Mark Twain scholars from all over the world are packing their scholarly papers, writing their names in their underwear (in marker, please), and getting ready to head to “Mark Twain Summer Camp”–better known as the 7th International Conference on the State of Mark Twain Studies.
Held every four years in Elmira, New York–the location of the summer home of Clemens’s in-laws, and where he wrote many of his best known works–the conference is undoubtedly the best conference in existence. Ask anyone.
Four years ago, as a weak-kneed, but semi-well-funded graduate student–the conference was a paradise of Twain studies and conviviality. The conference was where I first met Sharon McCoy, Jeffrey Melton, and ABE (who went by a different name, back then). Now, as an unfunded Ph.D., the conference still portends to be a paradise, but a costly one.
In addition to high-quality papers on Mark Twain and related subjects, the conference features themed dinners, fancy speakers, Twain scholars singing songs, and storytelling. Hal Holbrook telling stories on the original sight of Mark Twain’s study was an event we will all remember for the remainder of our lives (you can read more about the last conference and listen to Holbrook speaking here).
Part One of Holbrook’s story
This year promises to be equally exciting, if the program is to be believed. The conference theme celebrates the 150th anniversary of the use of “Mark Twain”–a fact that will be marked by an exhibition of material from his western years:
“He used it for the first time in the Territorial Enterprise in Nevada,” said Barbara Snedecor, director of the Center for Mark Twain Studies. “This exhibition kind of highlights those years in the West and that moment when he first chose that pen name.
“People are coming from very far away — China, Japan, Germany, Europe and all over the United States,” Snedecor said. “About 175 people will be there. It’s open to the public too. Some of the papers are of great interest.” (source)
I would hope that some of those papers of interest would be Sharon McCoy providing keen insights on “Tricks and Tools: Practical Jokes, the “Evasion,” and the Limits of Love.” Jeffrey Melton discoursing on “Mark Twain and the Legacy of the Pastoral Dream”, ABE holding forth on ““Dear Sir”: A Post-Structuralist Impression of Charles F. Browne’s Influence on Mark Twain,” or me stumbling through ” “Mark Twain”: The Humorist.”
Or, of alternate interest is the food, including Friday’s dinner of:
Stage Coach Salad
Smoked Brisket of Beef with Cowboy Sauces
Saloon Glazed Roasted Ham
Turkey Breast/Wild Berry Glaze
Faux “Rocky Mountain Oysters”
Wagon Wheel Vegetables
Gold Nugget Rice
Dessert following Keynote Address
I prefer my Rocky Mountain Oysters authentic, but I can’t complain. Eating is one of the more important aspects of a conference, as any academic will admit, when full. As Mark Twain said: “But when the time comes that a man has had his dinner, then the true man comes to the surface.”
(c) 2013, Tracy Wuster