Fall ‘Trouble Begins’ Lecture Explores Huck Finn

The fall portion of the 2019-2020 The Trouble Begins Lecture Series, presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies, continues on Wednesday, October 16 in Peterson Chapel, Cowles Hall at Elmira College.  The lecture, which begins at 7:00 p.m. lecture is free and open to the public.

The lecture, “‘He ain’t a-comin’ back no mo’: Huck Finn as an American Myth,” will be presented by Tim DeRoche, producer and author. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a rousing adventure, a realistic depiction of American boyhood, a satirical critique of American society, and a foundational text for all of modern American literature. But part of what makes the story so transcendent and enduring is that Huck Finn is also a myth. In this story of two fugitives fleeing down a river, Mark Twain taps into universal themes and tropes that recur in fairy tales, folklore, and religious narratives. That’s one reason that American writers and filmmakers have been retelling this story – both overtly and covertly – for the last 100 years. Seeing Huck Finn through the lens of Joseph Campbell’s universal “hero’s journey” helps reveal why the book has been so important in the formation of the American psyche but also why the ending can feel so unsatisfying. As the prototype for a particular American myth, Huck Finn will be retold over and over as long as our society persists – perhaps even longer.

DeRoche is the author of The Ballad of Huck & Miguel, a modern-day retelling of Huck Finn set on the Los Angeles River. Featured on CBS Sunday Morning in May of 2019, the book has been called “satirical, funny, thrilling, hopeful, and human” by the Mark Twain Forum. Born and raised in Milwaukee, Tim DeRoche emigrated to California to attend Pomona College, where he studied English literature. A graduate of the PBS Producers Academy at WGBH in Boston, he also holds a certificate in feature-film screenwriting from UCLA. He served as executive producer and writer of the children’s science series Grandpa’s Garage, produced by Turner Learning for Georgia Public Television. Tim has written for the Washington PostEducation WeekSchool Administrator, and the Los Angeles Business Journal. His new nonfiction book Separated By Law will be published in 2020 and takes a close look at the policies and laws that assign American children to schools based on where they live.

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. 

Summary of Recent Posts on MarkTwainStudies.org

Political Cartoon by T.E. Power depicting Mark Twain and H.H. Rogers

This summer, Matt Seybold launched a new series, “Mark Twain’s Portfolio,” in which he explores Sam Clemens’s career as an entrepreneur and investor. The first installment in the series, discussing the United Fruit Company, was named “A Great Weekend Read” by Politico and “Best of The Week” by The Browser. A second installment covers the Anaconda and Amalgamated Copper Companies. Further episodes will follow in coming months.

Mark Twain’s Portfolio: Existential Hedging & The United Fruit Company

Mark Twain’s Portfolio: Hell-Hound Rogers, Anaconda Copper, & The Spider Aristocracy of Finance


August 11th was the 150th Anniversary of the publication of Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad. The Center for Mark Twain Studies is marking the occasion by publishing reflections by several scholars who have studied the book and the voyage upon which it was based. Jeanne Campbell Reesman of University of Texas – San Antonio discusses Twain’s changing perspectives on India. Jeffrey Melton of University of Alabama argues that The Innocents Abroad “changed everything” for American Travel Writing. We also published selections from the 1869 reviews. More installments of “150 Years of The Innocents Abroad” are also in the works.

“An Ode To The Innocents Abroad by Jeffrey Melton

“From Innocent to India: Mark Twain’s Evolving Sympathies” by Jeanne Campbell Reesman

“150 Years of Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad by Matt Seybold

“Buy It, Laugh, & Grow Fat”: The 1869 Reviews of Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad by Matt Seybold


In September we published a digitized edition of the rare manuscript, Drinking With Twain, written by the first mayor of Elmira Heights, Frank Kelsey, and featuring his somewhat unreliable recollections of the social life of Elmira in the late Nineteenth Century. Only five hundred copies of this self-published pamphlet were printed in 1936, very few of which survive. This is the first time it has been made available to the general public.

“Drinking With Twain”: A Rare Manuscript


Clara Clemens Gabrilowitsch (left), Nina Gabrilowitsch (middle), and
Ossip Gabrilowitsch (right)

In Hannibal earlier this year, Alan Rankin shared an intimate and heart-wrenching account of his discovery of the 1924 diary of Nina Gabrilowitsch, Mark Twain’s granddaughter. Only after becoming fascinated with its author did he learn that she was part of a famous family and that the remainder of her life had been marred by tragedy. His painstakingly-researched and tearjerking tribute is now available for all to read, including selections from the diary. 

“Finding the Lost Diary of Mark Twain’s Granddaughter, Nina Gabrilowitsch” by Alan Rankin

Lecture on Twain’s Experiences in Washington D.C. Starts the Fall 2019 Trouble Begins Lecture Series

The fall portion of the 2019-2020 The Trouble Begins Lecture Series presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies features four lectures, with the first event set for 7:00 p.m., on Wednesday, October 9 in The Barn at Quarry Farm.  All four lectures are free and open to the public.

Illustration from American Examiner (1910)

The first lecture, “Mark Twain Invades Washington,” will be presented by Alan Pell Crawford, author and independent scholar. Before he was a famous novelist, Mark Twain lived and worked in the Nation’s Capital, first as an aide to Senator William Stewart of Nevada—he was quickly fired—then as a lobbyist and Washington correspondent. These early experiences gave Twain a unique perspective on American politics, and in later years he became a fierce critic of war and imperialism. Having had his profits as an author reduced by pirated editions of his works, he returned to Washington late in life to testify before Congress for copyright protection for authors. People still read his trenchant writings on politics, with good reason. They still speak to us. “Fleas can be taught nearly anything that a Congressman can,” Twain wrote in  What is Man? and Other Essays. In Mark Twain, A Biography he is quoted as saying “Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.” What would he say today?

Pell Crawford is the author, most recently, of How Not to Get Rich: The Financial Misadventures of Mark Twain, published in 2018. His previous books include Unwise Passions: The True Story of a Remarkable Woman and the First Great Scandal of Eighteenth-Century America and Twilight at Monticello: The Final Years of Thomas Jefferson. A former Senate and House staffer, Pell Crawford has been a residential scholar at the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello and George Washington’s Mount Vernon. He has written for the Wall Street Journal for 25 years and been published in the New York Times, the Washington PostNational Review, the Weekly Standard and Vogue. He lives in Richmond, Virginia.

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. 

Recap of the Quarry Farm Symposium “Mark Twain and Nature”

From Friday, October 4 to Sunday, October 6, scholars from Japan, France, Hawaii, Nevada, California, and from all over the United States gathered together in Elmira, New York, the historic home of the Langdon family, the Mark Twain Study, and Quarry Farm – the place where over the span of over twenty consecutive summers, Twain wrote some of the most iconic texts in American literature.

The purpose of the gathering was to participate in the Center for Mark Twain Studies’ Sixth Quarry Farm Symposium, “Mark Twain and Nature.” The natural world figures prominently in the writings of Mark Twain, whether as the main object of description and commentary as in Life on the Mississippi and Roughing It or as an inextricable element of fictional narratives such as The Adventures of Tom SawyerAdventures of Huckleberry FinnThe Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson and more. However, these writings (other than short excerpts from Life and Roughing It) rarely find their way into anthologies of nature writing. And yet, Twain’s writing about the natural world across his literary oeuvre provides prescient and germane commentary on the relationship between human beings and the natural world—revealing it to be a conflicted a relationship of antagonism and praise. On the one hand, he seemed at war with nature: “The purpose of all human laws is one—to defeat the laws of Nature.” On the other hand, he expressed both awe and respect for the power of the natural world: “Architects cannot teach nature anything,” and “Nature knows no indecencies; man invents them.”

CMTS’s Sixth Quarry Farm Weekend Symposium was organized by Ben Click (St. Mary’s College of Maryland) and offered various critical examinations of the natural world in Twain’s writing: as nature writing similar to the ecocritical discourse of Thoreau, Dillard, and Abbey; as exploration of the aesthetic nexus between art and nature; as commentary on animal welfare; and as analysis of the intersection between nature and culture. Moreover, the papers cut across all periods of Twain’s writing life and furthered the claim of Twain as a forerunner to mid-20th to early 21st century writers such as Krutch, Cuppy, Abbey, Kingsolver, Quammen, and Gessner who now offer comic responses to nature as well as recognize the intrinsically humorous place of humanity in nature.

Festivities began on Friday, October 4 in the Rotunda of Cowles Hall, the original building of Elmira College, less than 100 yards away from the Mark Twain Study. After a cocktail hour and dinner, Michael P. Branch delivered the keynote address. Branch is a writer of creative nonfiction and humor, who focuses on the environment and the life in the American West. Branch is also professor of literature and environment at the University of Nevada, Reno. He has published five books and more than two hundred essays, articles, and reviews.

As a high desert rat and a writer of creative nonfiction that is both environmental and comic, Branch’s keynote, entitled “Made in Nevada,” considered Twain’s legacy in that area, and reflected on Twain’s influence on his own work. In particular, how did Twain lead the way in showing environmental authors that writing about the natural world could also be funny? As part of his presentation Mike shared several pieces from his recent books—Raising Wild (2016), Rants from the Hill (2017), and How to Cuss in Western (2018)—pieces that owe a great deal to Twain’s legacy as a nature writer, a humor writer, and a one-time Nevadan. Mike Branch’s keynote address can be found here.

The next day was located entirely at Quarry Farm. Symposium presenters delivered nine papers in three distinct panels. This was followed up by a roundtable discussion that encourage all attendees to participate. Breakfast and lunch was served in the Farm’s Maid’s Cottage and the Front Porch. After all the papers were delivered, the symposium was concluded with a closing reception on the Front Porch where all attendees discussed the day’s events, took in the majestic view of the Chemung River Valley, and enjoyed an assortment of refreshments. This was followed by a dinner and good cheer in the Barn.

The following are all the papers presented during the symposium. CMTS is confident that this group of lectures will encourage scholars to reconsider Mark Twain as a person who is deeply sensitive and has complex ideas about the environment, nature aesthetics, wilderness, animal welfare, and other topics pertaining to the natural world.

  • J.Mark Baggett, “‘Practicing the Wild’: Twain and Thoreau at the Lakes (October 5, 2019 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • Katherine E. Bishop, “‘A Wilderness of Oil Pictures’: Reframing Nature in A Tramp Abroad” (October 5, 2019 – Quarry Farm Barn) Lecture Images
  • Michael. P. Branch, “Made in Nevada” (Keynote Address – October 4, 2019 – Cowles Hall – Elmira College Campus) Video Clip
  • Charles C. Bradshaw, “Animal Welfare and the Democratic Frontier: Mark Twain’s Condemnation of Bullfighting in A Horse’s Tale” (October 5, 2019 – Quarry Farm Barn) Lecture Images
  • Ryan Heryford, “‘the breath of flower that perished’: The Imperial Ecologies of Mark Twain’s Early Letters” (October 5, 2019 – Quarry Farm Barn) Lecture Images
  • Barbara Ladd, “‘Night after Night, Day after Day’: Mark Twain and the Natural World” (October 5, 2019 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • Delphine Louis-Dimitrov, “Nature in Mark Twain’s Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc: Pastoralism Revisited” (October 5, 2019 – Quarry Farm Barn) Lecture Images
  • Don James McLaughlin, “Microphobias: Medicine after Miasma in Twain’s 3,000 Years among the Microbes” (October 5, 2019 – Quarry Farm Barn) Lecture Images
  • Lisa Vandenbossche, “Nature as Historian in Mark Twain’s Letters from Hawaii” (October 5, 2019 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • Emily E. VanDette, “‘A Dog’s Tale’ in Context: Twain & the Transatlantic Anti-Vivisection Campaign” (October 5, 2019 – Quarry Farm Barn)

British Association of Nineteenth-Century Americanists 4th Biennial Symposium (December 16-17, 2019)

Registration is now open for the conference below, and the discounted rate ends on October 1st. BrANCA is able to offer a number of travel bursaries to graduate students and independent scholars. Those interested in applying for one of these should write to [email protected] for more information by October 1st.

Access to the registration page and a draft program can be found here: https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/conference/fac-arts/clas/scaling-the-nineteenth-century/index.aspx#Cost

Scaling the Nineteenth Century: British Association of Nineteenth-Century Americanists 4th Biennial Symposium

The concept of the Anthropocene, with its recasting of human culture as part of much vaster realm of geological and climatological processes, has recently prompted – in the words of Mark McGurl – “the appearance of the problem of scale in modern literary history.” But over the past decade there have also been many other spurs for literary scholars to address many other problems of scale: from the challenges presented by digitization’s expansion of the accessible archive, to the re-conceptualizations demanded by a move away from the region and the nation to the Atlantic and the Oceanic, to the controversies engendered by the contest between old and new hermeneutical dispositions such as symptomatic and surface reading. Meanwhile, whatever side they have taken in these debates, all literary scholars in universities have been exposed to the growing dominance of scale, as neoliberal metrics continue to infiltrate teaching, research and administration.

These questions and concerns are not restricted to one period or one location, but nonetheless nineteenth-century America is a particularly productive time and place to take the measure of the “problem of scale.” The U.S. in the long nineteenth century was a key node, for example, in: the social, political and economic networks that fuelled industrialism’s growing dominance over nature; the growth of print and other communicative technologies into mass media; the rise of modern imperialism; and the ascendance of secular hermeneutics. This symposium offers a rich variety of historical and methodological interpretations of these (re-)scalings. 

2020 Quarry Farm Fellowship Deadline Fast Approaching

The Porch at Quarry Farm

Click here for a PDF of the 2020 Quarry Farm Fellowship Application Guidelines

The Center for Mark Twain Studies offers ten Quarry Farm fellowships for 2020 to any scholar working in the field of Mark Twain Studies at any career stage, giving Fellows the opportunity to work on academic or creative projects at Quarry Farm, the family home of Twain’s sister- and brother-in-law, Susan and Theodore Crane. Twain and his family lived at Quarry Farm for over twenty summers. During this time, in an octagonal study located about one hundred yards from the main house, Mark Twain wrote the majority of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Adventures of Huckleberry FinnA Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and many other major works.

Fellows are consistently struck by the beauty and quiet of the home and its surroundings, an environment inspiring in its own right and especially conducive to writing and research. CMTS has been gathering testimonials from scholars directly related to their personal experiences at Quarry Farm. These testimonials can be found HERE.

Reflecting the mission of the Center for Mark Twain Studies, Quarry Farm Fellowships foster and support scholarship and creative works related to Mark Twain, including, but not limited to, his literature, life, family, associations, influences, reception, and significance. The fellowship selection process aims to assist scholars and artists in producing work of highest distinction and cultivate a diverse community of scholars across backgrounds, specializations, and ranks.

TEN QUARRY FARM FELLOWSHIPS WILL BE OFFERED IN 2020:

A Chair from the Langdon Mansion, currently in the Library at Quarry Farm
  • Three one-month residencies, including housing at Quarry Farm and a $1500 honorarium for each residency
  • Seven two-week residencies, including housing at Quarry Farm and a $1000 honorarium for each residency
  • At least one month-long and two two-week fellowships will be reserved for graduate students, contingent faculty, and faculty three or fewer years removed from completion of their Ph.D.
  • At least one fellowship will be reserved for creative writers

Applications must be submitted to [email protected] or to Dr. Joseph Lemak, the Director of the Center for Mark Twain Studies, at [email protected]. Applications for 2020 will be accepted until November 30, 2019.  Applicants are notified when applications are received, and are notified of the fellowship competition outcome by January 31, 2020.

More information about the 2020 Quarry Farm Fellowships can be found HERE.

CMTS Announces the 2019 Fall Trouble Begins Lecture Series

1869, Mark Twain

In 1985, the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies inaugurated The Trouble Begins 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, in the Barn at Quarry Farm or at Peterson Chapel in Cowles Hall on Elmira College’s campus. In the of each year, the lectures are held at the Park Church. All lectures are free and open to the public.

The Trouble Begins Lecture Series is sponsored by the Michael J. Kiskis Memorial Fund. The sole purpose of this fund is to support scholars and scholarship at Quarry Farm. If you are interested in contributing to this fund, please contact Dr. Joseph Lemak at [email protected]. The Trouble Begins and the Park Church Summer Lecture Series are also made possible by the support of the Mark Twain Foundation and the Friends of the Center.

Wednesday, October 9 in the Barn at Quarry Farm (7 p.m.)

“Mark Twain Invades Washington”

Alan Pell Crawford, Independent Scholar

“I believe the Prince of Darkness could start a branch of hell in the District of Columbia (if he has not already done it)” Mark Twain, Letter to Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, March 7, 1868

Illustration from American Examiner, 1910

Before he was a famous novelist, Mark Twain lived and worked in the Nation’s Capital, first as an aide to Senator William Stewart of Nevada—he was quickly fired—then as a lobbyist and Washington correspondent. These early experiences gave Twain a unique perspective on American politics, and in later years he became a fierce critic of war and imperialism. Having had his profits as an author reduced by pirated editions of his works, he returned to Washington late in life to testify before Congress for copyright protection for authors. People still read his trenchant writings on politics, with good reason. They still speak to us. “Fleas can be taught nearly anything that a Congressman can,” Twain wrote in  What is Man? and Other Essays. In Mark Twain, A Biography he is quoted as saying “Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.” What would he say today?

Alan Pell Crawford is the author, most recently, of How Not to Get Rich: The Financial Misadventures of Mark Twain, published in 2018. His previous books include Unwise Passions: The True Story of a Remarkable Woman and the First Great Scandal of Eighteenth-Century America and Twilight at Monticello: The Final Years of Thomas Jefferson. A former Senate and House staffer, Alan has been a residential scholar at the international Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello and George Washington’s Mount Vernon. He has written for the Wall Street Journal for 25 years and been published in the New York Times, the Washington PostNational Review, the Weekly Standard and Vogue. He lives in Richmond, Virginia.


Wednesday, October 16 in Cowles Hall on the Elmira College Campus (7:00 p.m.)

“‘He ain’t a-comin’ back no mo’: Huck Finn as an American Myth”

Tim DeRoche, Redtail Press

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a rousing adventure, a realistic depiction of American boyhood, a satirical critique of American society, and a foundational text for all of modern American literature. But part of what makes the story so transcendent and enduring is that Huck Finn is also a myth. In this story of two fugitives fleeing down a river, Mark Twain taps into universal themes and tropes that recur in fairy tales, folklore, and religious narratives. That’s one reason that American writers and filmmakers have been retelling this story – both overtly and covertly – for the last 100 years. Seeing Huck Finn through the lens of Joseph Campbell’s universal “hero’s journey” helps reveal why the book has been so important in the formation of the American psyche but also why the ending can feel so unsatisfying. As the prototype for a particular American myth, Huck Finn will be retold over and over as long as our society persists – perhaps even longer.

Tim DeRoche is the author of The Ballad of Huck & Miguel, a modern-day retelling of Huck Finn set on the Los Angeles River. Featured on CBS Sunday Morning in May of 2019, the book has been called “satirical, funny, thrilling, hopeful, and human” by the Mark Twain Forum. Born and raised in Milwaukee, Tim DeRoche emigrated to California to attend Pomona College, where he studied English literature. A graduate of the PBS Producers Academy at WGBH in Boston, he also holds a certificate in feature-film screenwriting from UCLA. He served as executive producer and writer of the children’s science series Grandpa’s Garage, produced by Turner Learning for Georgia Public Television. Tim has written for the Washington PostEducation WeekSchool Administrator, and the Los Angeles Business Journal. His new nonfiction book Separated By Law will be published in 2020 and takes a close look at the policies and laws that assign American children to schools based on where they live.


Wednesday, October 23 in the Barn at Quarry Farm (7:00 p.m.)

“‘We found we had a little cash left over..’: Sam and Livy’s Hartford Dream House and Its Architectural Roots”

Pieter Roos, Mark Twain House and Museum, Hartford, CT.

The Hartford House and Museum

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 Courantremarked 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. We will look 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.

Pieter Nicholson 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. Pieter 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.


Wednesday, October 30 in the Barn at Quarry Farm (7:00 p.m.)

“Sociable Sam: Mark Twain Among Friends”

Judith Yaross Lee, Ohio University

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

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, Distinguished Professor Emerita at Ohio University (Athens, OH), studies American humor and other popular discourses in interdisciplinary historical contexts. Among the 5 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.

Quarry Farm Weekend Symposium “Mark Twain and Nature” Program Now Available

The Center for Mark Twain Studies is proud to present the program for the Sixth Quarry Farm Weekend Symposium “Mark Twain and Nature.”

The natural world figures prominently in the writings of Mark Twain, whether as the main object of description and commentary as in Life on the Mississippi and Roughing It or as an inextricable element of fictional narratives such as The Adventures of Tom SawyerAdventures of Huckleberry FinnThe Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson and more. However, these writings (other than short excerpts from Life and Roughing It) rarely find their way into anthologies of nature writing. And yet, Twain’s writing about the natural world across his literary oeuvre provides prescient and germane commentary on the relationship between human beings and the natural world—revealing it to be a conflicted a relationship of antagonism and praise. On the one hand, he seemed at war with nature: “The purpose of all human laws is one—to defeat the laws of Nature.” On the other hand, he expressed both awe and respect for the power of the natural world: “Architects cannot teach nature anything,” and “Nature knows no indecencies; man invents them.”

CMTS’s Sixth Quarry Farm Weekend Symposium will offer various critical examinations of the natural world in Twain’s writing: as nature writing similar to the ecocritical discourse of Thoreau, Dillard, and Abbey; as exploration of the aesthetic nexus between art and nature; as commentary on animal welfare; and as analysis of the intersection between nature and culture. Moreover, papers cut across all periods of Twain’s writing life and will further the claim of Twain as a forerunner to mid-20th to early 21st century writers such as Krutch, Cuppy, Abbey, Kingsolver, Quammen, and Gessner who offer comic responses to nature as well as recognize the intrinsically humorous place of humanity in nature.

Michael P. Branch

The symposium will be organized by Ben Click (St. Mary’s College of Maryland). The keynote speaker will be Michael P. Branch, a writer of creative nonfiction and humor, focusing on the environment and the life in the American West. Branch is also professor of literature and environment at the University of Nevada, Reno. He has published five books and more than two hundred essays, articles, and reviews.

The symposium will begin on Friday, October 4, 2019 with a dinner in Meier Hall on the Elmira College campus, followed by the keynote address. The symposium will continue throughout the next day with presentations and discussions in the tranquil atmosphere of Quarry Farm, where breakfast, lunch, a cocktail hour and dinner will also be served. Registrants will be invited back to Quarry Farm on Sunday morning to enjoy an autumnal breakfast and casual discussions.

Space is limited to only 40 people and just a few spots remain. If you are interested in attending, register soon. All registration and symposium information can be found HERE.

Chemung County Historical Society Presents the 2019 Mark Twain Speaker Series

The Center for Mark Twain Society is proud to sponsor the Chemung County Historical Society “2019 Mark Twain Speaker Series.” All talks will be held at 7 pm at the Chemung Valley History Museum located at 415 E. Water Street, Elmira, NY, and are free. Call 607-734-4167 for more information.

Thursday, September 5 at the Chemung Valley History Museum

“Mark Twain & The Networks of Disunion”

Matt Seybold, Elmira College

“Nature has no originality,” Mark Twain wrote, “Everything which has happened once must happen again and again and again – and not capriciously, but at regular periods.” Elmira College’s Dr. Seybold will examine Twain’s insights into mass media and particularly how those insights resonate with the media revolution of our own time.

Matt Seybold is Assistant Professor of American Literature & Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College. He is the resident scholar at the Center for Mark Twain studies and editor of MarkTwainStudies.org .

Thursday, September 12 at the Chemung Valley History Museum

“Mark Twain’s Historical Fiction; or, Why Would A Realist Write So Many Romances?”

Nathaniel Cadle, Florida International University

Despite their ongoing popularity, Mark Twain’s frequent forays into historical fiction have often puzzled literary critics. Dr. Cadle will focus his talk on the “straight” Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, which Twain knew was so unusual for him that he first published it under a pseudonym.

Nathaniel Cadle is an Assistant Professor of English at Florida International University in Miami, Florida.

Thursday, September 19 at the Chemung Valley History Museum

“The Clemenses, The Cranes, and The Household Art Movement”

Walter G. Ritchie, Jr., Independent Scholar

The Clemenses and the Cranes followed the tenets of the Household Art Movement popular in the late 19th century. Ritchie, Jr. will talk about parallels between the interiors of the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut, and that of Quarry Farm, the residence of Susan and Theodore Crane in Elmira, to illustrate the interchange between the two families of design reform principles.

Walter G. Ritchie, Jr., is an independent decorative arts scholar and architectural historian specializing in nineteenth-century American domestic architecture, interiors, and furniture.

A Lecture on Twain’s Early Views On Sino-American Relations Concludes the Park Church Summer Lecture Series

The 2019 Park Church Lecture Series, hosted by the Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College, continues on Wednesday, August 21 in the historic and cultural landmark, The Park Church, 208 W. Gray Street, Elmira.  The lecture begins at 7:00 p.m., and is free and open to the public.

Sunny Yang will give a lecture entitled “Where the ‘Wild West’ Ends and China Begins: Rethinking the Geography of Mark Twain and Bret Harte’s Ah Sin


Playbill for the Washington, D.C. run of Ah Sin at the National Theatre, May 1877

Yang will discuss how, in the fall of 1876, Mark Twain and Bret Harte embarked on a disastrous collaboration that would culminate in the frontier melodrama known as Ah Sin. Named after its Chinese laundryman character, who was taken from Harte’s 1870 poem “Plain Language from Truthful James,” the play is widely acknowledged as a literary and financial failure that contributed to the demise of Twain and Harte’s friendship. Yet despite its dubious artistic merit, Ah Sin has captured some critical attention because of the central role played by its titular Chinese character. Scholars have debated the play’s intervention into nineteenth-century American stereotypes about the Chinese and have exclusively interpreted the work in the context of domestic debates over Chinese immigration and legal testimony. This talk takes a different approach by analyzing Ah Sin through the lens of nineteenth-century commentary on Sino-American relations, focusing in particular on the U.S. foreign policy of extraterritoriality in China. Resituating the play in this transnational legal context offers fresh insights into Twain’s anti-imperialism at this moment in his career, while also suggesting new avenues for interpreting representations of Chinese immigrants and Chinese American politics in nineteenth-century American writing.

Sunny Yang is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Houston, where she specializes in American and multi-ethnic American literature of the long nineteenth century. Her research explores the imperial contexts of U.S. racial formation and cultural production with an emphasis on the intersections of law and literature. She received her PhD in English with a certificate in Africana Studies from the University of Pennsylvania and is currently completing her first book project, Fictions of Territoriality, with the support of fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies and the American Association of University Women.

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.