The Mark Twain Circle of America

Our Commitments to Racial Justice

“The very ink with which all history is written is merely fluid prejudice.”

                                          — Mark Twain, Following the Equator

The Mark Twain Circle affirms the courageous citizens who are risking their health and safety to protest police brutality. We stand in solidarity with the Black and Brown communities whose suffering under systemic racism exposes the vicious underbelly of American culture. We call on government agencies to uphold the social contract–to defend, not attack, the citizens who have trusted them for protection. And we embrace CHANGE: change in the training and culture of U.S. policing, change in the education system of our future citizens, and not least, change in our own hearts and minds as we constantly reevaluate our own basic assumptions.

We repeat the names of the recent dead, despite understanding that they represent only a fraction of those wrongfully killed by the authorities pledged to protect them: George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Nina Pop, Monika Diamond, Sandra Bland, Eric Gardner, Freddie Grey, Trayvon Martin, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Pamela Turner, Tamil Rice. In repeating the names, we keep them with us, reminders that it is our constant duty to struggle against injustice.

We are confident in our ability to change ourselves and our systems because, as teachers, scholars, and readers of Mark Twain and of American culture, we know that change is possible. Twain himself provides a model.  Growing up as the son of slave owners, firmly rooted in the tumultuous environment of the nineteenth-century United States, he was also a world traveler and, most importantly, a world thinker.  In our efforts to understand him, we have learned that he struggled to understand global change, from germ theory to electronics, U.S. racial conflicts to worldwide rebellions against imperialist domination.  In the process, he changed: the Mark Twain of the 1900s, who vociferously protested the U.S. annexation of the Philippines and satirized King Leopold’s rape of the Belgian Congo, was not the same person who snarled about the “infernal abolitionists” in a letter to his mother in 1853.[i]  Over the years he had become, as Philip Foner has written, one of America’s foremost social critics, speaking up against injustice–whether perpetrated by individuals or by their governments.

The Mark Twain Circle of America has and will continue to pursue educational programs designed to uncover and interrogate systems of racism and racist violence in American culture. Our panel at the 2019 American Literature Association conference evoked the memory of the transatlantic slave trade in a session on “Mark Twain and Racial Identity,” and members of our organization have spearheaded the Elmira Center for Mark Twain Studies’ upcoming Quarry Farm Symposium on “American Humor and Matters of Empire,” which aims to honor the rhetorical, ideological, and historical distinctiveness of African American comic traditions. The teachers among us routinely interrogate American racial assumptions as they and their students wrestle with Twain’s writings and their legacies. These strategies, long our practice, will continue, and we invite all those interested in Mark Twain and in American cultural history to join with us as we strive to contribute to the struggle for racial justice in America.


[i] Letter from Samuel L. Clemens to Jane Lampton Clemens, August 24, 1853, in Mark Twain’s Letters, vol. 1, 1853-1866, edited by Edgar Marquess Branch, Michael Barry Frank, Kenneth M. Sanderson, Harriet E. Smith, Lin Salamo, and Richard Bucci (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 4.

Call for Papers: MLA 2021

“Gender/Power/Twain”

The year 2020 saw the centennials of both woman suffrage in the U.S. and the canonization of Joan of Arc in the Catholic world. In recognition of those events, the Mark Twain Circle solicits papers for a session on Mark Twain and political power, broadly defined as an individual’s ability to effectively participate in her or his governing structures. How did Twain see women fitting into the American political structure? How did he portray Joan’s relationship to the ruling structures in his Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, by the Sieur Louis de Conte?   What were his own relationships to the various power structures that enmeshed him? And thinking broadly, how did he envision political power across time and place? We welcome proposals tackling these and similar topics for our 2021 MLA session in Toronto.

Proposals (300-500 words, please include a short cv) are due no later than March 16, 2020.  Please send to Susan K. Harris, address: skh5@ku.edu.​  We are especially interested in proposals from emerging scholars and individuals from underrepresented groups. Graduate students selected to present may apply for the Louis Budd Travel Grant sponsored by the MTC.  Papers given at MTC sessions are often sought for development and publication in our journal Mark Twain Annual.

Calls for Papers: Update

We’ve added two new Calls for Papers!

The first is for a Circle-sponsored panel at ALA 2020 (in San Diego). The Panel is titled “Mark Twain Reading/Reading Mark Twain,” and proposals (of 400 words or fewer) are due by January 15th, 2020. You can view the details by clicking here or by checking out the “Events and Calls for Papers” drop-down menu above.

The second is a call for submissions to a special forum titled “Global Huck: Mapping the Cultural Work of Translations of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” This forum is being put together with the help of the Journal of Transnational American Studies, and proposals (of, again, 400 words or fewer) are due by January 1st, 2020. You can view the details here.

Quarry Farm Weekend Symposium

Organized by Ben Click, and featuring a keynote address by Michael P. Branch, the CMTS’s Sixth Quarry Farm Symposium will begin on Friday, October 4th. Space is limited, but there may still be a few seats left. Click here for the program as well as full details about this amazing opportunity to enjoy food, cocktails, and presentations at tranquil Quarry Farm.

Celebrating the Career and Legacy of Henry Sweets

As the (partial!) retirement of Henry Sweets approaches, a group of Twain scholars have come together to celebrate Henry’s distinguished career as director of the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum (and Henry himself of course). Check out these great testimonials hosted by the Center for Mark Twain Studies.

The Mark Twain House Receives Largest Donation in Twenty Years

Bestselling novelist David Baldacci and his wife Michelle have donated $1 million to the Mark Twain House & Museum. Read all about this amazing gift, as well as Baldacci’s life-long connection to Twain, in the Hartford Courant!

The Clemens Conference Is Almost Here! (Hannibal, MO)

The deadline is July 17th, so don’t forget to register! If you haven’t yet, you can complete your registration through the Boyhood Home & Museum site.

Here is the complete conference schedule, chock-full of exciting reasons to attend.

If you have any questions about lodging and logistics, or if you would like to mail or fax your registration form, Henry Sweets has kindly gathered all of that information into one convenient announcement. He has included his contact information, and you should reach out to him directly if you need to make special arrangements (for example, if you’re only attending part of the conference).

Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum Announces Search for Executive Director

The Mark Twain Home Foundation has announced that Henry Sweets will be stepping down as Executive Director of the Mark Twain Museum on December 31. This will end his full-time work for the Museum which has spanned 42 years.

Henry has done an amazing job of enriching Twain’s presence in Hannibal and beyond, and we are deeply thankful for all he has done–for scholars and fans alike. He will continue with the Museum on a part-time basis with the title of Curator, overseeing the Museum’s collections and exhibits, running the annual Teacher Workshop, and editing The Fence Painter.

The Mark Twain Home Foundation will be conducting its search for a new CEO/Executive Director until July 31st, 2019. You can find the full details for the position as well as information on how to apply here.

NeMLA 2020 Call for Papers

Michael A. Torregrossa is organizing a panel for the Northeast Modern Language Association’s 2020 session in Boston, MA. The panel is titled ” Afterlives of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,” and abstracts are due by September 30, 2019. Click here for the full CFP!

TwainSpotting: Mark Twain Meets Colbert

This week on Steven Colbert’s Late Show, Emma Thompson described the power of humor by quoting Mark Twain on “the assault of laughter”! Thanks to Larry Howe for spotting this one. The clip is about a minute long and you can watch it here.