2019 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 Sawyer, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The 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.

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.

DATES: Friday, October 4, 2019 to Sunday, October 6, 2019
HOUSING: Special rates at the Elmira Riverside Holiday Inn
COST: $175 – Price includes 5 full meals, with beer/wine at dinners, and a conference program.

Please note that due to the fragile nature of Quarry Farm, the symposium will be limited to 40 attendees.

Attention Graduate Students: CMTS will waive all registration fees and provide free lodging for a select number of graduate students. If you are interested in this opportunity, contact Joseph Lemak ([email protected]).

Symposium Participants

Mark Baggett (Presenter) is Associate Professor of English and Law, Samford University and Cumberland School of Law.   His teaching and research concentrates on American humor; American language and literature, particularly Mark Twain; Southern literature; and law and literature.  His recent research on Twain’s use of legal rhetoric is an outgrowth of his teaching legal writing, now “Lawyering and Legal Reasoning,” at Cumberland since 1987.  He contributed articles on legal issues in the Mark Twain Encyclopedia and is working on a book-length project on Mark Twain and the law, building on interdisciplinary research on Twain’s broad appropriation of legal rhetoric.

John Bird (Presenter) is Emeritus Professor of English at Winthrop University. He is the author of Mark Twain and Metaphor (Missouri, 2007), editor of Mark Twain in Context (Cambridge, forthcoming Dec. 2019), and author of a number of book chapters and articles on Mark Twain. He has written the chapter on Mark Twain for American Literary Scholarship: An Annual since 2011, a survey of Twain scholarship for each calendar year. He is a past president of the Mark Twain Circle of America and was the founding editor of its journal, The Mark Twain Annual.

Katherine E. Bishop (Presenter) is an assistant professor of literature at Miyazaki International College. She is an active member of the Japan Mark Twain Society. Her current research interests gravitate toward ecology, aesthetics, and speculative fiction. These are typified in Plants in Science Fiction: Speculative Vegetation, a volume she co-edited, which is forthcoming from the University of Wales Press. Her most recent publications have appeared in Green Letters, Fafnir, and Polish Journal for American Studies.

Charles Bradshaw (Presenter) is an Associate Professor of English at Brigham Young University—Hawaii, having recently moved there from The University of Tennessee at Martin. He has written on a variety of American literary topics and is currently working with the Papers of William F. Cody and the University of Nebraska Press on publishing a scholarly edition of Mark Twain’s A Horse’s Tale.

Michael P. Branch (Keynote Speaker) is University Foundation Professor of English at the University of Nevada, Reno. He is co-founder and past president of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment and series co-editor of the University of Virginia Press book series Under the Sign of Nature: Explorations in Ecocriticism (36 titles). He has published nine books and more than 200 articles, essays, and reviews and has given 350 invited lectures and readings. Mike is the recipient of the Western Literature Association awards for both creative writing and humor writing, the Ellen Meloy Desert Writers Award, and the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame Silver Pen Award. His four most recent books are Raising Wild (2016), ‘The Best Read Naturalist’: Nature Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson (2017), Rants from the Hill (2017), and How to Cuss in Western (2018). Mike is currently working on a new book called Hunting for Jackalope.

Ben Click (Symposium Chair and Respondent) is a Professor of English at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, Director of the Writing & Speaking Center, Director of the Twain Lecture Series on American Humor Culture, and the Editor of The Mark Twain Annual.  With Larry Howe and Jim Caron, he published Refocusing Chaplin:  A Screen Icon in Critical Contexts. He has published and given numerous lectures and scholarly papers on Mark Twain, published articles and book chapters on the teaching of writing and writing assessment. His current research explores the rhetorical effects of silence in the works of Mark Twain. He is also working on a book that examines humor as a rhetorical strategy in environmental writing, a genre that is sometimes seen as taking itself too seriously.

Ryan Heryford (Presenter) is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Literature in the Department of English at California State University, East Bay, where he teaches courses in nineteenth and twentieth century American literature, with a focus in eco-criticism and cultural narratives of environmental justice.  He has published works on environmental thought in the writings of William Faulkner, Herman Melville, and Édouard Glissant. His current book-length project, The “Snugness of Being:” Nineteenth Century American Literary Vitalisms, explores the influence of nineteenth century environmental and bio-medical philosophy on constructions of self and subjectivity in Thoreau, Poe, Dickinson, and Melville. 

Barbara Ladd (Presenter) is Professor of English at Emory University. She is the author of Nationalism and the Color Line in George W. Cable, Mark Twain, and William Faulkner (1996), Resisting History: Gender, Modernity, and Authorship in William Faulkner, Zora Neale Hurston, and Eudora Welty (2007) and is co-editor of the recent Oxford Handbook of the Literature of the U.S. South (2016). Her essays have appeared in American Literature, PMLA, Mississippi Quarterly, and elsewhere.

Delphine Louis-Dimitrov (Presenter) is an assistant professor at the Catholic University of Paris and a former Quarry Farm fellow. She holds a doctorate in American literature from the Sorbonne-Nouvelle University in Paris. Her thesis dealt with the writing of history in Mark Twain’s fiction. She is now studying American medievalism, with a special focus on the persistence of the figure of Joan of Arc in literature. With Ronald Jenn, she coordinated a special issue on Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc in American Literary Realism (Winter 2019, Vol. 51, No. 2) and is now co-editing a special issue on “Joan of Arc through American Eyes” to be published in the Revue Française d’Etudes Américaines (RFEA) in Fall 2019. 

Don James McLaughlin (Respondent) is assistant professor of nineteenth-century American literature in the English Department at the University of Tulsa and the 2018–2019 Hench Post-dissertation Fellow at the American Antiquarian Society. He is writing a book on the history of phobia as a medical diagnostic, political metaphor, and aesthetic sensation in American liberalism. His writing has appeared in American Literature, the New Republic and J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists

Sonia Sebastian (Presenter) is an Assistant Professor of English at Alphonsa College Pala, Kerala, India. She has contributed scholarly articles to a number of research journals. Her research and studies are focused on ecocriticism and psychoanalysis with a special emphasis on ecopsychological issues.  Her project “The Pedagogy of Gaia: The Poetics of Ecological Unconscious in Hannibal and Hannibal Rising”has been supported by University Grants Commission of India. She is currently working on the link between the unconscious that is structured like language and ecological unconscious.

Lisa Vandenbossche (Presenter) received her doctorate in English from the University of Rochester in 2019. She currently teaches courses in American literature and digital humanities as a Visiting Lecturer at Georgia Southwestern State University. Her scholarship, which focuses on maritime labor, Pacific exploration and advocacy in the nineteenth century, will be included in the forthcoming collection Cultural Economies of the Atlantic World: Objects and Capital in the Transatlantic Imagination. Her current book project, “Sympathetic Seas: Sailors, Writing and Reform in the Anglo-Maritime World, 1750-1865,” has been supported by fellowships from the Folger Shakespeare Library, The Social Science Research Council, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Emily E. VanDette (Respondent), a recent (2017) Quarry Farm Fellow, is associate professor of English at the State University of New York at Fredonia, where she teaches courses in 19th-century American literature. Her recent and forthcoming publications include book chapters about Twain’s animal writing for two edited collections and her critical edition of Elizabeth Stuart Phelps’s anti-vivisection novel Trixy. She is currently writing a book about the role of literature in early animal advocacy campaigns in the U.S.