The American Vandal Podcast

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Series Three: Vandalizing The Chair

Episode 1: A Chair On The Chair with Karen Tongson (August 27, 2021)

The new Netflix original series, The Chair, focus on the first woman of color to Chair the English Department at fictional Pembroke University. Dr. Karen Tongson (University of Southern California) can empathize with this character, played by Sandra Oh, but she is also an exceptional media critic. She talks with Matt Seybold about the reception of The Chair, its representation of literary studies, and where it fits in the history of the U.S. sitcom.

Episode 2: The Shush (& The Chair) with Kyla Wazana Tompkins & Michelle Chihara (September 1, 2021)

In her recent PMLA essay, “The Shush,” Kyla Wazana Tompkins writes, “The future of the English department cannot be the same as its past.” The recent Netflix original series, “The Chair,” offers one vision of that past and thus serves to generate conversation about “The Shush,” the state of literary studies, and higher education.

Episode 3: Antiracism In The Contemporary University with Amanda Bailey, Tita Chico, & Emily Yoon Perez (September 9, 2021)

A discussion of the Antiracism project sponsored by University of Maryland’s Center For Literary & Comparative Studies with three faculty members heavily involved in the project, as well as their insights into the Netflix original series, The Chair, which dramatizes a contemporary university English department.

Episode 4: Showtime’s Billions & COVID Form with Anna Kornbluh & Devin William Daniels (October 8, 2021)

The season finale of Billions aired exactly 17 months after the season premiere. This was not by design. In this episode, scholars of finance and popular culture discuss the popular Showtime series and how its handling of the pandemic disruption is represented in both content and form.

Season Two: 2021

Episode 1: The Myths of Reconstruction in the Wake of Insurrection with Brook Thomas (January 15, 2021)

Following the storming of the Capitol Building on January 6th, there has been a resurgent interest in the era of Reconstruction following the American Civil War. Senators, journalists, and even scholars have perpetuated long-standing myths about Reconstruction. Brook Thomas explains and debunks some of these myths, while also arguing that an informed reckoning with the unfinished business of Reconstruction can help us understand and address the political volatility of the present day.

Episode 2: Robinhood, r/WallStreetBets, Who’s Yellen Now, & The GameStop-ification of Finance with Anna Kornbluh, Leigh Claire La Berge, & Michelle Chihara (February 11, 2021)

Three scholars of finance and literature join to talk about the ongoing story of the “Reddit Revolution,” members of the r/WallStreetBets forum who organized a run on several stocks, notably GameStop, using the retail trading app, Robinhood. How is this speculative mania interconnected with the 2008 financial crisis, the current economic recession, and the new U.S. Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen?

Episode 3: Project Huckleberry (a.k.a. The Mandalorian) with Emmet Asher-Perrin & Nathaniel Williams (February 23, 2021)

The hit Disney+ & Lucasfilm TV series, The Mandalorian, was produced under the working title of “Project Huckleberry.” This allusion the Mark Twain’s under-appreciated legacy as an innovator in Science Fiction provides the grounds for a ranging conversation about Star Wars, The Mandalorian, and genre fiction with Emmet Asher-Perrin of & Nathaniel Williams of UC-Davis.

Episode 4: Unsealing The Archive of T. S. Eliot’s Love Letters to Emily Hale with Frances Dickey, Megan Quigley, & John Whittier-Ferguson (March 16, 2021)

Very few embargoed archives are as momentous as Mark Twain’s Autobiography, released a century after his death, but the Hale archive, opened last year, is an obvious rival. Emily Hale saved over a thousand letters from the poet and critic, T. S. Eliot, with whom she had a decades-long love affair. In this episode, we talk to three scholars who spent portions of 2020 reading the letters and processing their many surprising revelations.

Episode 5: A Music Box, Minstrel Songs, & Mark Twain’s Emo Playlist with Erin Bartram & Kerry Driscoll (March 31, 2021)

This episode brings together three scholars who have been researching and writing about Mark Twain’s musical tastes and the role of music education and performance in the Clemens family household.

Episode 6: The Suez Canal, #Stuckboat, & The Sinew of War and Trade with Laleh Khalili (April 8, 2021)

Following on the heels of the grounding of the Ever Given in the Suez Canal last month, Matt Seybold speaks with Dr. Laleh Khalili, whose 2020 book, Sinews of War & Trade: Shipping & Capitalism in the Arabian Peninsula, covers the history, present, & potential futures of maritime transport.

Bonus Episode: Recordings for Hal Bush & Hiroko Bush (April 26, 2021)

A beloved member of the Mark Twain Studies community, author, and St. Louis University Professor, Hal Bush, recently suffered a traumatic brain injury which has put him into a coma. In this episode, friends and fellow scholars read to him from a series of his favorite works, mostly by Mark Twain. Special Thanks to St. Louis University for providing theme music for this episode, a composition by Roberto Murguia and Róisín Malone.

Episode 8: Exterminate All The Brutes with Sheri-Marie Harrison, Andrew Hoberek, & Ignacio Sanchez Prado (May 4, 2021)

The recent HBO documentary series, directed by Raoul Peck, offers a grand narrative of European colonialism and American imperialism which is broadly sympathetic with the works of Mark Twain from the final decade of his life. In this episode, a diverse group of scholars discuss Peck’s film, as well as where it fits in global cinema, the U.S. media ecosystem, and postcolonial scholarship.

Episode 9: Mark Twain, Journalism, & The Search For Genus Americanus with Loren Ghiglione, Alyssa Karas, & Dan Tham (May 19, 2021)

The authors of Genus Americanus (2020) join host Matt Seybold to discuss their 2011 road trip. Inspired by Mark Twain, they went looking for American identity through interviews with other journalists, scholars, immigrants, and nomads. What did the find? And how has it shaped their understanding of the decade which followed?

Episode 10: Teaching With Tension & The Illusion of Postracialism with Lee Bebout, Philathia Bolton, & Cassander Smith (June 15, 2021)

The co-editors of a new collection on “Race, Resistance, & Reality in The Classroom” discuss the “flash point” of 2008 for American education, the recent Critical Race Theory panic, pedagogical strategies for teaching with tension, and Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Episode 11: Generation Z, Mark Twain’s Poetry, & Teaching English From East Texas To Harvard with Jocelyn Chadwick (June 18, 2021)

The coordinators of the 2021 Summer Teachers Institute sponsored by the Center For Mark Twain Studies converse about the upcoming event, the state of U.S. education, the resonance of Mark Twain for contemporary students, and much more.

Episode 12: Why Trust In Antitrust? with Sanjukta Paul & Marshall Steinbaum (July 1, 2021)

With a series of recent events indicating bipartisan interest in antitrust reform from Congress and the Supreme Court, host Matt Seybold speaks with Law Professor, Sanjukta Paul, and economist, Marshall Steinbaum, about the history of antitrust movements in the United States from Mark Twain’s Gilded Age to the New Gilded Age, as well as why they advocate for antitrust as a mechanism for improving worker welfare, reducing inequality, and protecting democracy.

Bonus Episode: The Invisible Home of Frederick Douglass, John W. Jones, & Mark Twain with Jill Spivey Caddell & Shirley Samuels (August 6, 2021)

On a special Emancipation Week episode, three scholars with both personal and professional ties to the Southern Tier of New York, discuss the recently-reconstructed speech by Frederick Douglass which was part of the Emancipation Day celebration which took place in Elmira in August of 1880.

Season One: Fall 2020

Episode 1: James Redpath, Bleeding Kansas, & The Networks of Disunion (October 12, 2020)

Mark Twain’s publicist and booking agent, proprietor of the Boston Lyceum Bureau, started his career as a hardscrabble freelance journalist. He discovered he had a knack for star-making long before he met Mark Twain. Matt Seybold tells the largely forgotten tale of James Redpath becoming John Brown’s “right hand man” on the cusp of the Civil War. This episode is part of “The Viral Twain” panel at Virtual C19.

Episode 2: The Viral Reprinting of Mark Twain’s Hawaii Jokes & Mark Twain Meets Dracula (October 12, 2020)

This episode begins with Todd Nathan Thompson’s paper for “The Viral Twain” panel at Virtual C19. Dr. Thompson tracks how Twain’s jokes based on his visit to Hawaii were reprinted and often misprinted in the 1870s and 1880s, as Twain was increasingly approached as a pundit on annexation. The second half of the episode (24:00) contained Mark Dawidziak’s Trouble Begins Lecture about the influence of Twain on Bram Stoker.

Episode 3: Mark Twain, The World, & Susan K. Harris (October 26, 2020)

Susan K. Harris, author of “Mark Twain, The World, & Me: Following the Equator, Then & Now,” sits down with Matt Seybold to discuss the project that took her to Australia, India, New Zealand, and South Africa, among other places, and found her examining her own life and career, as well as the author whose footsteps she was following in.

Episode 4: Elmira Correctional Facility & The Prison Fix with Andrea Morrell (October 30, 2020)

With the backdrop of a large COVID-19 outbreak within its walls, Andrea Morrell talks to Matt Seybold about Elmira Correctional Facility, one of the oldest continuously-operational prisons in the United States. What does it mean to be a “prison town”? How has the prison system changed during the long history of ECF? What does the current outbreak reveal about its future?

Episode 5: American Humor & Matters of Empire with Judith Yaross Lee (November 2, 2020)

Coming off the 2020 Quarry Farm Symposium which she organized, Judith Yaross Lee talks with Matt Seybold about her ongoing project, the disciplinary history of American Humor Studies, romantic comedies, Amy Kaplan, and much more.

Episode 6: The New Black Gothic & Lovecraft Country with Sheri-Marie Harrison (November 11, 2020)

The Gothic has been, since Mark Twain’s time, a popular way for artists to reckon with the life and afterlife of American slavery. But only recently has a Gothic tradition emerged which places black protagonists and black perspectives at its center. The recent HBO series, Lovecraft Country, is exemplary of what Sheri-Marie Harrison has dubbed New Black Gothic. In this episode she talks about the show and the artistic movement it is a part of.

Episode 7: Mark Twain, James Redpath, & The Vigilante Origins of American Police (November 23, 2020)

Concluding the 2020 Trouble Begins Lecture Series, Matt Seybold interposes the early careers of Mark Twain and James Redpath, both of whom, in the years surrounding the American Civil War, denounced police forces in Charleston and San Francisco for violently oppressing people of color. What does it mean to be a witness?

Episode 8: Dave Chappelle & Killjoy Comedy with Jalylah Burrell, Bambi Haggins, & Maggie Hennefeld (December 1, 2020)

American Humor Studies scholars Jalylah Burrell, Bambi Haggins, and Maggie Hennefeld join host Matt Seybold to discuss the recent work of stand-up comic Dave Chappelle, especially his free half-hour routine, “8:46,” released directly to YouTube the month after the murder of George Floyd.

Episode 9: Good Lord Bird & John Brown in Ethan Hawke’s America with Jeffrey Insko & Ashley Rattner (December 14, 2020)

James McBride’s retelling of John Brown’s epochal raid on Harpers Ferry through the eyes of a young black man won the National Book Award in 2013 and was recently adapted into a Showtime miniseries by Ethan Hawke. Two scholars of antebellum abolitionism discuss Good Lord Bird and, more generally, rising popular interest in the events leading up to the American Civil War.

Episode 10: DEEP CUTS BOOK CLUB #1 Mark Twain’s “Letter From Santa Claus” with Mark Dawidziak, Penne Restad, & Jana Tigchelaar (December 18, 2020)

This episode focuses on a letter Mark Twain composed for his three-year-old daughter on Christmas 1875. After actor Mark Dawidziak reads the letter, Matt Seybold hosts a book club style discussion with Penne Restad and Jana Tigchelaar, two scholars who have done extensive research on the development of Christmas traditions in Nineteenth-Century America.

BONUS EPISODE: The Gospel of Revolt: Mark Twain in Elmira with Hal Holbrook & Will Holbrook

Did you know that Mark Twain’s father-in-law lobbied for the release of a young woman arrested under the Fugitive Slave Law in 1853? That Twain’s grave lies in a cemetery with numerous conductors and stationmasters on the Underground Railroad? That Twain’s eulogy was given by the first woman ordained in the state of New York? With the help of Oscar-nominated actor, Hal Holbrook, and his grandson, Will Holbrook, Matt Seybold explores the largely forgotten and often surprising political history of the small town where the Center for Mark Twain Studies is located.

This episode was originally produced for the official podcast of C19: The Society of Nineteenth-Century Americanists. They are currently soliciting proposals for new episodes. For more information, visit

BONUS EPISODE: Center for Mark Twain Studies 2020 Debrief From Quarry Farm with Joe Lemak & Steve Webb

The staff of the Center for Mark Twain Studies gathers in the library at Quarry Farm to discuss the recently-announced Quarry Farm Fellowships for the coming year, the peculiarities of living and working on the property, and the past and future of CMTS.

Host & Executive Producer: Matt Seybold (Asst. Prof. of Amer. Lit. & Mark Twain Studies, Scholar-in-Residence at CMTS)

Executive Producer: Joe Lemak (Director of CMTS)

Music: Steve Webb (Caretaker at Quarry Farm)

Logo: Jan Kather (Prof. of Media Arts)

Additional Production Assistance & Podcast Hosting: Resonate Recordings