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)

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.


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.

The Untold Story of the Making of The Fantastical, Historically Inaccurate, Adventurous, and Mysterious “Mark Twain’s Niagara, Book 1” Graphic Novel

“Yet slowly, surely, steadily, in the course of my fifteen visits, the proportions adjusted themselves to the facts, and I came at last to realize that a waterfall a hundred and sixty-five feet high and a quarter of a mile wide was an impressive thing. It was not a dipperful to my vanished great vision, but it would answer.”

Mark Twain, “Niagara” from Sketches, New and Old (1875)

This Friday, September 20th, 2019, there will be a talk near a statue of a famous American author. The talk will be with storyteller Zachary Schwartz. The statue is of literary great Mark Twain. The subject will be the newest graphic novel from Canada’s Alternate History Comics (AH Comics) titled Mark Twain’s Niagara, Book 1.

The question that Dr. Joseph Lemak, Director for the Center for Mark Twain Studies asked when first hearing about the new graphic novel, was “Why Mark Twain?“. A legitimate question for a Canadian Small Press publishing company. After all, Twain is one of America’s greatest storytellers. Indeed, he would seem an unintuitive figure of choice for Canadians to highlight in a book. To answer the question of ‘why’, we go back to the beginning, with the original author. No, we don’t mean Samuel Langhorne Clemens.

Zachary Schwartz is a storyteller, author and actor. Born and raised in Niagara Falls, Canada, Schwartz has a long resume in film, television and stage production. By the time he was 21 he already had 28 film roles, including cult favorites like Bride of Chucky and Boondock Saints. His television appearances include Midsummer Night’s Dream, “Clear Water,” and “Kids in the Hall”. On stage, Zach has performed in Sweeney Todd, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Crazy For You, Oliver, Jesus Christ Superstar, Little Shop of Horrors, Grease and most recently as ‘The Beast’ in Beauty & The Beast.

When he was younger he would immerse himself in media, performance, music and reading. As a young fan of Mark Twain, he read a short story titled “Niagara” – originally written in the 1860’s, yet not published until 1875 in a collection of works called Sketches, New & Old. Schwartz was immediately captivated by Twain’s personal account of traveling to Niagara Falls, Canada for the first time in his life. Twain would go on to write about his changing impression of the Falls through subsequent visits, and as time went by, Schwartz as both a Twain fan – and now an adult – was surprised at how few other Mark Twain enthusiasts knew about this original short story.

Then, on a chance visit to a historic site in Niagara, a weathered plaque affixed to what was once the exterior wall of the old Museum of History is what gave Schwartz inspiration to bring this story to life.

As a performer Schwartz has travelled across Canada and the US, and became connected to the way Mark Twain himself travelled, talked and entertained. With this, Zachary spent years crafting a feature length screenplay based on Twain’s own experiences in the Niagara Region, set to the backdrop of the thundering Falls. The screenplay Schwartz wrote, titled “Mark Twain’s Niagara” is not just a literal adaptation of Twain’s original “Niagara” story. It features events and accounts recorded by Twain later in life, peppered with historical easter eggs, figures and fantasies found in some of Twain’s other works.

When Schwartz presented the screenplay to AH Comics, we knew this was something special. This is just the type of story that AH Comics was created to publish – stories that pull in the reader, entertains and empowers us to question the incredible. How do we know if the events illustrated here did – or did not – happen? Are the most incredible parts of the story made up, or are they real, with answers hidden among the backdrop of the roaring waters?

Without having the benefit of hearing Twain’s own voice (of which Schwartz does an incredible version of, heard on a narrated GPS tour app you can download), we decided that the graphic novel version of “Mark Twain’s Niagara” should then be told through Twain’s eyes. In this way, the 100 page fully illustrated story immerses the reader in the 1860’s, following a version of Twain in his 30’s as he crosses borders into Niagara for the first time in his lifetime. There he – and we – experience amazing events and run with figures from history; some living, and some long since passed.

The goal of the Mark Twain’s Niagara graphic novel is to take the world at large on an adventure of a lifetime, and experience the Niagara Region in a never-before-seen way. Presented in chapters, each one as engaging as the last, we also find hints of where the truth lies. Much like Schwartz, and Twain himself, AH Comics strives to be an educator as well as an entertainer. Each chapter contains an introduction that speaks about the history of the Niagara Region related specifically to the incredible events being witnessed by our protagonist.

In the same vein, the “MacGuffin” object that is the common thread through the story is a pipe that Twain presents to one of his oldest living friends. This pipe, in the context of the story, was originally presented to Twain by an Indigenous Elder during one of his trips to the Region. Schwartz’s screenplay description of the pipe was one that was decorative with various adornments and embellishments. When adapting the screenplay into a graphic novel narrative, AH Comics worked closely with an Indigenous scholar and author who researched historically-accurate pipes of the tribes who lived in that portion of the Great Lakes, and who were still present in the Niagara Region during the mid-late 1800s. This is the time period that Twain would have visited. The pipe design that you see illustrated in the graphic novel is the most historically accurate and representative of the actual style that would have been used.

AH Comics as a publisher produces graphic novels and collections focusing on history, fantasy, art and culture. This includes the multiple award-winning MOONSHOT The Indigenous Comics Collection series. So even though the story within the pages of the “Mark Twain’s Niagara” graphic novel is – first and foremost – entertaining, engaging and fantastical, we also wanted to ensure that representations of any group were vetted by group members, to be made accurately and respectfully.

Published last Spring, Mark Twain’s Niagara was recently awarded the Gold Medal for “Best Graphic Novel” at the US 23rd Annual Independent Publisher Awards. You can get a copy of this award-winning book on Amazon right now, and see Zachary Schwartz this Friday, September 20th at Elmira College for autographs and to hear more about the amazing story.

Sadly, the museum plaque in Niagara Falls that started this journey no longer exists – the original building was retrofitted with a modern addition an exhibit. While the historic exterior walls are still standing, they are now interior-facing, and the plaque has been removed. But that memory of inspiration and adventure remains. From cover to cover, the aim of this book is to keep the adventure alive – for graphic novel readers, for Mark Twain fans, for the Niagara Region in the US and Canada, its history, and for the spirit of storytelling.

Event is this Friday, September 20 at the Elmira College Gannett-Tripp Library

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 .

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.

The 3rd Quadrennial Clemens Conference in Hannibal, Missouri

On the final weekend in July, a dedicated contingent of Twain Studies scholars gathered in Hannibal, Missouri for the third quadrennial Clemens Conference, sponsored by the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum. The weather was surprisingly agreeable for midsummer in the Mississippi River Valley and the conference organizers made sure there was plenty of time for adventuring between panels and plenary sessions.

Kerry Driscoll Delivers Keynote Address, “Historicizing Injun Joe”

The keynote address was delivered by Kerry Driscoll, author of Mark Twain Among the Indians. She explored the apocryphal association between “Injun Joe,” the antagonist of Adventures of Tom Sawyer and “Indian Joe,” a longtime resident of Hannibal. Dr. Driscoll’s compelling argument includes analysis of an essay on Native American and mixed race populations in and around Hannibal written by Sam’s brother, Orion Clemens.

Thomas A. Tenney Award Winner, Henry Sweets, Holds Up Commemorative Plate While Larry Howe Looks On

After the keynote address, the Mark Twain Circle and Center for Mark Twain Studies surprised the conference host, Henry Sweets, by awarding him with the Thomas A. Tenney Award for service to Mark Twain Studies. The award was not scheduled to be presented again until 2021, but in recognition of Sweets’s 42 years as Director of the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum, a position which he is relinquishing later this year, it seemed appropriate to deliver the award on his home turf. Noted collector of Twain-related artifacts, Kevin Mac Donnell, sweetened the ceremonial plaque with a collectible plate designed and sold in Hannibal during Twain’s lifetime.

Past & Present Presidents of the Mark Twain Circle of America: Alan Gribben, Bruce Michelson, Ann Ryan, John Bird, Kerry Driscoll, & Larry Howe.
Conference Organizer, Ann Ryan, Summarizes Melissa Scholes Young’s Argument in “Reimagining Becky Thatcher”
Alan Gribben on “Surprises Abound in Mark Twain’s Library”
The Devil’s Backbone in Mark Twain Cave

Friday’s plenaries featured a preview of the forthcoming and much-anticipated volumes of Mark Twain’s Literary Resources by Alan Gribben and an exploration of intimacy, celebrity, and literary wit by Bruce Michelson. After an afternoon exploring the museums and attractions of downtown Hannibal, conference participants were treated to a guided tour of the cave where crucial scenes in Tom Sawyer are set.

On Saturday, John Bird discussed the lessons of his years editing the Twain section in American Literary Scholarship and editors of various Twain-related publications answered questions from the audience. Another panel focused on the influence of Twain’s authorized biography, Albert Bigelow Paine.

John Bird’s “Reflections on Writing the Mark Twain Chapter for American Literary Scholarship”

The weekend climaxed with a steamboat cruise on the Mississippi River. Henry Sweets arranged for two of the conference organizers, John Bird and Ann Ryan, to take turns in the pilot house.

Ann Ryan Takes Her Turn At the Wheel of Mark Twain Riverboat
John Bird Seems Fairly At Ease In The Pilot House
Drs. Joe Csicsila and Ben Click Discuss Bromance of the Mississippi While Hiding Their Cocktails from Intrusive Cameras

The Center for Mark Twain Studies would like to heartily thank our hosts from the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum, the Mark Twain Cave, Mark Twain Riverboat, Mark Twain Brewery, and Finn’s Food & Spirits.

Teachers Convene At Quarry Farm and Elmira College to Discuss Mark Twain and Generation Z

Thanks to Jan Kather of Elmira College for providing the video and photography from the Summer Teachers Institute.

A group of forty-six K-12 teachers, librarians, and other educators gathered in Elmira this week for the 2019 Summer Teachers Institute to discuss the challenges and opportunities created by using Mark Twain’s life and work with students from “Generation Z.” The Institute was led by Dr. Jocelyn Chadwick, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, recent President of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), and author of numerous books on literature and literacy education.

“We had the opportunity to grapple with ways to integrate Twain in our already full curriculums. Dr. Chadwick was a delight to work with! Clearly a gifted educator herself, she was able to enrich us all with her experience and expertise in a truly accessible way.”

Michelle Halperin, Hendy Elementary (4th Grade)

Dr. Chadwick began the Institute by defining what she means by “Generation Z,” a category loosely describing those born after 9/11 and encompassing all the students currently working their way through the K-12 system. Over the past several years, Dr. Chadwick has been conducting fieldwork for NCTE, NBC Learn, and Pearson Publishing by visiting classrooms across the country and conducting interviews with students and teachers. She shared selections from a couple of those interviews and discussed what she was learning about this generation and their educational environments. She described a young student who proclaimed there was no longer any “American Dream,” and suggested that this was indicative of a broader dissatisfaction among Gen Z students with the idea of education as a means to an end, rather than as an end in itself. Dr. Chadwick assured the audience of teachers that their students will do the work if they are persuaded that the texts and tasks being assigned are directly and immediately relevant to their lives and communities. Furthermore, she insisted, Twain’s enormous body of public and private writings is well-suited to addressing many of Gen Z’s most common concerns, including financial precarity, community service, blended families, and technological change.

A selection of interviews with teachers and students about sensitive texts, produced by Jocelyn Chadwick & John Grassie.

During the second session, Matt Seybold, the resident scholar from the Center for Mark Twain Studies, used the example of social media as something which Gen Z students and their teachers were likely to have strong opinions about. Using demographic tables from the U.S. Census, Dr. Seybold summarized the media environment of Twain’s life, as new printing technology made periodicals less expensive, more accessible, and more diversified. He asked participants to imagine the butterfly effects of changing, over the course of a few decades, from a nation with a few hundred periodicals concentrated on the eastern seaboard to one which published 2.5 billion issues in a single year. Participants speculated that people would be more informed and more inclined to imagine the world beyond their daily experiences, but would also be unprepared to be discerning about what they were reading and might depend primarily upon publications that reinforced their existing beliefs. Dr. Seybold also pointed out that celebrities like Mark Twain (or Taylor Swift) are one manifestation of Americans’ desire for national identity amidst this cultural cacophony.

“The past two days were especially valuable to me as a new teacher preparing for my first year because I was able to glean ideas from local educators and scholars.”

Rebecca Heagy, Campbell-Savona (8th Grade English Language Arts)

During the first breakout session, small groups of teachers discussed how the generic Generation Z student who Dr. Chadwick described resembled students in their classes and how some of the Twain texts they had read could be used to generate or supplement discussion of the topics which resonated with such students. Upon reconvening, one group of primarily elementary instructors reported that unconventional and fractured family structures were common in their districts and that students were likely to empathize with characters and narrators who felt insecure and who struggled to adjust to changing environments. A second group of elementary instructors were drawn to the theme of community-building and also community exclusivity, as in Adventures of Tom Sawyer and “The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg.” They suggested that these texts could be leveraged to increase student “buy-in” for cross-curricular and blended classrooms. They wanted to look particularly for ways Twain could be paired with historical contexts and visual arts projects. They also expressed a desire for texts which dealt with diversity and human rights, but did so without vulgarity or other potentially incendiary content.

A group of middle school teachers reiterated the desire for pairing and blending fiction with non-fiction, literature with history, literacy with other subject matter instruction. They wanted to know more about how Twain used games to educate his own children. With reference to “disenfranchised students,” they were looking for how Twain represented struggles for self-definition and self-esteem. A group of secondary teachers reiterated the importance of framing texts around the inevitable questions of adolescence and young-adulthood: “What I am doing and why am I doing it?”, “Where am I going and how do I get there?,” and “Who am I?” They also acknowledged the sticky wicket which they need to navigate: they want to engage with topics that are important to their students but they also want to teach texts which create a safe distance between the classroom and the frightful world. They want relevance to Gen Z, but without making students feel “at risk.”

“The teacher conference was an intellectual experience I will not forget for some time…Teachers of all subjects should seek out this professional development opportunity, to experience Elmira, Mark Twain, and to share in the sincere interest of helping teachers be the best for their students.”

Nathan Morrill, Brady High School in Brady, Texas (English)

After lunch, Dr. Seybold gave a brief history of Mark Twain’s connection to Elmira with particular attention to the domestic instability of Samuel Clemens’s youth and the conflict between his habitual itineracy and his desire to provide his wife and daughters with a stable home. Dr. Chadwick proceeded to address some of the cross-curricular opportunities which could be explored using primary sources, including Bills of Sale from slave auctions, selections from African-American Newspapers, artwork by Tim Rollins and Kids of Survival, and speeches by Frederick Douglass. The first day closed with an open-ended discussion, as Dr. Chadwick called upon individual teachers to articulate what had surprised them about either Generation Z or Mark Twain during the first day of the Institute. Several teachers expressed surprise at the breadth and diversity of Twain’s writing and particularly at the potential to move away from teaching Twain exclusively as a commentator on race in America. Others admitted to being unaware of how influential Twain became in his own lifetime, amassing enough cultural power to influence political campaigns, amplify the voices of younger artists and activists, and bring publicity to colonial atrocities.

On Thursday morning, Institute participants congregated on the porch at Quarry Farm. After breakfast, Dr. Chadwick led a session on one of her favorite subjects: using Twain’s fiction as a model for teaching the formal elements of writing, particularly as they are outline in the education standards of New York State. For more than an hour, the group discussed how a single famous passage from Adventures of Huckleberry Finn could be used to teach genre, audience, allusion, symbolism, anaphora, verisimilitude, and many other ELA terms and concepts. During the breakout session, participants analyzed other passages of their choosing from the reader and shared their ideas for using these passages to teach close-reading and writing. Selections discussed came from Twain’s poems, speeches, sketches, and letters, as well as his novels. Several groups recommended pairing with texts by other authors, from Harper Lee and Toni Morrison to Pope Urban II and The Beatles.

The second session of the day began with Dr. Chadwick reading Twain’s “A True Story, Repeated Word For Word As I Heard It” on the very spot which the story is set. After her reading, Dr. Chadwick led a wide-ranging discussion of the story.

Dr. Chadwick reads Twain’s “A True Story” on the Porch at Quarry Farm, where the story is set

During lunch, teachers toured the grounds at Quarry Farm and mingled with one another, as well as with a few fourth-graders from Michelle Halperin’s class at Hendy Elementary in Elmira. During the Spring term, Dr. Chadwick visited Mrs. Halperin’s class both via video-conferencing and in person to discuss what they had been doing with Twain, including reading “A True Story” and Adventures of Tom Sawyer. After lunch, the students joined the teachers on the porch and answered questions about their experiences reading and listening to Twain’s works. These precocious young Elmirans felt that Tom Sawyer, in particular, compelled them and their classmates to be imaginative, even those who weren’t naturally inclined to be. They were able to remember specific details from the story and even half-remember direct quotations. Even under pressure they refused to admit that any of their classmates had not been enthusiastically engaged by the material. If nothing else, this proves they had learned to consider their audience.

The final session of the Institute focused on memory and memorization. Dr. Seybold began by reading a short selection from a work-in-progress about how Twain used specific works of music to memorialize his wife and daughters after they died. He listened to these specific works of music almost daily, using them to stimulate both his memory and his imagination. In other places, like the speech “Memory & Morals,” Twain discusses the importance of converting the vagaries of memory into productive lessons. Dr. Seybold also summarized some of the games and pneumonic devices Twain developed for the purposes of memorizing historical facts and his own lectures. This prefaced a discussion of what we require students to remember and why. What are the justifications for memorization and how can memorization be better integrated with imaginative and creative work?

“Regardless of your role in educating students of any age, like Mark Twain’s writings this seminar was inspirational, motivational, and rewarding.”

Sonia Barchet, Elmira City Schools (EDA Library Media Specialist)

Dr. Chadwick and the Center for Mark Twain Studies left the Institute with promises of updated resources and continued support. In addition to the provided reader, Institute participants have access to a digital archive of primary sources, opportunities for continued engagement with Dr. Chadwick and other Twain scholars, including eligibility for a six-week graduate course at Elmira College during Fall semester.

2019 Summer Teachers Institute Resources

The following is primarily a repository of resources related to the 2019 Summer Teachers Institute hosted by the Center for Mark Twain Studies on Wednesday, July 16 and Thursday, July 17. While a few of these resources are password-protected for intellectual property reasons, many of them are open access and may be of interest to teachers, students, and scholars, even if they are not attending the STI this year. This page will continue to be updated throughout the duration of the Institute, after which it will stay active.

Mark Twain in Elmira

Teaching With Sensitive Texts

Mark Twain & Sensational Journalism

Twain on Memory & Memorization

Testimonials to Twain’s Influence

Twain on Business & Economics

2019 Elmira College Twain Art and Writing Contest Winner Announced

The Center for Mark Twain Studies has announced the winners of the Annual Portraying Mark Twain Art Contest and the Mark Twain Essay Contest. First place prizes were awarded to Jamie Dorsey ’21 and Rebecca Heagy ’19, respectively. Jamie’s winning piece in the Art Contest was a photograph of the Mark Twain gravestone taken from a dramatic angle that emphasized “Twain.” His photo has already been used to advertise the spring Trouble Begins lecture series on the CMTS Facebook page. Rebecca was this year’s annual essay contest winner.

Honorable mentions in the Art Contest were awarded to Emily Selbert ’20 for her photo highlighting several volumes of “Mark Twain’s Letters”; Erica VanNostrand ’20 for her self-portrait standing at the doorstep of the Mark Twain Study; and Shannon Strawinski ’19 for her digitally enhanced photo of the Mark Twain statue outside of Harris Hall.Each student was awarded a monetary prize ranging from $75-$250 for their artistic and writing skills.

The 2020 Portraying Mark Twain Contest will open for entries at the end of May, 2019. All Elmira College students are encouraged to submit artwork that reflects some aspect of Mark Twain, his writings, or his life in Elmira. More information is available here.

2019 Summer Institute For Teachers: Mark Twain & Generation Z

The Center for Mark Twain Studies, in association with the Elmira College Office of Continuing Education & Graduate Studies and the Greater Souther Tier Teacher Center, will once again host a two-day institute for primary and secondary school educators this July. As in the past, participants will, for a relatively small fee, subsidized by our partner organizations, get to spend time intensively studying the life and works of Mark Twain in the historic environs of Elmira College and Quarry Farm.

Jocelyn Chadwick

This year, in addition to myself (Assistant Professor of American Literature & Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College and resident scholar at the Center for Mark Twain Studies), the institute will be led by Jocelyn Chadwick. Dr. Chadwick recently finished a term as President of the National Council For Teachers of English, during which she paid particular attention to how 21st-century students responded to sensitive texts, including Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In addition to her many years as a secondary-school teacher and an education professor, currently at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Dr. Chadwick has a lengthy track record of scholarship on Mark Twain’s works in U.S. classrooms, notably her book, The Jim Dilemma: Reading Race in Huckleberry Finn, as well as numerous articles (for instance, in this special section of English Journal from 2017) and presentations.

In March of 2018, Dr. Chadwick used as a vehicle for her response to a decision by Duluth Public Schools to drop Huckleberry Finn and Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird from their curriculums. This remains one of the most popular pages on our site, as is the follow-up, in which she shared excerpts from interviews with teachers and students which she had conducted during her nationwide travels for NCTE. In these posts and her ongoing work, Dr. Chadwick focuses on the importance of reframing these texts for this generation of readers, as well as putting Mark Twain into conversation with other writers and utilizing additional primary sources which both situate students in the historical contexts of the novels and put those novels in conversation with contemporary culture.

During this year’s institute, “Mark Twain & Generation Z,” Dr. Chadwick is eager to both share the perspective she has gained from visiting classrooms around the country and engage with the unique perspectives of faculty from our region.

As has always been the case, participants in the Summer Institute will receive a certificate, but for the first time in 2019, Institute attendees will also have the option of enrolling in an abbreviated course, offered during the Fall 2019 term, at Elmira College. The course will meet once a week, on Wednesday evenings, for six weeks. Teachers who attend both the Summer Institute and take the course will earn 3.0 credits towards their Masters in Education at Elmira College.

This course will include more sustained discussions of texts introduced during the institute and pedagogical approaches to them. Participants will also have the opportunity to follow-up with Dr. Chadwick via video-conferencing and engage with other Twain scholars in residence at the Center for Mark Twain Studies during the Fall of 2019.

For more information and registration information, please check out this page and feel free to contact the Center for Mark Twain Studies or the Elmira College Office of Continuing & Graduate Studies.