The 6th & 7th John S. Tuckey Awards For Lifetime Achievement in Mark Twain Studies

Editor’s Note: The following is lightly-adapted from Matt Seybold’s presentation of the awards prior to the final session of the 9th International Conference on the State of Mark Twain Studies.

Thanks to all of you for the creative, incisive, and generative work you’ve shared the past three days. My mind is on fire, immolated by our exciting new voices and the dynamic contributions of our old heads…which brings me to my daunting duty at the outset of this session, the presentation of the John S. Tuckey Award for Lifetime Achievement in Mark Twain Studies. 

There is too much achievement in Twain Studies to honor just one scholar every four, or in this case, five years. So were aren’t. Both recipients of this year’s Tuckey Award began publishing their first peer-reviewed work in Twain Studies during the 1980s. In each case, their first publication appeared in a now defunct academic journal. It’s hard to believe that the Dutch Quarterly Review of Anglo-American Letters couldn’t make a go of it in the digital era.

Both scholars made major book-length contributions to Twain Studies within a few months of one another during what I think is now quite recognizable as a paradigm shift in Twain Studies which took place between 1993 and 1998. During this period, much of the conventional wisdom of midcentury started being questioned, notably the artificial severance of Twain’s humor from his politics and the misogynist yada-yadaing of his domestic life. This is also when Elmira resurfaces in Twain Studies, both as a site of production, but also a recognized influence on his life and writing. Between them, tonight’s awardees have given ten Trouble Begins lectures, dating back to the Fall 1988 series, all but one of which you can listen to in our digital archive.

During the mid-’90s, Twain Studies was, for the first time, casting back upon its own critical canon and finding it be narrow, conservative, and sometimes flatly inaccurate. Each of tonight’s recipients contributed to the revisions of this period, and seem to have been incite to go even further, in opposite temporal directions, towards applying the methods of new historicism and postcolonialism to portions of Twain’s life and writing which were ignored through the entirety of the 20th century. Each wrote a book in the first decade of the 21st Century without which the current field becomes hard to imagine. During the morning flash sessions on Thursday, two words kept coming up to describe how Twain is interpolated into the contemporary: imperialism and technology. These scholars are largely responsible for making us think that. 

But this does not adequately capture their lifetime achievement, as each has also held numerous service roles, as officers, editors, board members, and organizers for The Mark Twain Circle, The Mark Twain Annual, The American Humor Studies Association, The Center For Mark Twain Studies, our sister Twain sites, and others. And in these roles, I can personally testify, I have seen them do the yeoman work of scholarship: recruiting, mentoring, refereeing, corresponding. In this respect, their mark is left on nearly every member of this audience. Regardless of how much of their scholarship you have read, they have probably read yours.   

And so, it is my great pleasure, to present the sixth and seventh John S. Tuckey Awards for Lifetime Achievements in Mark Twain Studies to Susan K. Harris and Bruce Michelson.