Category Archives: University of Missouri Press

Happy Birthday, Samuel Langhorne Clemens. Not you, Mark Twain.

 

Tracy Wuster

November 30, 2015 will be celebrated as the 180th birthday of one Mark Twain—novelist, humorist, and all around American celebrity. I, for one, will not be celebrating.

You see, I recently finished up a book about Mark Twain, and I know, for a
fact, that Mark Twain was born on February 3, Wuster Mark Twain American Humorist1863. Or thereabouts. No one knows for certain, but that is as certain as we can be, so that is enough.  And not so much born, but created, or launched…inaugurated…catapulted…

That means that this February 3, 1863 will be Mark Twain’s 153rd birthday, which is not that fancy of a number, but it is getting up there for someone still so famous as to have people writing books about him—and more importantly, people reading books by him.

Sure, everyone knows that “Mark Twain” was really the pseudonym of Samuel Langhorne Clemens. Even early in his career, almost everyone knew that, often using the names interchangeably, as most Americans still do. Not as many people know the names Samuel Clemens used an abandoned before creating Mark Twain: “Grumbler,” “Rambler,” “Saverton,” “W. Epaminondas Adrastus Blab,” “Sergeant Fathom,” “Quintus Curtis Snodgrass,” “Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass,” and “Josh.” Selecting “Mark Twain” was clearly a wise choice, although the name would have had a second, nautical meaning for many nineteenth century folk.

Samuel Clemens mixed up the use of his given name and his chosen name—making the whole distinction a mush of confusion that is either a bonanza of psychological material or, alternately, meaningless. For most people, I would guess the distinction is meaningless trivia, which is fine. I’m just happy people still know and read books by Mark Twain. But, I for one, will still grumble when people wish Mark Twain a “Happy Birthday” each November 30th, and I will still try to correct them by pointing out that the “Mark Twain” they refer to really was born—or created—on February 3rd, 1863.

But what does it matter?

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Editor’s Chair: Let’s Destroy the Sun

Tracy Wuster

A friend of mine–and one of my favorite pessimists–has said that she cures writer’s block by placing one simple sentence at the top of her page and going from there.  So here goes:

Since the dawn of time, man has yearned to destroy the sun.

There.  Maybe that will help…

Mr. Montgomery Burns destroys blocks the sun

Mr. Burns destroys the sun…

Nope.  I just don’t have anything intelligent to say about humor right now, nothing like Jeffrey Melton’s sharp piece on pedagogy of humor, or Matt Powell’s excellent work on Andy Kaufman’s music,  Matthew Duabe’s insightful piece on performance and Princess Ivona, Sharon McCoy’s truly funny meditation on germs in public places, Caroline Zarlengo Sposto’s birthday wishes to that great American poet Muhammed Ali, Phil Scepanski’s insightful discussion of sick humor, or ABE’s solid writing on Marc Maron’s podcast.  See, I have resorted to a clip show, the final resort of the lazy sitcom writer (although those are all excellent pieces worth reading, for sure).

But I have nothing.  I wish I could turn my external circumstances–which are not really conducive to writing about humor–into humorous insight, as Sharon McCoy has so wonderfully done on our pages.  But I can’t.  I apologize.

Instead, I will point to the work I have been doing with the AHSA and Humor Studies Caucus of the ASA to plan panels for upcoming conferences in Boston (ALA) and D.C. (ASA).  Also, check out the announcements page above or on the AHSA website for new CFPs for the AHSA at MLA 2014, humor studies and Mark Twain at the RMLA, and humor studies at SAMLA.

Also, I blame my book, the manuscript of which is due to the University of Missouri Press at the end of the month.  Here is a brief sample, touching on Twain and humor:

In 1874, as Twain was writing the series “Old Times on the Mississippi” for the Atlantic, Howells attempted to ease Twain’s fears about the audience he was writing for, stating in a letter “Don’t write at any supposed Atlantic audience, but yarn it off as into my sympathetic ear.”  Twain responded with a line that reflects a sense of relief at this new professional opportunity: “It isn’t the Atlantic audience that distresses me; for it is the only audience that I sit down before in perfect serenity (for the simple reason that it don’t require a ‘humorist’ to paint himself stripèd & stand on his head every fifteen minutes.)”[1] The possibility of earning a living, or at least a reputation, as a new type of humorist—one who didn’t have to curry public favor with constant buffoonery—seems to have appealed to Twain.

My pessimist friend loves when I have footnotes on a blog post.  And if you are one of my editor’s, I wrote this while also eating pizza and preparing for class.  No writing time or thought was spared for non-book work.  And if you are one of the contributor’s to this site, thank you for your excellent posts and sorry for not living up to your standard.
Now, on to destroy the sun…
statler and waldorf destroy the sun


[1] William D. Howells to SLC, 3 December 1874, (UCLC 32073).http://www.marktwainproject.org/x tf/view?docId=letters/UCLC32073.xml;styl e=letter;brand=mtp and SLC to William Dean Howells, 8 Dec 1874, Hartford, Conn. (UCCL 05257). <http://www.marktwainproject.org/xtf/view?docId=letters/UCCL05257.xml;style=letter;brand=mtp>

Press or Pass: The Unfunny Closing of the University of Missouri Press

Tracy Wuster

Update:  As of October, the decision to close the Press has been reversed and Clair Willcox has been rehired.  The concerted efforts of many people helped convince the bigwigs at Mizzou to reverse course, even if they won’t fully admit their mistakes.  I will be publishing my book with the press, if it is approved, of course.   To follow the situation, go here:  https://www.facebook.com/SaveTheUniversityOfMissouriPress.  I have added a new cartoon below.

Another update: in November, 2015, Wolfe has resigned due to his handling of a number of incidents concerning racism.  In a twist, considering the satire on Wolfe below, the final straw seems to have been the announcement that many members of the football team would be on strike until Wolfe left.  In another, more personal, twist, I received my page proofs for Mark Twain: American Humorist from the University of Missouri Press on Saturday night.

This summer has had something of a dark cloud hanging over it.  In June I arrived in San Francisco for the American Literature Association conference, excited for the conference, for a short vacation, and for the chance to get back to Austin to get to work on my book.  Tentatively titled “The Great American Humorist: The Making and Meanings of Mark Twain,” the book was/is under advance contract with The University of Missouri Press for inclusion in the “Mark Twain and His Circle Series.”  I was scheduled to get the press a revised draft by July 1.

On the first day of ALA, I learned of the decision of the UM system’s new president, Tim Wolfe, to shut down the press, a decision he made without consulting any of the press’s employees or, it appears, any faculty at the four campuses of the UM system.

Many have noted that the subsidy for the press was pulled at the same time as the university announced a $200 million plan to upgrade athletic facilities.  As part of the justification for closing the press was that it did not fit into the core mission of the university, many have wondered if the core mission of many universities is football (often with tragic results).  And while sports can play a necessary and positive role in higher education, the prioritization of sports over academics can be seen as part of a larger view of colleges as businesses rather than as colleges.

For more information, see the “Save the University of Missouri Press” Facebook page.

Please sign the Petition to save the press.

Recent article on the closing of the press by William Least Heat-Moon.

The just announced “plan” to do something or other to replace the press. Unfortunately, not a joke.

This is all very sad and frustrating, and the only humor in the situation consists of the short, nasal chuckle in which a sigh is transformed into a rueful commentary on the silliness of the universe by a slight smile and a slow shake of the head.

Why should you care?  While the closing of the press affects me personally, if you are interested in the study of humor or the study of Mark Twain, then the closing of the press means the loss of a press that published significant books in both areas (see below for a sampling of the books).

Unlike the recent, and quite analogous tumult at the University of Virginia, the decisions of business people, with little academic experience, to so drastically attack key components of academic life has been met with little satiric ridicule.  The work of John Darkow at The Columbia Daily Tribune is the exception.

University of Missouri Press football athletics SEC

University of Missouri Press mizzou football athletics SEC

University of Missouri Press, Tim Wolfe, Mizzou

See below for three more cartoons from Darkow, as well as some other bits of humor and a sampling of the fine books the press has published on humor.

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