Shelley Fisher Fiskin Receives 2017 John Tuckey Award

At the 8th International Conference on the State of Mark Twain Studies, the Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College presented the John Tuckey Award to Shelley Fisher Fishkin. The Tuckey Award was established in 1991 and is given every four years “in recognition of lifetime achievements and contributions to Mark Twain Studies.”

Dr. Fishkin is part of the faculty at Stanford University, where she is the Joseph S. Atha Professor of Humanities and Director of American Studies, as well as a Professor of English. Dr. Fishkin’s diverse scholarly interests have included 19th-century U.S. newspapers, the poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar, the immigrant experience of Chinese Railroad workers, feminist literary criticism, and the development of transnational American Studies; but Mark Twain has remained central to her work through more than three decades of writing, teaching, and public scholarship.

She has edited numerous editions and anthologies of Twain’s works, most notably the 29-volume Oxford Mark Twain, completed in 1996. Dr. Fishkin also published two widely-read critical books on Twain during the 1990s, Was Huck Black?: Mark Twain & African-American Voice (Oxford, 1993) and Lighting Out for the Territory: Reflections on Mark Twain & American Culture (Oxford, 1996). She has consulted for PBS, including on Ken Burn’s Mark Twain (2002), and is part of the curating team at the American Writers Museum. Her most recent book, Writing America (Rutgers, 2015), is a “reader’s companion” to literary landmarks throughout the U.S. Dr. Fishkin is currently spearheading an international digital humanities project, Global Huck, aimed at developing an archive of translations of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from around the world.

What follows is an excerpt from the Tuckey Award presentation made by Matt Seybold, Assistant Professor of American Literature & Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College, before the keynote on August 4th:

It is easy to imagine how Twain might’ve become nothing more than a caricature, a ventriloquist’s dummy for patriotic nostalgia, or, as he said of Shakespeare, “a brontosaur: nine bones and six hundred barrels of plaster of paris.” It’s clear that he tried to preempt his own mythic appropriation, but the selective and apocryphal accounts of Twain’s life and work which emerged during the first half of the 20th-century show that he needed lots of posthumous help. The greatest achievement of post-45 generations of Twain scholars is that Twain has not been reduced to Norman Rockwell and Disney iconography. Many people in this room have played crucial roles in rescuing the contrarian, cosmopolitan, and irreducible Twain and thrusting him into the cultural conscience via classrooms, edited collections, archiving, performances, lecturing, consulting, and other forms of public scholarship. The film we saw last night, [Band of Robbers by the Nee Brothers], is telling evidence that Twain scholars and teachers have successfully sabotaged efforts to make Twain a two-dimensional cartoon in service of American Exceptionalism.

The recipient of tonight’s award writes scholarship which is innovative and rigorous, yet accessible; addresses audiences beyond the academy and across borders; organizes and promotes transnational and interdisciplinary communities of scholars.

When I feel like the future of higher education seems uncertain, I remind myself that the possibilities for Twain scholarship seem endless. That is a credit to many of you, of course, as well as many who are no longer with us, but nobody has done more to recruit, challenge, and inspire new generations and new genres in Mark Twain Studies than the 5th John S. Tuckey Fellow, and the first woman so awarded: Shelley Fisher Fishkin.

UPDATE: This article from Stanford News includes some comments from Dr. Fishkin, as well as additional summation of her achievements.