Results from the 2nd Annual Quarry Farm Fireplace Writing Contest

The winners of the 2nd Annual Quarry Farm Fireplace Creative Writing Contest have come to Quarry Farm and recieved the prize, a personal tour inside Quarry Farm for themselves and their classmates. Two area students in grades 2-6 were selected for their creative writings inspired by the fireplace tiles in the Quarry Farm Parlor: Treya Das Banerjee (Carder Elementary, Corning) and Elizabeth McNett (Finn Academy, Elmira).

Carder Elementary (Corning, NY)

Finn Academy (Elmira, NY)

Mark Twain often encouraged his children to create and tell their own stories based off the tiles adorning the parlor fireplace. The 24 tiles around the fireplace depict fables written by ancient Greek storyteller, Aesop, who utilized animals, such as crows, snakes, mice, and foxes, to illustrate moral lessons.

The winning students and their classmates received a personal tour inside Quarry Farm, something that is normally only open to Twain Scholars. In addition, the were able read their story next to the Quarry Farm parlor fireplace, tour the grounds at Quarry Farm, and enjoy Mark Twain’s favorite dessert: gingerbread, vanilla ice cream, and lemonade.

CMTS has an extensive list of online resources for teachers, available to everyone at no cost to the student, teacher, or school.  To access this list, please click here.

CMTS encourages all local schools to participate next year.  For more information contact Director Joseph Lemak at [email protected]

Mark Twain Forum Reviews: Teaching Huckleberry Finn by John Nogowski

Editor’s Note:CMTS is proud to partner with the Mark Twain Forum, which has long been a leading venue for reviews of new publications in Mark Twain Studies. Visit their extensive archive. Follow the link at the bottom of the page to read the complete review. A portion of Amazon purchases made via links from Mark Twain Forum Book Reviews is donated to the Mark Twain Project. 

Teaching Huckleberry Finn: Why and How to Present the Controversial Classic in the High School Classroom. By John Nogowski. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2018. Pp. 179. Paper, 5-7/8″ x 8-3/4″. $35.00. ISBN 978-1-4766-7428-5.

On the May 26, 2019, installment of CBS News Sunday Morning, in a segment called “On the River,” Lee Cowan reported on Tim DeRoche’s The Ballad of Huck and Miguel: A Novel (2018; Redtail Press, with illustrations by Daniel Gonzalez), a rewrite of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Proclaimed “a Huck Finn for today,” the novel was highlighted for its contemporary reimagining of Clemens’s classic. DeRoche explained that he sought to tell a story true to the original novel while making the text relevant to and for the twenty-first century (achieved most immediately by changing the Jim character to an undocumented immigrant and moving action to Los Angeles). In the segment, Cowan offers a context for the new work by discussing the original novel, explaining some of its initial readers “didn’t find it such a charming tale” and declaring “it’s now required reading in most schools.” This recent release and the recent news item show the continued relevance of Huckleberry Finn, but Cowan’s assertion that the book is required reading shows a limited realization about the current state of Mark Twain reading in schools.

In the current world of K-12 education, there are few texts that are literally “required reading in most schools.” Plenty of individual schools require texts for their students, and some works, of course, appear more often than others. However in today’s world, it is no longer the norm to expect that certain books be taught annually across the board at all schools. And despite the label of “Common Core,” students do not necessarily navigate a common curricular path through the contemporary classroom. The Common Core for English/Language Arts standards provides would-be teachers with lists of “exemplar texts,” and the use of these texts varies depending on both teacher preference and text availability. (The list of exemplar texts does promote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer as a text for middle school students, but its sequel does not appear on the equivalent list for secondary student reading.)

The selection of texts in the modern high school classroom is influenced by many factors. In the post-No Child Left Behind classroom, standardized testing remains dominant, and various forms of testing and other school requirements regularly cut time from teaching, making the choice of those literary works that are to be studied critical. However, even after factoring in the available time for a specific work to be taught, teachers then have to consider the availability and condition of copies (never guaranteed in an era with consistently limited resources, even with the move to e-texts in many schools); the curricular unit plans that will be used to teach those texts; the forms of assessment to be administered; and how well received the selection will be by the students, parents, and administration. With all of these factors at play, texts that are perceived as difficult and challenging are often avoided, and those works which evoke controversy are more and more regularly avoided by teachers as they plan their lessons. All of these issues are brought forth in John Nogowski’s Teaching Huckleberry Finn: Why and How to Present the Controversial Classic in the High School Classroom (2018, McFarland). Nogowski recounts his experiences, challenges, and triumphs teaching Huck in a Florida high school (although not necessarily in that order).

Readers who are removed from the high school experience may find some of the account surprising, but Nogowski does a good job painting a thorough version of his experience in a few pages. His book is a quick and appealing read driven and enhanced by his clear passion for his work in the classroom and for his students. Nogowski starts his preface by downplaying his own scholarship, saying it “might not be termed academic mainstream” (1), but this book is clearly meant to be a pedagogical approach to the use of the novel and not an academic treatise. Readers should approach Teaching Huckleberry Finn as a case study in teaching practices. Given that expectation, Nogowski is perhaps overstating the value he sees in teaching Clemens’s novel since those coming to this text likely are already convinced it should be taught. But, as he reveals throughout his work, there is still a need to argue for the teaching of this work with some school stakeholders. Unfortunately, some school administrators see the novel as too controversial a text to be worth the potential challenges. In the final chapter of this book, Nogowski details meeting an administrative roadblock after seven years of teaching Clemens’s novel. Despite his documented success reaching historically struggling students through Mark Twain and finding that students connect with Huck’s “street smarts” and quick thinking (66), Nogowski was blocked from continuing to use Twain’s novel once he was assigned to teach an Advanced Placement course. Apparently, he moved out from under the radar when he drew this teaching assignment, and the administration, which should have been aware of his teaching throughout the years, suddenly became wary of his text selection.

Clearly, Nogowski has both experience and expertise with Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. However, his efforts to solidify his own ethos threaten at times to overstep, as he declares that, despite the fact he cannot and does not call himself a scholar, “I doubt there are many educators in America who have taken Twain’s work […] into the places I have” (2). There are a few moments early in the text which Nogowski seems to try a balancing act, disclaiming his expertise as a scholar while proclaiming his authority as a practical teacher. These attempts threaten to disrupt his purpose because of distractions. Luckily once he gets into the discussion of his actual teaching (which starts as early as the first true chapter), they stop. Having been a sportswriter before entering teaching, Nogowski knows how to write economically and engagingly, and his charming style enhances the overall work. Although one might presume a limited and very specific readership for a book of this type, any reader could pick up this work and both follow and enjoy it.

…continue reading Hugh Davis’s review on Mark Twain Forum.

Copyright © 2019 Mark Twain Forum

This review may not be published or redistributed in any medium without permission.

The Mark Twain Forum Review Editor is Barbara Schmidt.

Twain For Teachers: “The N-Word In The Classroom” (C19 Podcast)

Teachers at all levels may be intrigued by this recent episode of the C19 podcast featuring (and produced by) Koritha Mitchell of Ohio State University. The episode is not exclusively about Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Mitchell considers a range of texts by authors from various historical periods and with various racial identities. But Twain’s novel is prominent and she also alludes to the NewSouth edition of the novel which replaced the n-word with slave. Mitchell says, “The Huck Finn example is important because C19 scholars likely believe its more directly related to their work than the aforementioned books by [Randall] Kennedy and [Jabari] Asim. But what makes it even more important is that people working on the 19th century also seem to view the debate in terms of whether Twain is being censored, rather than considering how they might hold themselves to a higher standard as teachers and scholars.”

Central to Dr. Mitchell’s pedagogical perspective is her classroom covenant, portions of which she discusses in detail. This document, along with further commentary, can be viewed in full at her website: KorithaMitchell.com

You can subscribe to the C19 podcast on iTunes, SoundCloud, and other popular platforms. Check out other projects from C19: The Society of 19th-Century Americanists at their website: C19Society.org

Interactive Map of 1901 Elmira Now Available

In collaboration with SmallTown 360, the Center for Mark Twain Studies has created an interactive map of 1901 Elmira. The map highlights the important people and places that shaped Mark Twain and the Langdon family during his summers in Elmira. Key points include Quarry Farm, the Langdon Mansion, and the Park Church. The map also points out lesser known places like the home of Darius Ford, friend of Twain and Elmira College professor who was offered to accompany Charley Langdon as a companion and tutor on a round the world tour; the home of John Slee, associate of Twain during his Buffalo days and the eventual manager of J. Langdon & Co.; the Lyceum Theater, where in 1868 Twain first performed in public in Elmira, with a young Olivia Langdon in the audience; and the Elmira Reformatory, a prison in which Twain performed for the “captivated” audience – Twain later wrote that he found the group extremely satisfactory.

The map is located under CMTS “Online Resources” and can be accessed HERE.

The Center for Mark Twain Studies hopes that this map is used by all teachers, students, and Twain enthusiasts with the goal of promoting Mark Twain’s important legacy in Elmira. At the same time, CMTS endeavors to celebrate its own local history as a vibrant, cosmopolitan upstate New York town in the latter half of the19th and early 20th century.

CMTS would like to thank the following people with their help on this project:

Winners Announced for the Second “Quarry Farm Fireplace Creative Writing Contest”

Winners have been selected for the Quarry Farm Fireplace Creative Writing Contest sponsored by the Center for Mark Twain Studies. Two area students in grades 2-6 have been selected for their creative writings inspired by the fireplace tiles in the Quarry Farm Parlor: Treya Das Banerjee (Carder Elementary, Corning) and Elizabeth McNett (Finn Academy, Elmira).

Mark Twain often encouraged his children to create and tell their own stories based off the tiles adorning the parlor fireplace. The 24 tiles around the fireplace depict fables written by ancient Greek storyteller, Aesop, who utilized animals, such as crows, snakes, mice, and foxes, to illustrate moral lessons.

The winning students and their classmates will receive a personal tour inside Quarry Farm, something that is normally only open to Twain Scholars. In addition, the winning students will be able to read their story next to the Quarry Farm parlor fireplace, tour the grounds at Quarry Farm, and enjoy Mark Twain’s favorite dessert: gingerbread, vanilla ice cream, and lemonade.

CMTS has an extensive list of online resources for teachers, available to everyone at no cost to the student, teacher, or school.  To access this list, please click here.

CMTS encourages all local schools to participate next year.  For more information contact Director Joseph Lemak at [email protected]

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 MarkTwainStudies.com 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.

Mark Twain: Television Star

The following introduction and collection of television clips come from one source: David Bianculli, nationally known television critic, professor at  Rowan University, and contributor to NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross. CMTS is deeply grateful to Mr. Bianculli for his work on assembling these clips. CMTS hopes that this collection helps contribute to the academic discussion of Mark Twain’s portrayal in the television era and beyond.

David Bianculli

INTRODUCTION by David Bianculli

Examining the topic Mark Twain on Television would seem to be an absurdly easy endeavor. Samuel Clemens died in 1910, several decades before the earliest experiments in TV. So, no Mark Twain on television, period. And though he was photographed extensively for most of his adult life, Clemens was an elusive figure in other media. If there indeed were audio recordings of his voice made when he visited Thomas Edison’s workshop, none has yet been known to survive. And on the then-new motion picture medium, Clemens was captured for posterity precisely once – at his Stormfield home, with daughters Clara and Jean, in 1909, the year before his death. So for media historians, at the moment, that’s the final score for Mark Twain appearances: Movies 1, Television 0.

But Mark Twain the character, as portrayed by others? That’s a different matter entirely, and it’s fascinating.

On television, the entire Mark Twain TV canon can be divided into two camps: before and after Hal Holbrook’s 1967 Hal Holbrook CBS production of Mark Twain Tonight! Before Holbrook, portrayals of Twain were all over the map in terms of looks, voice, and other physical manifestations. After Holbrook, almost every portrayal of the elder Twain borrowed heavily, and unashamedly, from Holbrook’s brilliant portrayal – down to the then anachronistic, but visually striking, white suit.

That and one other seminal early portrayal of Mark Twain on TV, the 1960 The Shape of the River teleplay on the CBS anthology series Playhouse 90, both have been investigated and dissected at length by my TV-critic colleague and fellow Twain enthusiast, Mark Dawidziak. But that still leaves plenty of Mark Twain TV portrayals to revisit and examine – and spread over the entire history of television, it’s a strange, as well as long, list.

Yes, Hal Holbrook impersonated Mark Twain on television – but over the years, so did Bing Crosby and James Stewart, James Garner and Woody Harrelson, and William Shatner and Vanilla Ice. This video presentation includes samples of them all.

Some of the approaches, like many of the performances, are full of surprises. The character of Samuel Clemens showed up on three different episodes of NBC’s Bonanza, played over the years by three different actors. Clemens, as Twain, also appeared on other early TV Westerns, drawing on partly autobiographical writings and articles: NBC’s Laramie, ABC’s The Rifleman, and the syndicated Death Valley Days. The first portrayal of Clemens on TV was on an ABC anthology series in 1953, called Cavalcade of America, in an episode called “Riders of the Pony Express.” Over the years, among the most dramatized portions of the author’s life were the latter years, especially the tragic death of his daughter Jean. Shape of the River got there first, with Horton Foote’s still-potent account – but the same tragedy was presented by, among other TV shows and specials, PBS’s Mark Twain: Beneath the Laughter in 1979 and the CBS series Touched by an Angel in 1997.

The portrayals of Mark Twain on TV do, indeed, range from the sublime to the ridiculous: the former represented by Holbrook’s triumphant one-man show, the latter by, say, the Mark Twain we see in 2013 on Comedy Central’s Drunk History. It’s all here to sample and enjoy – straight up, or on ice. Vanilla Ice.

COLLECTION

#1 – Mark Twain, 1909

The title card of this short silent film says it was “Photographed by Thomas Edison,” but there’s no proof of that. Filmed by someone from Edison’s film company, but still amazing. The only moving picture of the real Samuel Clemens, walking around his Stormfield property, and sitting with daughters Clara and Jean, in 1909. Both Jean and her father would soon be dead.

#2 – Cavalcade of America, “Riders of the Pony Express” (ABC, Dec. 15, 1953)

First TV appearance of the Sam Clemens/Mark Twain “character.” Twain doesn’t speak, but is filmed atop a stagecoach as he narrates quotes approximating those in Roughing It, witnessing a fleet rider from the Pony Express. Robert Cornthwaite plays the young Mark Twain.

#3 – Bonanza, “Enter Mark Twain” (NBC, Season 1, Episode 5, Oct. 10, 1959)

Sam Clemens, played by Howard Duff, writes under the name of Josh for Virginia City’s local paper, the Territorial Enterprise (just as Clemens did). Virginia City is right there on the Bonanza opening credits map, right next to the Ponderosa. Sam Clemens enters the newspaper office and introduces himself. First speaking role on TV.

Sam drinks with the judge’s wife, mentions Calaveras County and “fancy writing”

Sam Clemens plots with the Cartwrights to ridicule the judge and influence election. Then Adam reads a news clipping making fun of a “Professor Pronoun,” with the article signed “Josh.” (Keokuk’s The Gate City published such a story, signed by “Josh,” that was a dispatch from Clemens in 1863, under the headline, “Report on the Lecture of Prof. Personal Pronoun.”)

Clemens is writing story in the Enterprise office as bullets fly, and the Cartwrights defend him. Gives new meaning to the term deadline, and provides a “bonanza” about how the Mark Twain name really came about.

The Cartwrights read aloud from a new dispatch in the Enterprise about Professor Pronoun: “Prof. Personal Pronoun Won’t Be Around Any More.”

#4 – Laramie “Company Man” (NBC, Season 1, Episode 21, Feb. 9, 1960)

In Arizona in the 1870s, in Wyoming Territory, 12 miles outside Laramie, there’s a ranch that has a stage stop. One of the passengers is a villain named Jack Slade. Another is a man who wrote about him: Sam Clemens, played by Dabbs Greer, who identifies himself.

Sam Clemens leaves on the stage, discusses his next book with youngster Andy. Next scene, a package arrives for Andy: a copy of Twain’s Roughing It.

#5 – Playhouse 90, “The Shape of the River” (CBS, Season 4, Episode 16, May 2. 1960)

This was the penultimate production of Playhouse 90, written by Horton Foote, who focused on Twain’s last, difficult years and did a superb job. (So did Mark Dawidziak, who both wrote a book about this TV special and unearthed a copy of it, long considered lost.) Franchot Tone plays Mark Twain, and introduces the drama.

Lecture tour: snippets from Twain’s lecture tour, including quotes about kids and parents.

Jean dies in the bathtub on Christmas Eve day, 1909. The first of several TV depictions of this tragedy, and Twain’s reactions to it.

After Jean’s death, Twain discusses leaving for Elmira.

Twain writes of Jean’s death and the imminent return of Halley’s comet.

#6 – The Rifleman, “The Shattered Idol” (ABC, Season 4, Episode 10, Dec. 4, 1961)

Kevin McCarthy plays an embittered Clemens, who arrives by stagecoach, witnessed by Rifleman’s son.

#7 – Death Valley Days, “$275,000 Sack of Flour” (Syndicated, Season 11, Episode 2, Oct.1, 1962)

Credits and introduction, explaining premise of episode.

Sam Clemens is played by William Schallert, who enters a store in Clinton, sees Gridley (a friend from Hannibal, a.k.a. “Frogskin”), and suggests pulling a stunt in nearby Virginia City.

As the host explains in the conclusion to this episode, Twain wrote about this incident in Roughing It.

#8 – Bonanza, “The Emperor Norton” (NBC, Season 7, Episode 23, Feb. 27, 1966)

This is the second of three Samuel Clemens appearances on Bonanza, each played by a different actor. In this one, Sam Clemens is played by William Challee, and it’s a cameo, with Clemens arriving, briefly, as a character witness at someone else’s trial.

#9 – Mark Twain Tonight! (CBS, March 6, 1967)

This landmark TV special, capturing for posterity one of Hal Holbrook’s impressively researched one-man shows as Mark Twain, already has been authoritatively recounted, and again by Mark Dawidziak, this time in a presentation at Elmira 2013: The Seventh International Conference on the State of Mark Twain Studies. Most TV “appearances” by Twain can be divided into before and after Holbrook’s triumph. Before, the Twains could be wildly diverse. After, they are all, more or less, variations on Holbrook’s interpretation. In this opening segment, Twain discusses whiskey – and truth.

More Holbrook as Twain, talking of riding West on the Overland stage.

More Holbrook as Twain, discussing lies and Congress

#10 – Death Valley Days, “Ten Day Millionaires,” (Syndicated, Season 17, Episode 12, Dec. 21, 1968)

Tom Skerritt plays a young Sam Clemens, with Dabney Coleman as Calvin Higby, his partner during his short-lived Nevada mining-camp days. The second of two Death Valley Days featuring Clemens – this one in color.

The young prospectors reunite after a misunderstanding, and Clemens vows to survive wielding not a pick, but a pencil.

Conclusion to Death Valley Days, in which the host reads the opening to Twain’s Roughing It, dedicated to Higby.

#11 – Swing Out, Sweet Land (alternate title, John Wayne’s Tribute to America) (NBC, Nov. 29, 1970)

In this first TV special by John Wayne, he introduces Mark Twain and Frederick Douglass, played respectively by Bing Crosby and Roscoe Lee Browne.

Twain and Douglass chat, in a conversation culled from their letters to one another.

#12 – Bonanza, “The Twenty-Sixth Grave” (NBC, Season 14, Episode 7, Oct. 31, 1972)

This is the third of three appearances by an actor playing Mark Twain on Bonanza. The first was in 1959, the second in 1966, and this third one, maintaining the once-per-decade pace, is from 1972. Sam Clemens is played by Ken Howard, who later starred in Puddn’head Wilson for American Playhouse on PBS in 1984. Here, after a Twain quote about “26 Graves” is displayed directly and accurately on screen, Howard spins stories at the newspaper office.

#13 – Huckleberry Finn (ABC, March 25, 1975)

This 1975 made-for-TV movies stars Royal Dano as Mark Twain, who “hosts” this adaptation of Twain’s masterpiece. The casting says it all: Huck Finn is played by Ron Howard, and Tom Sawyer by Donny Most. Their hit nostalgia sitcom, ABC’s Happy Days (on which Howard played Richie Cunningham and Most played Ralph Malph) had premiered the year before. Also featured, though not in this clip: Jack Elam and Merle Haggard as the nonsensical King and Duke, and Antonio Fargas (who played Huggy Bear on another ABC hit, Starsky and Hutch) as Huck’s raftmate, runaway slave Jim.

#14 – General Electric’s All-Star Anniversary (NBC, Sept. 29, 1978)

This NBC special is another one which, for this portion at least, was hosted by John Wayne. In this excerpt, Michael Landon, in his Western get-up from NBC’s Little House on the Prairie, gets the chance to travel magically through time and interview one of his idols, Mark Twain (as played by James Stewart). Twain reminiscences, in particular, about his days as a riverboat cub pilot on the Mississippi River.

#15 – Mark Twain: Beneath the Laughter (PBS, Dec. 10, 1979)

In this often sad made-for-TV movie, Dan O’Herlihy plays Sam Clemens, who is greeted by reporters upon his return to America in Dec. 1909, and says he is anxious to get to his Stormfield home and spend Christmas with his daughter Jean. This special has a noteworthy collection of academic advisers in its credits, including Hamlin Hill, Frederick Anderson, William Gibson, Lewis Leary and Walter Blair.

In this Beneath the Laughter clip, as in The Shape of the River, Clemens is told of, and reacts to, Jean’s tragic death.

#16 – Great Performances: Life on the Mississippi (PBS, Nov. 24, 1980)

In this 1980 dramatization, a very young Sam Clemens is portrayed by David Knell, while the imposing riverboat pilot under whom he trains, Horace Bixby, is played by Robert Lansing. In this scene, young Sam applies for, and gets, the job as apprentice pilot.

#17 – Great Performances: The Innocents Abroad (PBS, May 9, 1983)

This movie-length dramatization quotes accurately from Twain’s Innocents Abroad, and this clip shows an example of that, followed by a scene in which young Sam Clemens, played by Craig Wasson, talks himself into becoming the Alta newspaper’s correspondent for the first-ever luxury tourist excursion cruise. Co-stars include Brooke Adams as Julia Newell as David Odgen Stiers as Doc.

#18 – Cheers, “Pudd’nHead Boyd” (NBC, Season 6, episode 9, Nov. 26, 1987)

Woody Boyd (played by Woody Harrelson) gets to understudy as Mark Twain in “Authors in Hell” play. Wears the white suit, adopts the persona, even when working as a bartender.

#19 – Mark Twain and Me, (Disney Channel, Nov. 22, 1991)

Mark Twain is played by Jason Robards, daughter Jean by Talia Shire, friend and biographer Albert Paine by R.H. Thomson. Amy Stewart portrays Dorothy Quick, the author of book remembering her time with Samuel Clemens in London, 1908. This clip features a preamble from Dorothy, and Clemens reflecting to Paine about his children after receiving a cable with bad news about daughter Susy.

#20 – Star Trek: The Next Generation, “Time’s Arrow,” Part 1 and Part 2 (Syndicated, Season 5, Episode 26, June 13, 1992; Season 6, Episode 1, Sept. 19, 1992).

Sam Clemens is played by Jerry Hardin. Crew members from the Enterprise travel back in time to Twain’s era, where he discusses his own fanciful time-travel musings in his A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.

#21 – Touched By an Angel, “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear,” (CBS, Season 4, Episode 12, Dec. 21, 1997).

John Cullum plays Sam Clemens, who returns home to daughter Jean on Christmas Eve, 1909. She has a special gift for her father and slips it into the Christmas tree branches. He delivers some well-known Twain quotes, and tells Jean to get her rest.

Jean dies in the tub.

Clemens, that very day, writes of Jean’s death. Then Monica visits him, reveals herself as an angel – after which he angrily argues theology with her.

#22 – Mark Twain. Documentary by Ken Burns. (PBS, Jan. 14-15, 2002)

Kevin Conway as the voice of Mark Twain. The end of his life, including the prediction of Halley’s Comet returning as he died, is recounted in this nonfiction study.

#23 – Roughing It (Hallmark Channel miniseries, March 16, 2002)

James Garner plays Samuel Clemens, giving a speech to his daughter Susy’s graduating class at Bryn Mawr college outside Philadelphia. But she never graduated from there, and did not remain long. Regardless, Garner, in the famous Mark Twain persona (anachronistic white suit and all), gets to reminisce from the lectern about his old salad days, setting up flashbacks to his time in the Nevada territory, and the events recounted in the book Roughing It. Robin Dunne plays young Sam in flashbacks, with Adam Arkin as Henry and Jill Eikenberry as Livy Clemens.

#24 – Drunk History, “San Francisco.” (Comedy Central, Season 1, Episode 5, Aug. 6, 2013)

After series credits are shown, inebriated storyteller Derrick Beckles introduces his version of how Mark Twain’s literary career was launched. Steve Little plays Mark Twain.

The story is told, drunkenly, of how an overheard “Jumping Frog” story proved to be Twain’s “jumping-off point.”

#25 – Murdoch Mysteries (Alternate US title: The Artful Detective) “Marked Twain” (Ovation, Season 9, Episode 2, Oct.12, 2015)

William Shatner guest stars as Mark Twain, making a somewhat unpopular speaking appearance in Toronto as an avowed anti-imperialist visiting Canada on an international speaking tour. At his first speech, he’s shot at.

In this clip, undaunted, Twain returns to the podium at a later date – and gives a very modern speech about women’s rights.

#26 – The Ridiculous 6 (Netflix, Dec. 11, 2015)

This made-for-TV movie is a comedy Western, co-written by Adam Sandler and Tim Herlihy, in which several familiar Western-era figures congregate tro play poker. General Custer, for example, is portrayed by David Spade – and Mark Twain steals the show, and concludes this presentation, as portrayed by…..Vanilla Ice.

New Documentary focuses on Twain’s Time in Buffalo

For over three decades I poked around in the area of Twain’s connection to my hometown, Buffalo, NY.

Mark Twain’s home in Buffalo (472 Delaware Avenue) as pictured in 1947. The home was demolished in 1963.

I spent countless hours in the Grosvenor Room of the Central Library in downtown Buffalo flipping through pages of the over one hundred volumes of the Local History and Local Biographies scrapbooks, taking notes from pasted newspaper clippings that contained relevant information. I read and cross-referenced entries in Buffalo City Directories of the late 1860s and 1870s searching for names and addresses of Twain’s Buffalo Express colleagues, his fellow renters in a boarding house on East Swan Street while he was still a bachelor, various friends and associates that he socialized with, and neighbors in the posh Delaware District community that he moved into once he married Olivia Langdon. A kind and trusting Buffalo History Museum research librarian once even let me borrow an 1869 Buffalo City Directory that had belonged to Millard Fillmore for a weekend so I could study it at home.

I also logged hour after hour hunched over at cumbersome, hand-cranked, dimly-lit microfilm reader machines at public libraries in Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Elmira, at the former Buffalo Courier-Express library, at the Niagara Gazette library, at the Elmira College archives, and at SUNY Buffalo State’s E.H. Butler Library, scrutinizing each issue of the Buffalo Express, the Buffalo Daily Courier and the Buffalo Commercial-Advertiser from 1869 to 1871 for any references to items related to Twain and the Buffalo he resided in, worked at and wrote about.

Finally, I spent much of those thirty-plus years exploring leads gleaned from obituaries, tips from human sources and hunches that led me to identify and contact living descendants of Twain’s Buffalo professional and social circle who generously shared nuggets of family lore about their forbearer’s association with Twain. I was extremely fortunate to have mentors, too, like Vic Doyno, Bill Loos, Charles Brady, and Martin Fried, and countless other librarians, scholars, friends and family members, to nudge me in the right direction. The research was never tedious or boring. Rather, the detective work was gratifying, often exhilarating. Along the way, I published bits of my findings in academic journals, magazines and newspapers, delivered presentations at Twain conferences and gave illustrated lectures to many service organizations.

Next, I embarked on a book-length project intended to comprehensively document Twain’s affiliation with Buffalo. The result was the publication of Scribblin’ for a Livin’—Mark Twain’s Pivotal Period in Buffalo in 2013. In the four years after its release I participated in over sixty book talks and signings. Occasionally, I met people who provided new insights into Twain’s relationship with Buffalo, and on my own I continued to make startling discoveries. Frankly, I was surprised to be stumbling across heretofore unknown facts in the aftermath of what I had hoped would become the “seminal” book about Twain’s Buffalo experience.

I decided that I wanted to add these new revelations and discoveries in a second, revised version of the book. Unfortunately, after the initial print run of 1,500 copies was fully distributed and sold, the original publisher insisted on only filling subsequent orders “on demand.” These print-on-demand (POD) products were inferior—smaller than the original book, with virtually photocopied pages, and with a lower quality cover–in short, an embarrassing-looking book. Furthermore, when I inquired, the publisher was not at all interested in sponsoring a revised edition with new, additional insights into Twain and Buffalo.

So, in January of 2018 I hired an attorney to pursue termination of my contract. Within a few weeks a legal agreement was struck terminating the contract and reverting all rights for the book to me. By springtime, I had lined up a new publisher, NFB Publishing, and by the end of June, a new, expanded version of Scribblin’ for a Livin’, with thirty additional pages of text, a couple of new images, an improved index, and a colorful new cover design, was available.

Around that time I had noticed on NFB Publishing’s website that one of their book titles—a biography of hall of fame 1920s-30s boxer Jimmy Slattery—was accompanied by an entertaining 10-minute documentary about Slattery; the film was meant to tie-in to the new Slattery biography. When I asked if something similar could be done in conjunction with my expanded edition of Scribblin’, the publisher, Mark Pogodzinski, put me in touch with videographer Kevin Heffernan of Rise Collaborative. I invited Amy Pickard, curator of Rare Books for the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library and supervisor of their Mark Twain Room, and Bob Butler, an Emeritus Professor of English at Canisius College, to be interviewed for their thoughts on Twain’s life and times in Buffalo, and I sought permission ffrom various sources to include still images. Kevin Heffernan filmed the interviews with Bob, Amy, and I in late September and early October of 2018 at Canisius and at the Central Library.

In late November, the 10-minute documentary went public, including a sparkling narration by Holly Kirkpatrick, and extra video “bonus commentaries” by Amy and me. The film covers Twain’s Buffalo period and helps to promote the expanded edition of my book. To my knowledge, it represents the first extended documentary ever produced that focuses on Twain in Buffalo.

COMMENTARY: Scribblin’ For a Livin’ – Mark Twain’s Pivotal Period In Buffalo

BONUS COMMENTARY: Mark Twain Used his Bully Pulpit to both Help his Family, Denounce Racism

BONUS COMMENTARY: Buffalo and Erie County Public Library’s Manuscript of Huckleberry Finn

Twain for Teachers: 88 Days In The Mother Lode Documentary

It is safe to say that most secondary school students know Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn from their novels. But they do know less of the enormous variety in Mark Twain’s literary output and the extraordinary triumphs and tragedies of his life. If using class time to show a film, teachers must have precise learning objectives, making certain to engage students’ attention and prompt them to respond with fuller appreciation of the subject matter.

There are several fine documentaries on Samuel Langhorne Clemens’ life, some of which give special attention to his meteoric rise to fame following the publication of “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog” in 1865. This n’ That Films’ 2015 documentary 88 Days in the Mother Lode: Mark Twain Finds His Voice provides a superior exploration of this vitally fascinating genesis to Clemens’ budding career. Director John C. Brown and his co-Producer Bern Simonis show how in eighty-eight days Clemens went from “local newspaper reporter to eventually becoming an international celebrity” in the words of the very passionately enthusiastic Calaveras storyteller and author James Fletcher, one of the film’s narrators. The 70-minute film shows the significance of Clemens’ California stay at Jackass Hill in Tuolomne County and Angels Camp in Calaveras County from December 1864 to February 1865. To say that Clemens heard the jumping frog story in an old mining camp and set down a few brief lines does neither justice to the story nor, more importantly, to this highly formative time in his life.

Fletcher is accompanied in his commentary by five authoritative narrators: Victor Fischer, Principal Editor of the Mark Twain Papers and Project at the Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley; James Caron, Professor of English at the University of Hawaii; Michelle Gordon, Assistant Professor of English at USC Los Angeles; and Rob Gordon of the Tuolumne County Historical Society. They are extremely engaging about this area in Mark Twain Studies. Their insightful and pertinent viewpoints are interwoven with a great variety of period photographs of Twain and his contemporaries, the Nevada territory, and California. Students’ attention is pleasingly held by the voice of Thomas McGuire as Mark Twain.

In addition, 88 Days features actors in period dress and locale moving and talking in voiceover in key scenes that capture the different atmosphere and emotional tones experienced by Clemens. The music is uplifting and many sweeping, aerial shots are used to give bird’s-eye views of Jackass Hill.

The film shows that the Civil War ended Clemens’ river piloting career and so he traveled with his brother Orion to the new Nevada territory. He tried his hand at silver mining without success, but his letters to the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise earned him a job offer as its city editor. Here he would meet Steve Gillis, the newspaper’s managing compositor – a task Clemens knew from the “printer’s devil” apprenticing days of his youth in Hannibal. Their friendship was “instant,” says Fletcher. In fact, Rob Gordon notes that eventually the entire Gillis family was instrumental in the development of Clemens during his time in the West.

From Clemens’ reporting mixed with fictionalizing characters and dialogue emerged “tales” which are recognizable, like Caron says, as “really Mark Twain!” But after telling lies with no apology, it was safer for Clemens to leave for San Francisco. Many students experience repeated failures in trying to find their talents in academics, sports, and extracurricular activities. They can connect with Clemens who, in his time as a reporter for The Morning Call and The Californian, is unhappy. Though he wrote important articles, they did not satisfy the talents he didn’t yet know he had.  His life in late 1864 is very sad and desperate. He was destitute and may have even considered suicide.

A barroom brawl involving Gillis cost Clemens $500 in bond money he didn’t have, after which he left San Francisco. He joined Gillis’s quartz-mining brother on Jackass Hill, where he waited for things to blow over.  There he meets Dick Stoker, Jim Gillis’s mining partner, who gives Clemens an impression that will last him a lifetime. Jim tells elaborate stories about Dick with “voracious history,” soberly pretending that they are true. As Fischer says, Jim’s “brilliant ability to spin these yarns and mesmerize his audience” gets into Clemens’s books later on. Michelle Gordon adds that Clemens “has a real ear for the pacing, the humor, the narrator’s posture or pose and how all this can shape how a story is told.”

One year earlier, he was influenced by Artemus Ward, the era’s greatest stage performer and the first to burlesque the serious lecture. These two exposures coincided with his time at Angels Camp in Calaveras County. Bartender Ben Coon’s serious tale of a rigged jumping frog contest awakened him to sharpening his gift for storytelling. As Rob Gordon argues, Ward’s successful lecturing style and willingness to help Clemens get started coalesce in “a spoken voice” for the platform which builds on the Mark Twain persona.

Fischer sees this as a time during which Clemens was inspired to try writing again. He buys a journal to record memories and observations which he feels could someday be useful either for tales or lectures, much like we require of our own students. Journaling is a great way to motivate students to practice writing with low-stakes, while also developing useful building blocks and a long-range plan for formal writing assignments.

Clemens realizes he cannot stay away from San Francisco forever and must earn money, so he travels back in February of 1865. He finds letters from Ward asking for a sketch. He revises and sends him the “jumping frog” story for publication, which becomes his vehicle to national fame.

The film also follows Twain’s trip to the Sandwich Islands to write travel letters for the Sacramento Union. Upon his return, theatre owner Thomas Maguire urges him to give a lecture. As Caron remarks, Clemens’s “natural conversational style drew in the audience with perfect timing, as though he is yarning back at the cabin again!” He is made “aware of ‘Mark Twain’ as a commercial brand and runs with it.”

Fletcher concludes the film with Clemens’s rising estimation of his written and oral talents, motivating him to leave the West, go back East, and sign up for the Holy Land Tour, which Twain aficionados know will result in his first long-form literary success, The Innocents Abroad.

 

Manzanita Writers Press has an accompanying book Mark Twain’s 88 Days in the Mother Lode & Stories of the Gold Rush (2015) written and compiled by Fletcher. In addition to studying many fine photographs, students will relate to reading about the annual four-day Calaveras County Fair & Jumping Frog Jubilee.  Vimeo.com also has a fifteen-minute interview of Director Brown and “Miner Jim” Fletcher prepared and conducted by the Calaveras County Visitors Bureau.

What my students said they gained from watching and discussing this film was foremost a reminder that their education involves the constant sharpening of critical listening skills. Samuel Clemens was not merely born with an innate understanding of the rhythms and structure of good storytelling. He developed that talent by carefully listening and analyzing the storytelling techniques of both professionals (like Ward) and skilled amateurs (like Coons). Furthermore, they respect that Twain’s literature and lectures only came to fruition through a laborious process of drafting and revising.

What is useful for teachers is that this film shows the early and persevering efforts of Mark Twain. Students see that in order to speak confidently and effectively in front of a classroom, a boardroom, or even an audience-filled theater, whether for entertainment or persuasion, they must devote themselves to methodical and deliberate preparation and rehearsed delivery.

They witness that his final work products in journalism, storytelling, and lecturing certainly did not come easy. Clemens persevered through hard work, determination, self-examination (including bouts of insecurity), resilience, and finally a recognition, acceptance, and development of his peculiar style as a writer and lecturer. His climb to success was not rapid.

Indeed, Fischer says that Clemens “had so much time to absorb all he saw for sketches, books, and memoirs all his life.” This reminds students to appreciate the vast amount of time given to them by virtue of their youth. They can relate to Mark Twain as a young person with ambition who had to overcome failures and reinvent himself before he found success.

Ultimately, I believe my students gain a fuller appreciation of the timeless gift of storytelling that is so vital to have in today’s complex world. Fischer comments that the Old West had its own culture and Clemens drew from it. This film challenges students to mine the ore of their own cultures and so understand and report to those around them.

 

John Pascal is an English teacher at Seton Hall Prep. He is a contributor to Mark Twain & Youth and a friend of CMTS who has been a Trouble Begins lecturer and Quarry Farm Fellow.  

21st-Century Students Respond to Sensitive Texts

EDITOR’S NOTE: Last week, Jocelyn Chadwick responded to the recent removal of “sensitive texts,” including Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, from the curriculum in Duluth Public Schools by asking “When will WE listen?” This week, Dr. Chadwick and John E. Grassie, co-authors of Teaching Literature in the Context of Literacy Instructionshare with us the voices of some of the students who they have been listening to as they tour U.S. classrooms.

 

 

In so many ways and for so many reasons, we practitioners of English language arts find ourselves not only explaining what we do and how we do it but also be asked to explicate in detail just how our discipline, K-16, provides a lifelong foundation for children — cradle to grave. The time has indeed come for us to review, reflect upon, and define what we do, and why what we do IS critical to daily living, college, and career. We must provide these answers in words and from voices that parents, the community, local, state and federal leaders and policymakers can understand, as Jim says, “by de back.”

To make the argument reliable and powerful, no voices can be as explicatory and definitive as our students’. This video provides some of the compacted insight of students from around the country, who explain why they should be allowed to read sensitive, uncomfortable texts. We work with these teachers and students, and so many more. Listening to students, empowering them to rethink, reanalyze, and reevaluate these cherished texts. Through the distinct experiences of this generation of students old texts relevant are made newly relevant.

 

 

Jocelyn A. Chadwick is a life-long English teacher and scholar. She is currently President of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and is a form Professor at Harvard Graduate School of Education, where she still lectures occasionally. She has worked with Ken Burns and PBS (WGBH, WNET), and is currently a consultant with NBC News Education and NBC Learn. She was panel member for the series Celebrating America’s Authors, and an invited guest at the White House. Among her published works are The Jim Dilemma: Reading Race in Adventure of Huckleberry Finn, Common Core: Paradigmatic Shiftsand numerous articles on education and Mark Twain. She is currently working on a new book, entitled Writing for Life: Using Literature to Teach Writing.