2023 Quarry Farm Fellows

The Center for Mark Twain Studies is honored to announce the 2023 Class of Quarry Farm Fellows!

Uriel Abulof

Sponsor: David P. Barash, University of Washington

Uriel Abulof is an associate professor of political science teaching at Tel-Aviv University and Cornell University. Abulof studies the politics of fear, happiness, and hope. He published over sixty peer-reviewed academic articles, and several books and edited volumes, including The Mortality and Morality of Nations (Cambridge University Press) and Living on the Edge: The Existential Uncertainty of Zionism (Haifa University Press). Abulof introduces “political existentialism” as novel approach in the social sciences, and directs various public projects, including Double-Edged, a Psychology Today blog, the Sapienism initiative, and the edX award-wining online course, HOPE.

At Quarry Farm, I plan to write a scholarly sequel to Twain’s novella, THE MYSTERIOUS STRANGER, which I care greatly about, and – I dare say – love. It’s been some thirty years since I first read it. Back then, I was just a boy, like Theodor and his friends, when the Stranger visited and revealed his name: Young Satan, or No. 44, or Philip Traum (German for “dream”). But the dream often felt like a nightmare. “I know your race,” Satan said, “It is made up of sheep,” seeking “better sleep” by indulging in “grotesque self-deception.” He described — and demonstrated — much of humanity’s depravity in his too-short visit, before “he vanished, and left me appalled.” Satan’s departure felt premature. After all, so much remains to be explored. Over a century since the publication of TMS, what lessons have we learned? What can Satan still teach us? Seeking answers, my project for the Quarry Farm Fellowship is to welcome Satan into this 21st century life, and to chronicle our reunion. I plan to write a brief, scholarly sequel to Twain’s posthumous novella, creating a fictional but academically informed plot. Satan should have his comeback. Traum may yet return.

Alexander Ashland

Sponsor: Kathleen Diffley, University of Iowa

Alexander J. Ashland is an Assistant Professor of English at Viterbo University where he teaches courses in nineteenth- and twentieth-century U.S. literature and culture. His current book manuscript, The Documentary Turn: U.S. Literature in the Age of Compromise, 1820 – 1877, establishes a prehistory and theory of documentary aesthetics as it emerged via the hybrid literatures of the nineteenth century. His work has appeared in the South Atlantic Review, Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies, as well as in edited collections, including The New Walt Whitman Studies and Ekphrasis in American Poetry.

The Quarry Farm Fellowship will give me a valuable opportunity to finish the final chapter of my book. Currently titled “Passenger, Pilot, Steward: Navigating the Textual Currents of Reconstruction,” this chapter reexamines core tenets of early documentary literature, including appropriation and the “poaching” of various texts and sources. This work is crucial to my understanding of how literary borrowing became an especially significant way of defining “national literature” following the Civil War, emancipation, and Reconstruction. I look most closely at the autobiographical sketches of Mark Twain and William Wells Brown in order to show how “national literature” as it was originally defined by Washington Irving’s “passenger” narrator, Geoffrey Crayon, became an insistent mode of cultural and self-identification in the years following Reconstruction. I frame my analysis using Irving’s Sketch-Book in order to show how U.S. literature’s preoccupations with the ruins, relics, and monuments of the “Old World” provided a useful framework for reconceptualizing Post-Reconstruction expressions of new southern literary identities. In doing so, this chapter invites reevaluations of The Sketch-Book by suggesting that the many “mixtures” present in the works of Mark Twain and William Wells Brown are predicated on Irving’s earlier explorations of “racial” degeneracy, blended nations, hybrid identities, cross-cultural exchange, intertextual migration, indigeneity, and mixed-race competition. Ultimately, I show how passengers, pilots, and stewards enabled writers to rearticulate the mixtures of borrowing and invention that defined “original” works of literature during the Post-Reconstruction era.

David Bianculli

Sponsor: Mark Dawidziak, Independent Mark Twain Studies scholar

David Bianculli has been the TV critic for National Public Radio’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross since 1987. He currently teaches as a tenured full professor at Rowan University in Glassboro, NJ, and oversees a Master’s Degree program specifically devoted to Television Studies. He has written four books, including The Platinum Age of Television: From ‘I Love Lucy’ to ‘The Walking Dead,’ How TV became Terrific (Doubleday, 2016), Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of ‘The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour’ (Simon and Schuster, 2009), and Teleliteracy: Taking Television Seriously (Continuum, 1992) and is at work on a fifth, on the visual artistry of The Beatles. From 1975 to 2007, he worked as a daily TV critic for newspapers in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York (in that order), most recently for the New York Daily News from 1993-2007. He was a columnist for TV Guide, and has contributed articles to The New York Times, Rolling Stone, and dozens of other publications. From 2007-2021, he was editor and columnist for the website TV Worth Watching. He has a B. S. in Journalism and an M. A. in Journalism and Communications, both from the University of Florida. He is beginning to suspect that he may have watched more television than any other living human. Or any dead one, for that matter.

While at Quarry Farm, I intend to further research, and expand upon, the Christian Science paper I presented at the moist recent Mark Twain symposium in 2022.  Many, though not all, scholars have tended to minimize Twain’s vitriolic attack on the Christian Science religion, and in particular its founder, Mary Baker Eddy, in his 1907 book Christian Science, as a cobbled-together hybrid of chunks of writing produced over different years, some originally published in different places. But that can be said of several Twain books, including Life on the Mississippi – and to me, Christian Science, with its different sections composed at different times, captures the author, Samuel L. Clemens, in different moods, aiming at different targets. My analysis is that the book is richer than its current reputation would suggest, both in its literary merits and its journalistic and religious observations.

Bernard Dobski

Sponsor: Dustin Gish, University of Houston

Bernard Joseph (B.J.) Dobski is a Professor of Political Science at Assumption University in Worcester, MA, where he teaches courses on political philosophy, international relations, and American foreign policy. While his training and much of his scholarly work focuses on classical Greek political thought, especially the work of Thucydides, Xenophon, and Plato, he also has co-edited volumes on the plays and poetry of William Shakespeare, most notably Souls With Longing (Lexington, 2011), Shakespeare and the Body Politic (Lexington, 2013), and “The Political Wisdom of William Shakespeare” (Perspectives on Political Science, 2012). His published work on Mark Twain appears in The Review of Politics (“‘We Should See Certain Things Yet, Let Us Hope and Believe’: Technology, Sex, and Politics in Mark Twain’s Connecticut Yankee,” 2007), The Journal of American Political Thought (“Gospel of Joan: Statesmanship and Providential Politics in Mark Twain’s Personal Recollections,” 2020), and in The Artistic Foundations of Nations and Citizens: Art, Literature, and the Political Community (Neither Patriot, Nor Saint: The Theological Implications of Twain’s Portrait of Nationalism in Personal Recollections,” 2021).  

I am currently completing a book-length commentary on the political wisdom of Personal Recollections, a work that Twain considered his “best” and which, according to him, meant “more…than anything I have undertaken.” While Twain has been the subject of some scholarly focus among political theorists, too few among this cohort appreciate his contributions to political wisdom. My current project, tentatively titled Mark Twain’s “Prince”: Joan of Arc and the Origins of Modernity, thus strives to recover an appreciation of Twain’s engagement with and contribution to political philosophy, the texts that informed his approach to its themes, and the political reasons for his remarkable artistry. It does this by examining the novel’s treatment of divine right kingship and particular providence that Twain initiated in Connecticut Yankee and that he explored in several other works published around the turn of the century, most notably “What is Man?”. I argue that Twain’s approach to providence in Personal Recollections represents a dramatic portrayal of the origins of modern political life, one that allows the reader to reflect anew on the tensions between moral freedom and material and environmental determinism at the heart of Twain’s corpus. And such reflection, when attentive to the peculiarly political dimensions of this work, allows one to detect in Twain’s thought a potential resolution to the conflict between forces long held to be irreconcilable. To establish that Twain was deliberately engaging with and contributing to the tradition of political philosophy that has defined the West for the last three millennia requires access to those political, religious, and historical texts that he read and which informed his career. Quarry Farm’s archival materials will allow me to ground more firmly the basis for taking seriously Twain’s contributions to political philosophy, opening a new window onto the moral, political, and philosophical themes occupying the mind of America’s foremost man of letters.

Bernard Dobski’s Quarry Farm testimonial can be found HERE.

Andrew Donnelly

Sponsor: Amanda Claybaugh, Harvard University

Andrew Donnelly is a Mellon/ACLS Public Fellow at the National Book Foundation. He received his PhD from the English Department at Harvard University in 2020. His research and writing has been published in College LiteratureAmerican LiteratureInsurrect!, and The Harvard Data Science Review. He is completing a book project entitled Confederate Sympathies: The Civil War, Reunion, and the History of Homosexuality, 1850-1915, which argues that depictions of homoeroticism between men cultivated political sympathy for the Confederacy, the Lost Cause, and white supremacy

While at Quarry Farm, he will be working on an account of the political humorists during the Reconstruction era, such as Bill Arp, Artemus Ward, Petroleum V. Nasby, Josh Billings, and Mark Twain. These humorists were among the most widely read writers of the period; the extent of their reach as shapers of popular and political opinion was enormous. As a group, they have been treated in relation to the events of the Civil War or as antecedents to Twain’s famous career. This project will situate their writing within the politics of Reconstruction, as commentators on Reconstruction legislation, the Congressional elections from 1866 to 1872, the impeachment of Andrew Johnson, and the economic and political crises of the early 1870s. The project aims to tell the story of Reconstruction politics through the tremendously influential eyes of these humorists, while providing literary and political context for Twain’s Reconstruction-era novel The Gilded Age

Kumi Ikoma

Sponsor: Francesca Sawaya, William & Mary

Kumi Ikoma is Associate Professor of English at Tokyo Metropolitan University where she teaches courses in American literature and culture. She serves as the Secretary of the Japan Mark Twain Society. Her research is funded by Japan Society of the Promotion of Science. Her essays have appeared in Mark Twain Studies (2019) and Studies in English Literature (2014).

At the Quarry Farm, she will explore how Mark Twain narrates his military experience in the Confederate Army in the style of sentimentality. In “Private History of a Campaign that Failed” (1885), Twain expresses a highly fictionalized memoir of his two-week stint in the Pro-Confederate Missouri State Guard. There have been opposing views on this short story. Some scholars have examined how Sam Clemens was an unrepentant traitor to both the Union and the Confederate States of America. Others defend him by maintaining that Clemens was never formally inducted into the Confederate Army and was therefore at liberty to leave or that Clemens expressed his anti-war feeling. In spite of these debates over his experience in the Civil War, only a few scholars discuss Twain’s sentimentality in the story. Her research project will demonstrate that Twain’s confusing attitudes toward sentimentality come from his repressed memories of his military experience. To support this reading, she will not merely examine “Private History” and his other stories before and after the Civil War, but also collect the documents concerning his Civil War experience. In addition, she will do research on the Elmira prison camp that Twain might have visited. In this way, her project will investigate how deeply his life in Elmira influenced Twain’s literary imagination concerning the Civil War.

Nicholas Otranto

Sponsor: Bainard Cowan, University of Dallas

Nicholas Otranto is a PhD candidate in Literature at the University of Dallas, specializing in nineteenth- and twentieth-century American literature. His research focuses on the construction and maintenance of boundaries within intimate spaces, such as the home, and how those boundaries communicate complexities associated with social, genealogical, and rhizomatic identities. He is working on a dissertation that, in part, applies the study of belonging to the works of Mark Twain.

At Quarry Farm, I will work on a chapter of my dissertation exploring the intersections between Twain’s affinity for Edenic narratives, the challenges presented to him by married and family life, and the questions he asks regarding the nature of impermanence and regeneration, as presented to readers through his various writings about Adam and Eve. This chapter claims that these narratives both reveal Twain’s metaphysical attachment to solitude—a theme explored at length in ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN—and outline inverted structures of family and home that solve for the chaos of a violently independent world. Using a framework that combines anthropological studies of domestic relationships and Johannes Hofer’s seventeenth-century physiological study of nostalgia, this research will focus on how Twain struggles with the ontological longings present in his search for belonging, especially how those desires are left largely unfulfilled by an inevitably temporary family life.

Studying at Quarry Farm will help me better understand Twain’s connection to his marriage and his family. Likewise, gaining an awareness of the physical space that Twain often inhabited should prove invaluable to my understanding of his relationship to places where he felt most “at home.”

Nicholas Otranto’s Quarry Farm testimonial can be found HERE.

James Plath

Sponsor: Donald J. Greiner, University of South Carolina

James Plath is the R. Forrest Colwell Endowed Chair and Professor of English at Illinois Wesleyan University, where he has taught American literature, journalism, film, and creative writing for 35 years. His essays on American literature have appeared in numerous edited collections and in such journals as The Hemingway Review, The F. Scott Fitzgerald Review, Journal of Modern Literature, Studies in the American Short Story, The John Updike Review, and Journal of the Short Story in English. He is the author/editor of Conversations with John Updike (U. Press Mississippi, 1994), Remembering Ernest Hemingway (Ketch & Yawl, 1999), Historic Photos of Ernest Hemingway (Turner, 2009), John Updike’s Pennsylvania Interviews (Lehigh U. Press, 2016), The 100 Greatest Literary Characters (Rowman and Littlefield, 2019), three volumes in the Critical Insights series from Salem Press, and two poetry chapbooks. As president of The John Updike Society he also took the lead in restoring Updike’s childhood home in Shillington, Pennsylvania. and converting it into a museum and literary center.

In 2002, Updike wrote the foreword to the Hesperus Press publication of The Diary of Adam and Eve, and what he said about Twain reveals much about himself and a connection with Twain that has yet to be explored—not so much as a literary influence as it is a literary kinship, a connection with a past literary figure who modeled attitudes and behaviors that spoke to Updike generations later. Updike notes that EVE’S DIARY “makes a bold foray into female sexuality,” and Twain seems to have been an inspiration for Updike in trying to write about female sexuality, as the latter does to a much greater extent in so many of his novels. Twain also modeled a successful writer who could straddle the popular and literary worlds, who could “sin boldly” in his unabashed writing, who could have it both ways and write for profit and for literary posterity, and who not only embraced but relished the role of writer as spokesperson for American literature, culture, and social behaviors. Just as Hemingway noted a generation earlier that Twain’s public persona was key to the promotion of his writing, Updike too became conscious of Updike the writer as being a “character” he would play in the public sphere. Such is the widespread influence of Twain that has yet to be documented in Updike studies—something that will be rectified as a result of this Quarry Farm Fellowship.  

Stephen Rachman

Sponsor: Joe B. Fulton, Baylor University

Stephen Rachman is Associate Professor in the department of English, former Director of the American Studies Program and former head of Digital Humanities at Michigan State and former Co-Director of the Digital Humanities Literary Cognition Laboratory at Michigan State University. He is the co-editor and translator of Chinese Women Writers and the Environment (McFarland). He is the editor of The Hasheesh Eater by Fitz-Hugh Ludlow (Rutgers University Press). He is a co-author of the award-winning Cholera, Chloroform, and the Science of Medicine: A Life of John Snow (Oxford University Press) and the co-editor of The American Face of Edgar Allan Poe (Johns Hopkins University Press). He has written numerous articles on 19th-century American literature, the history of medicine, cities, popular culture, and an award-winning Web site on Sunday school books for the Library of Congress American Memory Project. His most recent work on Mark Twain is “‘The £1,000,000 Bank-Note’: Mark Twain and the 19th-Century Monetary Imagination” Mark Twain Journal 59:2 (Fall 2021).

Building off my essay on Twain’s “The £1,000,000 Bank-Note,” I will use my fellowship at Quarry Farm to expand upon the insights I gained into Twain’s financial imaginary. It is my hope that this work will grow into a monograph and during my stay I would like to achieve two primary research goals to move this project to the next phase. I need to make a general deeper assessment of the examples I used in my original essay to connect The Bank-Note story to a larger thread in Twain’s corpus. I have thus far surveyed a number of moments in prominent works of the Twain canon from Innocents Abroad through to the late works that speak to the monetary-linguistic phenomena I am describing, but they are more of a suggestive nature and need to be explored in a more comprehensive way. I also plan to conduct research on a chapter on money and race in Twain that would be another significant contribution to this work. In the “Bank-Note” essay, I refer to Jim’s speculative valuation of himself in Huckleberry Finn and I feel much more needs to be said about how Twain’s preoccupations with money shape his thinking about race and slavery. This is complex terrain and a stay at Quarry Farm will give the time and resources to begin tackling it.

Stephen Rachman’s Quarry Farm testimonial can be found HERE.

Khyl Stephen

Sponsor: Shirley Samuels, Cornell University

Kyhl Stephen is a PhD candidate and graduate student at Cornell University, where he studies nineteenth-century American literature and American Studies in the Department of Literatures in English. Generally, his interests include the cultural and intellectual histories of capitalism, and the economic humanities. His dissertation (currently titled but awaiting renaming), “Great Paper Cephalopods: American Fiction and the Textual Basis of Corporate Personhood, 1873-1913,” traces the contested rise of corporate personhood in the United States as the outcome of the production and uptake of texts. Corporations, he proposes, could assume the status of people because of the cultural and intellectual frameworks, codified in writing, through which they were perceived. As such, the dissertation locates literary form and commercial circulation as central in the history of corporate capitalism. It features key readings of literary writers such as Mark Twain, Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton, and Edith Wharton, as well as economists such as Irving Fisher, John Bates Clark, and Henry George.

I plan to use my fellowship at Quarry Farm to work on a key dissertation chapter. Basically, I argue that because of his fairly unique role as all of a writer, a literary persona, a public celebrity, and an advertiser or businessman, Mark Twain took up a place in the vanguard of reshaping the social meanings of money and money transactions. By the end of the nineteenth century, money transactions were not simply a means of acquiring commodities, but a means of accessing abstract figures that we would now call brands. Through old advertisements and a reading of Twain’s “The £1,000,000 Bank Note,” the chapter more or less argues that Twain trained the public to “befriend” him by purchasing his stories and branded merchandise. In turn, this experience helped open the door for encountering abstract corporations in newly sociable ways, rendering them “real,” at least in the pragmatic sense—an effect emphasized by the eventual incorporation of Mark Twain, himself, shortly before his death.

In addition to working on this little-read Twain story, I plan to use my time at Quarry Farm to conduct some archival work on Twain’s finances and commercial practices, especially after 1890, to answer some questions that I can only hypothesize on so far. To what extent did Twain realize that he was conducting a new kind of business, for example? How did Samuel Clemens understand the money-mediated relationship between the public and Mark Twain, or (not quite the same thing) between the public and himself? Was he riding the wave of new conventions and textual practices in commerce, or did he understand himself as a real mover of these conventions? At stake is at least how we think of Twain in the history of advertising, but also potentially the role of writing and literature in shaping the world of economics.

Kyhl Stephen’s Quarry Farm testimonial can be found HERE.

Wynn Yarrow

Sponsor: Jesse Gardner, West End Gallery

Wynn Yarrow is a professional artist focusing on the connections between nature and human nature. Her work has been exhibited in a dozen museums and as many colleges and universities. Some of the venues at which she has exhibited are Kyoto International Community House, Kyoto, Japan; Chautauqua Institution, Chautauqua, NY; Arnot Art Museum, Elmira, NY and Penland School of Craft, Penland, NC. Yarrow’s work is represented by West End Gallery, Corning, NY and Artful Home, Madison, Wisconsin. Her public art comforts patients and families at Penn State Hershey Medical Center, Hershey, PA, the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN and other hospitals in New York and Pennsylvania. She has been a teaching artist for programs funded by the US Department of Education and by The National Endowment for the Arts.

My proposed project for a Quarry Farm Fellowship is to explore Mark Twain’s relationship with his children through visual metaphor. In reading Twain’s writing about his family, it becomes clear he was a deeply connected, observant father. I will respond with imagery to the spirit of place of Quarry Farm and its surrounding landscape, looking for a scene that embraces the love, wonder and connection of family.

Wynn Yarrow’s Quarry Farm testimonial can be found HERE.