We conclude the first season of The American Vandal with a new format, the Deep Cuts Book Club, which we expect to become a standard feature of the podcast in future seasons. These episodes will pair the reading of a lesser-known short work by Mark Twain with a book club style discussion involving scholars with fresh perspectives on that work.
On this occasion, with consideration of the approaching holiday season, we are reading Mark Twain’s “Letter From Santa Claus.” The letter was composed in 1875 primarily for Susy Clemens, who was then just three years old, and her infant sister, Clara. It was the second Christmas they celebrated in their magnificent mansion in Hartford, built on the back of their 40-year-old father’s newfound fame and fortune.
For this episode’s reading, I am pleased to re-introduce Mark Dawidziak, whose talk on Twain and Dracula you may remember from earlier this season.
Mark Dawidziak has authored or edited half a dozen books related to Mark Twain, most recently Mark Twain for Cat Lovers (2016). He has been performing as Mark Twain for four decades. He was also the longtime TV critic for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and has published books about classic television, popular horror, and genre fiction. Find out more about his extensive and diverse portfolio at his website.
After the reading, host Matt Seybold is joined by two scholars who have done extensive research on the celebration of Christmas in the United States during Twain’s lifetime.
Penne Restad is Distinguished Senior Lecturer in History at University of Texas, Austin. She is the author of Christmas in America (1996), a social history from colonial times to the mid 20th century. She has also published work on other holidays, the lives of American women, and consumerism, including an article titled “The Third Sex” (2014) in the Journal of Social History.
Jana Tigchelaar is Assistant Professor of English at Marshall University. In 2014, she published “The Neighborly Christmas” in Legacy: A Journal of American Woman Writers, in which she considers the many Christmas stories of Mary Wilkins Freeman and Sarah Orne Jewett, as well as where they fit in the evolving “domestic Christmas” traditions of Nineteenth-Century America. She is working on a book about revision and reconciliation in regionalist literature by U.S. women.