Join the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford, CT. on Wednesday, May 4th at 7:00 PM ET for the our next Hartford Trouble Begins Lecture as Dr. Laura Skandera Trombley and Dr. Ann Ryan discuss Mark Twain & Critical Race Theory.
Laura Skandera Trombley and Ann Ryan explore Mark Twain’s writing as just one example of how thoroughly American it is to try to unravel the knot of race, racism, and U.S. history.
Most Americans, many of whom have never read Mark Twain’s fiction, position him at one ideological extreme or another: either he’s a secular saint, the quintessential icon of wholesome, wisecracking, humanistic American values, or he’s an embodiment of white privilege, a white man in a white suit whose pleasure — reflected in his love of racial caricature and racist vocabulary — is an inverse measure of someone else’s pain. Both extremes traffic in the sorts of moral absolutes that Mark Twain found as dangerous as they are simplistic and regressive.
Instead of invoking false dichotomies, what we hope to accomplish here — using Twain’s writing as just one example — is to demonstrate how thoroughly American it is to wrestle with “critical race theory,” a phrase that Twain would have found as unwieldy as it is imprecise. Nonetheless, it is a concept that inspired his major works.
This is a FREE event hosted virtually on Crowdcast. Donations encouraged. REGISTER HERE. The Hartford Trouble Begins series is made possible with the support of the Center for Mark Twain Studies in Elmira, New York.
ABOUT THE SPEAKERS:
Dr. Laura Skandera Trombley: Laura Skandera Trombley, a gifted scholar, proven leader, and passionate advocate for liberal-arts education, is Southwestern University’s 16th President. She is the first woman chosen to lead Texas’s first university. Trombley is president emerita of Pitzer College and The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens and the former president of the University of Bridgeport. Previously, she served as vice president for academic affairs at Coe College, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Recognized by her peers as a champion of liberal-arts institutions, Trombley’s leadership has earned praise for her ability to raise sustainability awareness, establish best-in-class university operations, and drive exponential growth in fundraising, transforming both Pitzer and the University of Bridgeport. Trombley is a preeminent Mark Twain scholar. Her most recent book is Mark Twain’s Other Woman (Knopf, 2011). Her first book, Mark Twain in the Company of Women (University of Pennsylvania Press), was published in 1994. In 2017, Trombley won the Louis J. Budd Award for her contributions to Mark Twain studies. Trombley has also written extensively about the underrepresentation of women and people of color in academia. A California native and the daughter of two educators, Trombley enrolled at the age of 16 as a first-year student at Pepperdine University and subsequently earned her bachelor of arts in English/humanities. She remained at Pepperdine to complete a master of arts in English, graduating summa cum laude. She received her Ph.D. in English from the University of Southern California as a Virginia Barbara Middleton Scholar and a recipient of the Lester and Irene Finkelstein Fellowship for Outstanding Humanities Student.
Dr. Ann Ryan: Ann Ryan is a native of Syracuse and like her brother and two sisters, a proud Le Moyne College alum. She graduated in 1985 from Le Moyne as an English major with an Integral Honors degree and attended the University of Virginia where she earned a Ph.D. in American literature. Her primary scholarly work has been on the life and writings of Mark Twain. She is particularly interested in nineteenth-century American culture, popular culture as well as the more canonical and literary sort. Ann writes frequently on the history of race and racism in American life. She is the co-editor of and contributor to Cosmopolitan Twain, and the co-editor and contributor to A Due Voci: The Photography of Rita Hammond. Ann has published widely on Mark Twain and is currently finishing a book-length project on Twain and the gothic. Ann is the past president of The Mark Twain Circle and former editor of The Mark Twain Annual. She has been awarded The Henry Nash Smith Award for “lasting contributions to the field of Mark Twain Studies,” the Le Moyne College “Teacher of the Year” award, and was named the O’Connell Professor of the Humanities for her work in the classroom, which is where she finds her greatest professional reward. Ann teaches a wide variety of courses at Le Moyne from Shakespeare, to the American Gothic, to the Harlem Renaissance, to courses on literature, film, and Transcendentalism, foundational classes in writing, and Honors courses on Race and Reconstruction. Often these courses involve travel—to Harlem or Walden Pond or Seneca Falls—and sometimes they require extra-curricular activities of other sorts. In all cases, Ann asks students to push the walls of the classroom out beyond their conventional limits. She expects students to connect the histories, ideas, metaphors, and narratives we explore to the contemporary world around them.