Twain Scholars Honored at Humor In America Conference

The quadrennial Humor in America conference, co-sponsored by the American Humor Studies Association and the Mark Twain Circle of America, took place earlier this month on the campus of Roosevelt University in Chicago. The Center for Mark Twain Studies was also pleased to offer an award to supplement travel costs to the conference for five graduate students and emerging scholars.

Among the three days of panels and plenaries, many of which touched on the work of Twain and his contemporaries, was the presentation of the Charlie Award (named for Charlie Chaplin) from the AHSA in recognition of lifetime achievement in scholarship and service related to American Humor Studies. Over the thirty years that AHSA has been giving the award, there have been only twelve recipients, including, notably, Elmira College professor Michael Kiskis.

This year, the AHSA recognized the careers to two new Charlie Award recipients, Bruce Michelson and Linda Morris, both of whom, in addition to there considerable work on a wide variety of Humor Studies topics, have published noteworthy books on Mark Twain.

Bruce Michelson and AHSA President, Jim Caron. Pictures Thanks to Jeffrey Melton.

Dr. Michelson is Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Illinois. His first book on Twain, Mark Twain on the Loose: A Comic Writer & the American Self (University of Massachusetts Press), published in 1995, examined Twain’s urge to liberation, a quest for freedom from the inhibitions of Victorian America and the conventions of literary genre which drove Twain’s extraordinary celebrity and literary legacy, but also makes close examination of his life and work threatening and disconcerting to many readers, past and present.

Ten years later, Dr. Michelson added Printer’s Devil: Mark Twain & The American Publishing Revolution (University of California Press, 2006), the first comprehensive analysis of how Twain’s career intersected with the explosion of print culture in the United States during his lifetime, thanks in large part to commercial and technological innovations which the author was highly attuned to because he had begun his career as a typesetter and newspaper reporter. Printer’s Devil remains the standard-bearer for considerations of Twain as an entrepreneur and professional publisher, arguably as important to his success in Gilded Age America as his considerable talents as a writer and humorist. During his promotion of Printer’s Devil, Michelson was part of the Spring 2006 Trouble Begins series. A recording of his lecture can be found in our digital archives.

Linda Morris and AHSA President, Jim Caron. Pictures thanks to Jeffrey Melton.

Dr. Morris is Professor Emerita at University of California, Davis. Last year she received the first ever Olivia Langdon Clemens Award from the Center for Mark Twain Studies, recognizing unique and groundbreaking contributions to Twain Studies. Her book, Gender Play in Mark Twain: Cross-Dressing & Transgression (University of Missouri Press, 2007), drew attention to Twain’s repeated return to tropes of gender non-conformity. Morris’s book is not only part of what was then an emerging and much-needed corpus of scholarship on Twain and gender, but also developed a lucid interpretive apparatus grounded in contemporary critical theory, demonstrating that Twain remained, as Larry Howe put it in his review, “relevant to new critical paradigms.”

Morris has also been instrumental in resuscitating the works of women writers and humorists of the 19th century, many of whom enjoyed considerable popularity and influence during their lives, but were not granted equivalent attention to their male counterparts by critics and scholars of the ensuing generations. Prominent among these is another Elmira resident, Frances Miriam Whitcher, who is the primary subject of Morris’s Women’s Humor in the Age of Gentility (Syracuse University Press, 1992).

Please join the Center for Mark Twain Studies in congratulating Dr. Michelson and Dr. Morris and thanking them for their ongoing contributions to Twain Studies scholarship.