Category Archives: Mark Twain Prize

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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Eddie Murphy Awarded Mark Twain Prize for American Humor

Tracy Wuster

 

Every year since 1998, the Kennedy Center has awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor to some of the greats of American Humor–and also Lorne Michaels. The 18th Annual award will be presented to Eddie Murphy on Sunday, October 18th.  Tickets still available.  I would be happy to attend said gala with you should you have an extra ticket (and tuxedo).

Murphy’s importance for American humor is clear, despite some movies in the 1990s that weren’t so great.

“Eddie Murphy has kept us laughing for 30 years. He’s like Mark Twain. He gets to the heart of a provocative issue, and he’s damn funny while he’s doing it,” said Cappy McGarr, one of the show’s executive producers. “He has had incredible influence over so many comedians who have followed him.”

Growing up, for me Saturday Night Live was Eddie Murphy–Buckwheat, Gumby, Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood, James Brown… only later did I see the original cast.  From that period, almost all the sketches I remember were Murphy.  And they were hilarious.Eddie Murphy Buckwheat

At school, we would quote lines from Murphy as part of our everyday patter.  But I also remember the satire of Murphy’s “White Like Me” video causing me to think about race and privilege in ways I hadn’t before.

I also watched Murphy’s stand-up specials when I was much too young for such language.  Here, I should thank my brother, who also let me watch Trading Places and 48 Hours.  

While some of Murphy’s work hasn’t held up, his brilliance as a comic is unquestionable, and his influence American comedy is clear.  Most years, the Mark Twain Forum has some grumbling when the Mark Twain Prize is announced–discussion of whether the recipient is worthy of Mark Twain’s legacy.  No such discussion this year.

One Tan, Many Memories: Elmira Mark Twain Conference 2013

Breaking a sweat

Breaking a sweat

It was seven years ago. June 13, 2006. After watching the Mark Twain Forum rage for a week about a neocon skeleton’s consideration as the next Mark Twain, I offered no additional comment as my first contribution to the listserv, but a link (no longer active) identifying direct passages of her work lifted from others. I’m not controversial, just contextual. Within an hour I received an email from my father, copying my text with a forward:

Be careful what you say the walls have ears.

Long before the NSA, but steeped in George Orwell, I was dumbfounded. Not by the sentiment but the speed of reaction. Where did—How was—Who? My dad does not participate in socialist academia. He appreciates baseball, Goldwater republicanism, and the mafia (don’t ask)—all of them stoically. And John Wayne in one particular movie. That’s it. So whence came my inoffensive copy with such haste?

The answer came from mom—my father’s publicist—who revealed my network of expansive relatives connected an interest in Mark Twain with that of a family friend. My dad’s twin brother knew a guy named Larry. Larry grew up working in my grandfather’s tool and die preaching progressive reform during the summer of love while my father supported the Vietnam War with the Young Republicans. Larry was part of the Forum, recognized the last name—a rarity outside of Brazil—and forwarded the message to my uncle with a “Hey, is he one of yours?” My uncle turned it around to my father, and suddenly I was worried about over-sharing.

Clearly that didn’t last. I cut out the middlemen and contacted Larry, and thus began a three-year direct correspondence about Mark Twain that finally put a face to liberal sentiment when we both attended the Sixth International Conference on the State of Mark Twain Studies, held in Elmira, New York.

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Editor’s Chair: Mark Twain Summer Camp

Tracy Wuster

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.

Mark Twain elmira new york summer camp 7th international

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.

Mark Twain statue elmira new york,

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.”

Mark Twain statue elmira

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Editor’s Chair: Carol Burnett Wins Mark Twain Prize & Other News

Tracy Wuster

Congratulations to Carol Burnett for winning the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.  According to the Kennedy Center:

The Mark Twain Prize recognizes people who have had an impact on American society in ways similar to the distinguished 19th century novelist and essayist best known as Mark Twain. As a social commentator, satirist and creator of characters, Samuel Clemens was a fearless observer of society, who startled many while delighting and informing many more with his uncompromising perspective of social injustice and personal folly. He revealed the great truth of humor when he said “against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.”

Upon being notified of the award, Burnett noted:

“I can’t believe I’m getting a humor prize from the Kennedy Center. It’s almost impossible to be funnier than the people in Washington.”

The ceremony will take place on October 20, with tickets starting at $1000.  In the meantime, enjoy one of Burnett’s best performances:

In other humor news:

*This week is the annual American Literature Association conference.  Please join the American Humor Studies Association for the following panels:

Session 5-G (Thursday 3:00)
Humor in American Periodicals (Great Republic 7th Floor)
 
Session 7-E (Friday 8:10)
Reading and Teaching Humorous Texts (St George D 3rd Floor)
 
Session 8-O (Friday 9:40)
Business Meeting (Parliament 7th Floor)
 
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And join the Mark Twain Circle of America for the following panels:

Session 15-C (Saturday 9:30)

Mark Twain: Iconic Texts Reconsidered (Essex North Center 3rd Floor)

Session 17-C (Saturday 12:30)

Mark Twain and History (Essex North Center 3rd Floor)

Session 18-M (Saturday 2:00)

Business Meeting: The Mark Twain Circle of America (North Star 7th Floor)

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*For panels on Kurt Vonnegut and others, see the schedule here.  Additionally, there has traditionally been a reception on Saturday.  I believe that 2-4 of the writers for this site will be there.

*A number of the authors of this page will also be at the 7th International Conference on the State of Mark Twain Studies at the beginning of August.  The registration and program information can be found at the Center for Mark Twain Studies site.  Even if you are not a scholar, this conference is well worth the trip.  This year features a screening of a new documentary on Hal Holbrook, a keynote by Peter Kaminsky of the Mark Twain Prize, a closing picnic at Quarry Farm, and paper presentations by Sharon McCoy, Jeffrey Melton, ABE, and myself.

*Speaking of awards, did you know about the James Thurber Prize for American Humor, given annually for the best humorous writing of that year?

*And speaking of humor writing, if you are a student and in need of a term paper on American humor, look no further than this lovely writing, available for the bargain price of $15.90.

Third, a frosty streak of humor runs done American literary works from early times to present. In many cases, a dash of table salt humor saves a ripe penning from becoming in any case sentimental. American humor tends to be exaggerated rather than subtle. It reflects the peoples cleverness to laugh at themselves during the approximately voiceless times.

In these “approximately voiceless times,” how can you pass up such a bargain, and sure to get a D- or below!

*Ellie Kemper asks, “Can men be funny?

*Did you see, “Mel Brooks: Make a Noise“?

*Have you been watching YouTube Comedy Week?  Anyone want to write a review for us?

*Only 5 days until Arrested Development!

carol-burnett_LfOJapmemV

Humor Awards Season Continues: Hal Holbrook wins Mark Twain Lifetime Achievement Award

Tracy Wuster

Yesterday, we posted on Ellen Degeneres winning the Mark Twain Award for American Humor.  Today comes news that Hal Holbrook has been awarded the first ever “Mark Twain Lifetime Achievement Award” by the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum.  The press release reads, in part:

Hannibal, Mo. – The Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum celebrated its centennial May 15 in part by announcing the establishment of the Mark Twain Lifetime Achievement Award to recognize someone whose life’s work has furthered the legacy of Mark Twain in a significant way.

Hal Holbrook was selected as the first recipient of the award.

The Museum will present the award to Holbrook this fall when he returns to Hannibal.  Holbrook will appear in “Mark Twain Tonight!” at 8 p.m. Nov. 17 at Hannibal High School.

“After 100 years of preserving Twain’s legacy by caring for his boyhood home and related properties, we felt it was an appropriate time to establish this award and recognize others who also preserve Twain’s legacy, but in different ways,” museum executive director Cindy Lovell said.

The performance is sponsored by the museum.  Tickets will go on sale June 1 to museum associate members and June 15 to the general public.

Many kudos to Hal Holbrook.  I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Holbrook at the 6th International Conference on the State of Mark Twain Studies (i.e. Mark Twain Summer Camp) in Elmira, NY.  I told the story of our meeting and posted clips of Mr. Holbrook telling stories awhile back.

Click below for a discussion of our own award…

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Ellen DeGeneres Wins Mark Twain Prize

Tracy Wuster

Back in November, we ran a post on Will Ferrell’s winning The Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.  We held a vote on who should win the prize next, based on nominations culled from discussion on the Mark Twain Forum, which ended in a three-way tie between Jon Stewart, Woody Allen, and Garrison Keillor.  Click below to vote in a run-off, just for fun.

In the real world of The Mark Twain prize, Ellen DeGeneres was just announced as this year’s winner.  Here is the announcement:

The Mark Twain Prize recognizes people who have had an impact on American society in ways similar to the distinguished 19th century novelist and essayist best known as Mark Twain. As a social commentator, satirist and creator of characters, Samuel Clemens was a fearless observer of society, who startled many while delighting and informing many more with his uncompromising perspective of social injustice and personal folly. He revealed the great truth of humor when he said “against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.”

The event is created by the Kennedy Center, and executive producers Mark Krantz, Bob Kaminsky, Peter Kaminsky, and Cappy McGarr. The Kennedy Center established The Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in October 1998, and it has been televised annually. Recipients of the Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize have been Richard Pryor (1998), Jonathan Winters (1999), Carl Reiner (2000), Whoopi Goldberg (2001), Bob Newhart (2002), Lily Tomlin (2003), Lorne Michaels (2004), Steve Martin (2005), Neil Simon (2006), Billy Crystal (2007), George Carlin (2008), Bill Cosby (2009), Tina Fey (2010), and Will Ferrell (2011).

What do you think?

**************************************Vote Below************************************************

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