdon died first, then a young lady in our house [in Buffalo], and now Mrs. Clemens and the baby have been at the point of death all winter!” That ill child was Twain’s son Langdon, who later died at 19 months of age. As Twain scholarship has already suggested, Twain’s later life was also rife with tragedy, including the death of his daughter Susy, his wife Olivia, and various close friends. In examining Twain’s marginalia in his daughter Jean’s edition of The Poetical Works of Alfred Lord Tennyson, I found that Twain’s only textual marks in the entire book appear on Tennyson’s long poem of grief and loss, “In Memoriam A.H.H.,” including marking one passage that reads, “That loss is common would not make / My own less bitter, rather more.”  Twain’s own biography suggests that this shared commonality of loss has an intensifying—rather than ameliorating—effect.


Stephen Pasqualina

Sponsor: John Carlos Rowe, University of Southern California, Dornsife

Stephen Pasqualina is a Postdoctoral Scholar in the Core Humanities program at the University of Nevada, Reno. His research focuses primarily on American modernism and critical theory. His current book project, Mechanical Failure: Modernism, Technology, and the Mediation of History, examines the role of speed and visual media technologies in the US modernist historical imaginary. Work related to this project has recently appeared in Modernism/modernityJ19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century AmericanistsPublic Books, and MarkTwainStudies.org.

My current book project examines how US modernist writers re-imagined historical consciousness through four anti-historicist modes of visual experience: spectacle, speed, space, and fetishism. At Quarry Farm, I will complete revisions on this project’s first chapter, which focuses on Twain’s use of spectacle as a means of negating and then mediating the long history of industrial capitalism, particularly in terms of automation and European and US imperialism. Beginning with Twain’s investment in the Paige Compositor, I trace the turns in Twain’s historical imaginary alongside parallel shifts in his relationship to modern technology and in his political and economic identities, from a manual typesetter to a venture capitalist to a bankrupted anti-imperialist. The chapter focuses especially on Twain’s efforts to mediate between the apparently incommensurate durations of mechanistic historiography and the instantaneity of technological spectacle, a mediation that produces what I call Twain’s “spectacular history.” I locate examples in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, “Mark Twain’s Memory Builder” board game, a roadway game Twain invented at Quarry Farm for his daughters (documented in “How to Make History Dates Stick”), and his late critiques of imperialism. The chapter argues that Twain’s recovery of spectacle as a medium for historical consciousness registers the necessity—and the difficulties—of using the tools of industrial capitalism to visualize the postbellum US within its disavowed networks of historical time and global space.


Alan Rankin

Sponsor: John Bird, Winthrop University

Alan Rankin is a writer and independent researcher 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.

While Nina never met her grandfather Samuel Clemens, her life was profoundly affected by her connection to him all the same. Nina’s later life has been well documented, but there is little material available about her early life, particularly the 1920s. My book focuses on this overlooked and generally happy period in the lives of the surviving Clemens family. It also presents Nina Gabrilowitsch as a figure worthy of study in her own right. Her charming, literate teen diaries reveal the lasting impact of Samuel Clemens on the daily lives of those who survived him. In addition to my book, I am developing presentations and articles to share other aspects of my research with the Twain scholarship community. I look forward to further interacting with the members of that community during my time at Quarry Farm.


Laura Rice

Sponsor: Tracy Daugherty, 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.

Twain’s Elmira: the Next Generation traces the social and cultural changes Elmira experienced during the last two decades of Mark Twain’s life when sports pages rivaled politics in popularity, a new century focused on “manly behavior,” and Roosevelt progressives advocated anti- corruption policies and imperial expansion. In Elmira, sports became the touchstone of character. Twain dubbed baseball “the outward and visible expression of the drive, and push, and rush and struggle of the raging, tearing, booming nineteenth century,” but football, he explained, was “the grandest game ever invented for boys,” building up “the mind as well as the body.” “This beats croquet,” Twain crowed, “There’s more go about it.”

This book project began with clippings in a family scrapbook about a nationally-reported 1905- 06 conflict between coach “Pop” Warner of Cornell and Elmira’s Lawrence “Cooney” Rice. “Cooney,” even Warner admitted, was “something of a hero in the minds of many.” This enmity over “fair play,” while deeply personal, dated back a decade to conflicts between Warner and older Elmirans at Cornell. The tutelary spirits of Twain, Beecher, the Langdons, and exiled Fenian T. McCarthy Fennell inspired the values of Elmira’s Cornell graduates of the 1890s: Railroad executive Jervis Langdon, Jr., Attorney Thomas Fennell, NY Senator John Murtaugh, and Businessman Clint Wyckoff. Through sports, they mentored the stars of the new century: “Cooney” Rice, Joe “Dode” Birmingham, Matty “Ironsides” Fennell and Harry “Deacon” Costello, Irish kids from Elmira’s “Frog Hollow.” Young sports reporters Frank Tripp, Frank Gannett, and Grantland Rice captured these events. Tripp would celebrate Elmira’s Father Mathew semi-pro team half a century later: “it was the greatest baseball I have ever seen.” For Cornell, Tripp wrote, “the triumvirate from Frog Hollow [Costello, “Cooney,” Birmingham] well nigh carried the [football] works on their shoulders for the red and white.” By 1910, Feeney’s Corner tobacco shop, the Mecca of Elmira sports and news for a decade, was gone, Elmira’s semi-pro baseball team had moved into legend, and Twain had been laid to rest in Woodlawn Cemetery. It was the end of an era. But, as Cornell’s Rym Berry reminisced in 1956: “Rejoice that we were present in the flesh.”


Shirley Samuels

Sponsor: Susan K. Harris, University of Kansas

Shirley Samuels teaches at Cornell University in several departments and programs, including American Studies, English, History of Art and Visual Studies, and Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Most of her books focus on the nineteenth century United States. These books are Reading the American Novel 1780-1865,Facing America: Iconography and the Civil War and Romances of the Republic: Women, the Family, and Violence in the Literature of the Early American Nation. Her edited works include the Cambridge Companion to Abraham Lincoln, Companion to American Fiction, 1780-1865, and The Culture of Sentiment: Race, Gender, and Sentimentality in 19th Century America. She has a new edited book on race and visuality in the nineteenth century United States, Race and Vision in the Nineteenth-Century United States (Lexington, 2019).

Her project for the residency at Quarry Farm includes work on a chapter on Twain in her monograph, currently titled “Democratic Witness,” on witnessing, testimony, and culture in the United States. In that chapter, the residue of the Civil War that shows up in Life on the Mississippi is placed in the context of Twain’s ambivalence about the war. A paragraph from that chapter follows:

The confusion of references that Twain includes suggests the unreliable narrator aboard the Mississippi in Herman Melville’s The Confidence Man. Both works provide a way to think about the relation between a fantasy of poor boys emerging toward middle class life and this sequence of events of men on the unstable location of water as a foundational element of success as a founding father, however much the crossing of water involves deception. And that time of crossing water, a water crossing that changes affiliation and introduces violence, returns us to Black Hawk as it includes that troubling matter of bodies on the water being carried as property. The autobiography that has become known as the story of Black Hawk contains many crossings of the Mississippi for violent raids or in retreat from violence. To read the face of the river is to read the faces of men on the river, in his account as in others, to anticipate whether they bring violence. To note what effect travel on the river has on the observation of human nature is to note what the stories Herman Melville tells of life on the river might have in common with the nostalgia and the peril on the river visited by Mark Twain.”


Edward Shannon

Sponsor: John Gruesser, Sam Houston State University

Ed Shannon is Professor of Literature and former Literature Convener at Ramapo College of NJ; he teaches courses in Humanities, American Studies, and American literature, including Author Studies: Mark Twain. His “’Our clothes are a lie’: Disguise and Christian Typology in Pudd’nhead Wilson” appeared in the 2009 Mark Twain Annual.  He also writes and teaches about comics and graphic novels. He’s written about cartoonists Robert Crumb, Art Spiegelman, Charles Schulz, George Herriman, and Winsor McCay. He most frequently writes about Woody Guthrie. His most recent work on Guthrie includes “Illegal, Not Wanted, Unnamed: Woody Guthrie’s Exploration of Media, Immigration, and Identity in ‘Plane Wreck At Los Gatos (Deportee)’” (forthcoming, Theory in Action) and “‘Good Grief, Comrade Brown! Woody Guthrie, Charles Schulz and the Little Cartoon Book that was a Big Lie’” (Studies in Comics, 2019). He was named a 2005 Woody Guthrie Fellow by the Woody Guthrie Foundation.

In simplest terms, his project asks, “Why does Tom Sawyer have a girlfriend while Huck does not?” Both boys are about fourteen, and Tom avidly pursues romance. In fact, Tom seems headed for one clear destination and, as Twain writes, “that is . . .  marriage” (Twain, Sawyer 241). Huck has no such inclinations.

In the popular imagination, Tom, Huck, and Becky are all prominent and very much linked cultural figures. Becky, in particular, has captured the imagination not only of readers, but also creative writers and filmmakers. Bob Dylan, Vachel Lindsay, Will Vinton, Robert Coover, Lenore Hart, and Jessica Lawson all see in Becky an essential character for consideration of sex, gender, and power. Scholars seem less interested, as was Twain. Becky mostly vanishes from Twain’s fiction after Adventures of Tom Sawyer. She is mentioned briefly (albeit misnamed) in Huck Finn. Becky’s absence underscores a void in Huckleberry Finn: any indication that Huck has a burgeoning sexual consciousness of any kind.

Wherever Huck’s narrative brushes against an episode where a reader might expect a Realist writer to follow a young man’s interest in sexuality (gay, straight or otherwise), the text pulls back. For example, in the final draft of Huckleberry Finn, Huck praises Mary Jane Wilks, saying “there weren’t no back-down to her” (Twain, Huck 316). Originally, Twain had added, “if I know a girl by the rake of her stern; and I reckon I do” (Hearn 316 n 12).  This, he cut. Ultimately, Mary Jane becomes another sexless mother figure, who “echo[es] the widow’s morality” (quoted in Fishkin 60). This instance is not unique.

Huck’s sex life has been a subject of interest since Leslie Fiedler’s Love and Death in the American Novel, inspiring many responses, including rejections of Fiedler’s (and the critical world’s) homophobia. At the same time, many see Huck as so young, so innocent, that it seems misguided to look for any sexual signals from such a boy. For many, Huck’s lack of sexuality seems “natural.”

But why should Huck seem naturally sexless when Tom Sawyer is so thoroughly interested in sex and romance? Perhaps because Tom is a middle-class boy poised for greatness, and Huck is “poor white trash,” and depicted as such in Huckleberry Finn and its sequels. The thrust of my argument is that Twain’s novel reveals a potent and pervasive anxiety not so much about sexuality per se but about procreation among “the common sort” (Twain, Huck 378) Huck represents

Works Consulted:

  • Fishkin, Shelley Fisher. “Mark Twain and Women.” The Cambridge Companion to Mark Twain. Ed. Forrest G. Robinson. Cambridge, 1995.
  • Hearn, Michael Patrick ed. The Annotated Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Edward  Winsor Kemble, Illustrator. Norton. 2001.
  • Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Broadview Editions. 2006.

2020 Mark Twain Writing Contest and Art Competition Open to Elmira College Students

Have you written an excellent paper, taken a fantastic photograph, or painted an outstanding picture inspired by Mark Twain or his literature? If so, then all Elmira College students, both undergraduate and graduate, should consider submitting their works to CMTS’ two annual contests.

2020 Portraying Mark Twain Art Competition

All Elmira College students are encouraged to upload digital files of artwork they have created that portrays Mark Twain, Mark Twain in Elmira or some aspect of Mark Twain’s literature.Up to $350 in prize money will be distributed among winning entries. Winning entries will be featured in publications of Elmira College and the Center for Mark Twain Studies. Deadline: March 30, 2020. You can find more information here.

2020 Mark Twain Writing Contest

Rebecca Heagy ’19 receives a cash prize from Dr. Joseph Lemak as winner of the 2019 Mark Twain Writing Contest

Elmira College students are encourage to submit their best creative or scholarly writing projects inspired by Mark Twain or his literature. Scholarly and literary essays should develop an explicit theme or thesis and should have a clear sense of analysis or bibliographical material. Creative essays or works should focus on Mark Twain’s writing or life. Winners will receive a cash prize and have their name added to the list of past winners on the Mark Twain Statue located in the entrance to McGraw Hall. Deadline: April 27, 2020. You can find more information here.



Art Exhibit Inspired by the View from the Quarry Farm Porch Coming Soon

View from the Quarry Farm Porch (Photo by Jan Kather)

While thousands of people every year visit the Mark Twain Study, located in the heart of the Elmira College campus, few people have had the opportunity to visit Quarry Farm, the original location of the Study. Quarry Farm, on the U.S. Register of Historic Places, remains today much as it did at the time when the Langdon family bequeathed it to Elmira College in 1982. The Langdon family insisted that Quarry Farm remain a living home and asked that the main house be used as a writer’s retreat for scholars and artists working in the field of Mark Twain Studies. In essence, in the same place where Mark Twain wrote his most iconic works, a national and international group of scholars now write about Mark Twain.

Since Quarry Farm is not open to the general public, CMTS created a virtual tour so that the public could see the nineteenth century collections, the writing and research workspaces, and overall interior of the house. The virtual tour can be found here.

Samuel Clemens seated in a rocking chair on the porch at Quarry Farm, East Hill, Elmira New York.
Mark Twain on the Quarry Farm Porch (1903)

The main house contains original 19th century furnishings, artwork, textiles, books, wall finishes, and architectural features and objects that continue to be unraveled by scholarship.  At the time of the Langdon gift, Quarry Farm had been owned by four generations of the Langdon family, starting in 1868.  As a result, most of the current collection was present when Mark Twain resided at Quarry Farm. The books on the shelves in the library contain marginal notes and markings from Mark Twain with bookplates and inscriptions of the Langdon family, the Crane family, and Ida Langdon, Mark Twain’s niece, who was a longtime professor at Elmira College. 

The collection also contains a number of reference works, first editions, and other rare books which are hard to find outside university libraries and special collections. For many scholars-in-residence, this may be the first time they have had access to such resources. Few scholars at any career stage have the opportunity to peruse such materials at their leisure over the course of several weeks, all without leaving the quiet, private, and picturesque domestic space in which many, starting with Twain himself, have found the ideal conditions for writing.  Current residents share the same spectacular view of the Chemung River Valley as the famous author, his family, and his in-laws.  Many scholars believe that contemplating this view and watching his young daughters play and grow up at Quarry Farm inspired Twain to write about parts of his childhood on the Mississippi River that resulted in the creation Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, America’s most iconic characters of childhood.

It is this view that has inspired an upcoming art exhibit at the Community Arts of Elmira.

The Community Art of Elmira presents Clemens and The Pen – Perspectives from The Porch at Quarry Farm

Exhibit Opening is Saturday, December 14, 2019 at Community Arts of Elmira (413 Lake Street, Elmira)
Exhibit Artists and Community Arts of Elmira Staff on the Quarry Farm Porch
  • Saturday, December 14, 2019
  • 6:00-8:00pm
  • Free & Open to the Public
  • Community Arts of Elmira – 413 Lake Street – Elmira, New York – 14901
  • www.communityartsofelmira.com

Clemens and The Pen – Perspectives from The Porch at Quarry Farm is an exhibition of visual art, fashion and poetry created by artists who participated in the inaugural “Clemens and The Pen – Studio Session on The Porch at Quarry Farm” (June 29, 2019). Regional artists, designers and poets include Satyavani Akula, Bridget Bossart van Otterloo, Joe Caparulo, Christopher Eldred, Matt Guagliardo, Lynne Rusinko, Laura Jaen Smith, Brent Stermer, Sam Somostrada, and Shannah Warwick! 

Lynne Rusinko stated that “Community Arts of Elmira is most grateful to the participating artists who applied through application and the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies.”

For more information on future artist opportunities for Clemens and The Penemail [email protected]

Perfect Pairings of Music & Literature: A Holiday Collaboration with The Orchestra of the Southern Finger Lakes

Want to learn more about how Mark Twain and his family celebrated Christmas, while also listening to holiday-themed music at the historic Clemens Center? Next Saturday, December 7th, Dr. Matt Seybold will be presenting selections from Twain’s holiday writings as part of the “Perfect Pairings” series created by the OSFL. Tickets are available now at ClemensCenter.org

Discount tickets are available with a Student ID.

CFP: Mark Twain Circle at ALA Conference in San Diego, CA (May 21-24, 2020)

Mark Twain Circle of America at the 2020 American Literature Association Conference

CFP Mark Twain Circle of America for ALA 2020, San Diego, May 21-24, 2020

Title: “Mark Twain Reading/Reading Mark Twain”

Mark Twain was an avid—and participatory—reader, combing through texts with pencil in hand, marking and annotating as he went. His characters read, too–and they leave evidence of their reading in their dialogue and their own writings.  Furthermore, Twain’s own readers show the impact of his writings in the plots, characters, and satirical episodes written in Twain’s wake.  The MTC call for proposals for the 2020 ALA conference focuses on reading broadly defined, including–but not limited to–what, how, and where Twain read, the influence of his reading on his writings, and the impact of Twain’s own works on subsequent writers.

We enthusiastically encourage junior and emerging scholars to present their work.  Graduate students chosen to present may apply for a grant from Mark Twain Circle’s Louis Budd Travel Fund to help defray some of the costs of attending the conference.

While we seek submissions without restriction, all presenters must be active members of the Mark Twain Circle at the time of the conference (information about membership is available at our website https://marktwaincircle.org/join-the-mark-twain-circle-of-america-2/join/

Presentations sponsored by the Mark Twain Circle are often developed into articles that appear in the Mark Twain Annual, published by Penn State University Press.

Send proposals (400 words or fewer) by January 15, 2020 to Larry Howe, president of the Mark Twain Circle ([email protected]).

CFP: American Humor Studies at ALA Conference in San Diego, CA (May 21-24, 2020)

American Humor Studies Association at the 2020 American Literature Association Conference

AHSA is currently calling for abstracts for two panels:

Panel #1 – The American Humor Studies Association seeks abstracts for a session titled “Take my husband … please: Humor and the Home”*for the American Literature Association annual conference in San Diego, Calif., May 21-24, 2020.

AHSA welcomes submissions that explore literary, visual, and performative examples of how American humor has been deployed to critique, analyze, and respond to life in the private sphere: from the physical home, to family life, to sexuality. Abstracts may propose analyses of specific texts and images, from any time frame or medium, including biography, political cartoons, social media, films, plays, television, and stand-up comedy.

Please email a brief CV and 300-word abstract (and please indicate any audio/visual needs) by December 16, 2019 to Teresa Prados-Torreira ([email protected]) using “Humor and the Home” as the subject line. All panelists will need to be current members of AHS

Panel #2 – The American Humor Studies Association seeks abstracts for an “Open-Topic” session for the American Literature Association annual conference in San Diego, May
21-24, 2020.

AHSA encourages submissions on any topic related to American humor for this session.

Please email a brief CV and 300-word abstract (and please indicate any audio/visual needs) by December 16, 2019 to Teresa Prados-Torreira ([email protected]) using “Open Topic Panel” as the subject line. All panelists will need to be current members of AHSA.

CFP: American Humor Studies Association in Austin, TX (June 18-20, 2020)

American Humor Studies Association

The Comedy and Humor Studies SIG of SCMS

Website: https://humorinamericaconference.wordpress.com

“Comedy/Humor” will be held on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin from June 18-20, 2020. The conference will feature paper panels and roundtables on all aspects of American humor, American comedy, and all thing and topics in between.

Please send proposals to [email protected] by February 3, 2020. Notifications will be sent by March 20. Please feel free to contact the conference organizers with any questions at [email protected].

PAPERS: Proposals for paper presentations of 15-17 minutes should consist of a 250-word proposal and A/V requests. 

ROUNDTABLES: Proposals for organized roundtables of 8-10 minute statements from each participant with significant time for discussion.  Include an overview of 100  words for the overall theme, a brief description of each presenter’s topic, a proposed Chair (not required), and A/V requests. 

NOTE: you may participate in one roundtable and give one paper.  

WORKS IN PROGRESS: Participant will submit a working draft of a book chapter or journal article one month before the conference for posting on conference website.  Participants will sign up to read and discuss work in progress during a lunch or breakfast session, with food provided. 

Note: you may submit a “Works in Progress” proposal and a paper or roundtable proposal, but the topics should be different.

ARTISTIC PERFORMANCES: We are willing to consider approaches to humor studies that incorporate non-traditional modes.  We are also willing to facilitate a performance or screening to encourage discussion.  Email with questions.

We welcome proposals for paper presentations on any topic related to American humor and/or American comedy, broadly conceived. Scholars across the humanities are invited to present research on any of the following topics (or others related to humor, comedy, laughter, etc., etc.):

  • the relationship between comedy and humor as conceptual categories, along with all other related questions of theory and terminology 
  • comedy in all its forms (TV, film, stand-up, podcasts, sketch, improv,    theater, improv, etc.)
  •  literary humor (novels, tales, sketches, poetry, children’s books, YA, science fiction, magazines, etc. from all times and places)
  • visual humor, comics, and graphic narratives
  • podcasts, internet humor, memes, and other new media
  • humor and gender, race, sexuality, class, religion, etc.
  • satire, ridicule, parody, wit and other forms of humor
  • humor in “serious” contexts or works
  • humor in regional, national, transnational, international, and other spatial contexts 

We especially welcome proposals from scholars of color, junior scholars, and independent scholars. Graduate students attending the conference will be eligible for “Constance Rourke Travel Grant” to assist with travel funds. We highly encourage scholars to contribute to this fund.  See the conference website for more information.

Attendees must be (or become) a member of the American Humor Studies Association. Presenters will be highly encouraged to submit article-length versions of their work for possible publication in Studies in American Humor, a peer-reviewed journal published by the American Humor Studies Association since 1974 and in conjunction with the Penn State University Press since 2015.  

The conference registration fee will be $40 for graduate students, adjunct faculty, and independent scholars, and $75 for tenure-track faculty members. 

Judith Yaross Lee Concludes the 2019 Fall ‘Trouble Begins’ Series

The fall portion of the 2019-2020 The Trouble Begins Lecture Series, presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies, concludes on Wednesday, October 30 in the Barn at Quarry Farm. The lecture, which begins at 7:00 p.m., is free and open to the public.

“Mark Twain’s 70th Birthday: Souvenir of Its Celebration,”
Supplement to Harper’s Weekly, September 25, 1905


The lecture, “Sociable Sam: Mark Twain Among Friends,” will be presented by Judith Yaross Lee, Distinguished Professor Emerita at Ohio University. Samuel Clemens joked in one of his lectures that he had met “uncommonplace characters . . . Bunyan, Martin Luther, Milton, and . . . others,” but it’s not stretching much to say that he knew just about everyone famous between the Civil War and World War I. By 1892, his social network had grown so large that eleven-year-old Jean Clemens, impressed that her
parents had received a dinner invitation from Germany’s Emperor Wilhelm II, remarked, “Why papa, if it keeps going on like this, pretty soon there won’t be anybody left for you to get acquainted with but God.” Yet sociable Sam Clemens was more than a famous
guy who knew other famous folks: from the start of his career as Mark Twain, his writings grew from and through interactions with others. This illustrated lecture traces the impact of that sociability on some of his most important works.


Judith Yaross Lee studies American humor and other popular discourses in interdisciplinary historical contexts. Among the five books and 60 articles that she has published are Twain’s Brand: Humor in Contemporary American Culture (2012), showing how
Mark Twain pioneered contemporary practices in stand-up comedy and comic brand management, and Garrison Keillor: A Voice of America (1991), the first analysis of this major comic performer and writer. Current projects include Seeing MAD: Essays on Mad Magazine’s History and Legacy from Cover to Fold-In (co-edited with John Bird) and a revised history of American comic rhetoric, American Humor and Matters of Empire, also the theme of a 2020 Quarry Farm Symposium.

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.

Next ‘Trouble Begins’ Examines Twain’s Hartford Home

The fall portion of the 2019-2020 The Trouble Begins Lecture Series, presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies, continues on Wednesday, October 23 in the Barn at Quarry Farm.  The lecture, which begins at 7:00 p.m., is free and open to the public.

The lecture, “‘We found we had a little cash left over..’: Sam and Livy’s Hartford Dream House and Its Architectural Roots,” will be presented by Pieter Roos, executive director of the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford, Connecticut. Just as would be the case today, Sam and Livy Clemens embarked on an adventure in building a new house. Like any young couple, having the dream, selecting an architect, and seeing a project through to the finish is always a challenge. Sam and Livy spent a substantial portion of her inheritance on the house, and their love for it was life-long, even after they left it. At the time of its completion, the Hartford Courant remarked that the house was the newest marvel of Hartford, a city replete with large and expensive works of domestic architecture. Their architect, Edward Tuckerman Potter, designed a house that was undoubtedly stylish and thoroughly contemporary, but while it fell within the general early precepts of the Stick Style, it was not in the mainstream, and still stands out today in its individuality. A few year’s after the initial completion, the Clemens’ engaged Louis Comfort Tiffany and Associated artists to take the interior up to a whole new level. This lecture looks both at the Clemens’ personal journey in construction and the architectural roots of a remarkable and iconic building and what made it the singular example of the Stick Style that it became and remains today.

Roos has served in the museum field since 1984, working all over the Northeast. In 1999 he became the founding executive director of the Newport Restoration Foundation, a preservation and museum organization that administers some 82 historic properties. In 2016 he created the groundbreaking “Keeping History Above Water” conference, the first national discussion of the impact of climate change on historic preservation. Since 2017, Pieter has served as the executive director of the Mark Twain House and Museum. During the last two years, programming has doubled, and $2.8 million has been raised to enhance programming and operations and to preserve the campus and the house. Roos has written and lectured extensively, teaching at both Harvard University and Brown University. In 2017 he was the recipient of the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission’s Fred Williamson Award for Professional Excellence and the Doris Duke Preservation Award.

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.