On the final weekend in July, a dedicated contingent of Twain Studies scholars gathered in Hannibal, Missouri for the third quadrennial Clemens Conference, sponsored by the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum. The weather was surprisingly agreeable for midsummer in the Mississippi River Valley and the conference organizers made sure there was plenty of time for adventuring between panels and plenary sessions.
The keynote address was delivered by Kerry Driscoll, author of Mark Twain Among the Indians. She explored the apocryphal association between “Injun Joe,” the antagonist of Adventures of Tom Sawyer and “Indian Joe,” a longtime resident of Hannibal. Dr. Driscoll’s compelling argument includes analysis of an essay on Native American and mixed race populations in and around Hannibal written by Sam’s brother, Orion Clemens.
After the keynote address, the Mark Twain Circle and Center for Mark Twain Studies surprised the conference host, Henry Sweets, by awarding him with the Thomas A. Tenney Award for service to Mark Twain Studies. The award was not scheduled to be presented again until 2021, but in recognition of Sweets’s 42 years as Director of the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum, a position which he is relinquishing later this year, it seemed appropriate to deliver the award on his home turf. Noted collector of Twain-related artifacts, Kevin Mac Donnell, sweetened the ceremonial plaque with a collectible plate designed and sold in Hannibal during Twain’s lifetime.
Friday’s plenaries featured a preview of the forthcoming and much-anticipated volumes of Mark Twain’s Literary Resources by Alan Gribben and an exploration of intimacy, celebrity, and literary wit by Bruce Michelson. After an afternoon exploring the museums and attractions of downtown Hannibal, conference participants were treated to a guided tour of the cave where crucial scenes in Tom Sawyer are set.
On Saturday, John Bird discussed the lessons of his years editing the Twain section in American Literary Scholarship and editors of various Twain-related publications answered questions from the audience. Another panel focused on the influence of Twain’s authorized biography, Albert Bigelow Paine.
The weekend climaxed with a steamboat cruise on the Mississippi River. Henry Sweets arranged for two of the conference organizers, John Bird and Ann Ryan, to take turns in the pilot house.
The Center for Mark Twain Studies would like to heartily thank our hosts from the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum, the Mark Twain Cave, Mark Twain Riverboat, Mark Twain Brewery, and Finn’s Food & Spirits.