The 2023 Spring Trouble Begins Lecture Series presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies (CMTS) presented its third lecture on Wednesday, May 17 at Quarry Farm (131 Crane Road, Elmira). The lectures are free and open to the public and recordings of the lectures are posted to the CMTS website.
The third lecture, “The Dangers of Loving Mark Twain” was presented by Ann M. Ryan.
Teaching the life and works of Mark Twain has become an increasingly fraught endeavor, complicated by any number of political and cultural forces. There are those who insist that Twain was a committed racial progressive and that any suggestion otherwise is simply the by-product of “cancel culture.” At the other extreme are those who point to Twain’s love of racial caricature and racist vocabulary and then relegate Twain to the literary dustbin, just one more white man whose privileges have expired. This talk explores a pedagogy that may exist somewhere between these extremes of misreading the author and misreading his works. We’ll discuss the relevance of Mark Twain at a moment when all sorts of cultural icons–from Flannery O’Connor to Dr. Seuss–are being questioned by virtue of their racial politics, at the same time that the entire field of African American studies is being attacked and censored. There may be a place for Twain in an objective, honest exploration of race and racism (two separate categories) in American culture. If Twain has any relevance in a 21st century classroom, however, we have to end our love affair with “St. Mark”–the white hero in the white suit–and we must embrace the somewhat grittier, more complicated human being that was Samuel Clemens.
Ann M. Ryan is Professor of American Literature at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York. She is the past president of the Mark Twain Circle, the former editor of The Mark Twain Annual, and co-editor of Cosmopolitan Twain (Missouri, 2008). Her research focuses primarily on issues of race and racism in Mark Twain’s life, his writings, and the culture that produced him. She is completing a book that explores all of the above entitled The Ghosts of Mark Twain.
Professor Ryan has a long relationship with CMTS. In 2013 she was awarded the Henry Nash Smith Award. This award is given to a Mark Twain Studies scholar who has demonstrated exemplary service to the Center for Mark Twain Studies. In 2012 she was co-organizer of the CMTS Symposium “Complicating Twain: Biography, Autobiography, and the Personal Scholar.” In 2017 she was co-organizer of Elmira 2017: The Eighth International Conference on the State of Mark Twain Studies.
In addition to her valuable service to CMTS, she has also given for CMTS symposia and lecture series.
- Ann Ryan, “Mark Twain and the Price of a Haunted House” (October 6, 2018 – Quarry Farm Barn)
- Ann Ryan, “The Ghosts of Mark Twain” (September 25, 2013 – Quarry Farm Barn)
The 2023 Spring Trouble Begins Lecture Series continues next week with:
- Wednesday, May 31 – Lawrence Howe, “Mark Twain, Property, and Poetry”
The Trouble Begins Lecture Series – In 1984, the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies initiated a lecture series, The Trouble Begins at Eight lecture series. The title came from the handbill advertising Mark Twain’s October 2, 1866 lecture presented at Maguire’s Academy of Music in San Francisco. The first lectures were presented in 1985. By invitation, Mark Twain scholars present lectures in the fall and spring of each year, in the Barn at Quarry Farm or at Peterson Chapel in Cowles Hall on Elmira College’s campus. All lectures are free and open to the public.
The Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies was founded in January 1983 with the gift of Quarry Farm to Elmira College by Jervis Langdon, Jr., the great-grand-nephew of Samuel Langhorne Clemens. The Center offers distinctive programs to foster and support Mark Twain scholarship and to strengthen the teaching of Mark Twain at all academic levels. The Center serves the Elmira community and regional, national, and international students and scholars of Mark Twain.