On Wednesday, Sept. 29th the first of the Twain Lectures took place on the second floor of the library. The lecture, entitled “Hushing Huck: The Banning of Huckleberry Finn,” was given by English Professor Ben Click. The lecture was filled with students, faculty, and community members who came out to discuss the banning of Twain’s Huckleberry Finn.
It was so crowded that there was a shortage of seating, and more chairs had to be brought in to accommodate the large number of people in attendance. The lecture began with a word from Library Director Celia Rabinowitz, who discussed the relationship between the library and the banning of Huckleberry Finn, which may not be as obvious as it appears.
“One of the reasons we decided to have the lecture here [at the library] was because it is banned books week,” said Rabinowitz. “[Banned Book Week] always happens in the last week of September and asks people to examine the books that have been banned and challenged.”
After Rabinowitz explained the importance of Banned Book Week, Pamela Mann introduced Click citing him as the “first St. Mary’s Library Celebrity,” in reference to Click’s presence on the posters advertising the event.
Professor Click began the lecture by discussing the difference between banning and challenging and how there are times when this can be a good thing for the popularity of the novel. “Banning a book is not necessarily a bad thing,” said Click. Case in point, as Click discussed, is that Huckleberry Finn has never gone out of print since its original publication date and has been translated into 53 languages.
Huckleberry Finn, as Click discussed, had been banned in many locations for decades, even before it was published. Click discussed several examples of instances when the book was banned for one reason or another.
Click talked about one example: “As the book neared it’s 100th anniversary it was banned in several places, but in Fairfax County in 1982 the principal of the Mark Twain International School – on the advice of the Human Rights Committee – removed the book from the required reading. Twain would have loved the irony.”
On Apr. 24 at 7 p.m., one of St. Mary’s College of Maryland’s last big events of the academic school year took place: The 4th annual Mark Twain Lecture Series on American Humor and Culture.
For many St. Mary’s students, this current semester of Spring 2010 might seem like one of the college’s most memorable semesters.
First, SMCM was assaulted with the major snowstorm that left the cancellation of various classes in its wake, which was then succeeded by the men’s basketball team entering into the NCAA Sweet Sixteen.
But, finally, it was time for the annual Mark Twain Lecture Series, which first took place only three years ago in 2007, all thanks to the English Department Chair Professor Ben Click.
This year’s lecture, titled “Twain’s Relevance Today: Race, Religion, Politics, and the ‘Damned Human Race,’” boasted the appeal of having four guests speakers, compared to the single guest speaker that was traditionally chosen for the past three years. These four panelists also managed to draw a large crowd due to the fact that they were more famous than what the St. Mary’s campus is typically used to hosting.
Moderated by Peter Sagal, NPR’s host of “Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me,” the lecture focused on asking questions in the framework of a Mark Twain mindset in order to spark debate and conversation among the other three guests, which included CNN Political Analyst Amy Holmes, Humorist/Comedian/Actor Mo Rocca, and renowned Twain scholar Dr. John Bird.
“It’s a special version of the annual Mark Twain Lecture,” said Dr. Ben Click, who also stated that he had been working as late as last spring in order to put this lecture together in memory of the 100th anniversary of Mark Twain’s death.
Held in the Michael P. O’Brien Athletics and Recreation Center, which (according to Dr. Click in his e-mails promoting the event) has also now been nicknamed as the “Mike”, attendees started filing in about an hour beforehand, leaving the gymnasium packed by the start of the lecture at exactly 7:15 p.m.
While the myriad of campus residents, staff and faculty members, local high school students, and other community members located their seats within the auditorium, the crowd was treated to approximately ten songs by the band The Rusty Spurs, which later prompted speaker Mo Rocca to ask if St. Mary’s was a “hippy-dippy campus.”
Reaching the podium on the platform stage in order to introduce the guest speakers at the start of the event, Dr. Click set the mood of the lecture by joking with the audience. “You’re all here for the 100th anniversary of Leo Tolstoy, right?” said Click. “It’s his anniversary this year, too. But he’s not funny.”
While the approximate two hours that the lecture lasted were filled with commentary on politics, race, and media within the culture of the past and present, the conversations were also constantly interrupted with laughter and applause. The hilarious anecdotes ranged from how a student once stated “that Dr. Click has a ‘bromance’ with Mark Twain” to Peter Sagal placing his cell phone up to the microphone so that the audience could hear the singing voice of a 10-year-old named Emily whom he had met at Thompson’s Corner Kafe in Leondardtown earlier that afternoon.
Despite the many jokes and funny anecdotes, the panelists also conversed on various topics including the affect of media (specifically the work of comedic commentators) on politicians and public views, the difference between partisanship and politics, and what Mark Twain would think of mass media and culture today, as well as other subjects.
One of the most referred to cultural topics was that of Tina Fey’s now famous Saturday Night Live impressions of Sarah Palin. This prompted various discussions on how media has affected the way that the masses view politics, as well as the politicians. “It is unseemly to see these politicians tripping over themselves to get on late night shows,” stated Rocca. “Is Washington, D.C. the Hollywood for ugly people?”
Dr. John Bird added his view to this specific topic by even quoting Mark Twain. “‘Against the assault of laughter,’” said Bird, “‘nothing can stand.’ Laughter is a very powerful force. A very powerful force in society.”
After the close of the general discussion (and a couple of kicks and Seahawk cheers from Rocca), the Q&A session began, which then brought the entire lecture to an end. The finale of the event garnered a round of applause, as well as a standing ovation from various audience members as the panelists made their way to a table at the side of the stage in order to sign books and posters.
While this Mark Twain Lecture was aimed at discussing Twain’s view of the “damned human race”, one of the best opinions of the night was given by Mo Rocca. “Toward the end of [Mark Twain’s] life, as he got angrier and angrier,” he stated, “he did believe he was part of the damned human race. Well, I’m an optimist. And I believe we’re all a part of the best damned human race!”
On Monday April 6th, Kelly Driscoll, associate professor of English at St. Joseph College in Hartford, Connecticut, gave a lecture as part of the Mark Twain Lecture series in the Blackistone Room of Anne Arundel Hall. The talk lasted for about an hour, and nearly forty students and faculty members showed up to hear Driscoll’s lecture, which was full of little known facts about Twain.
The talk focused on the life and writings of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, also known as Mark Twain, American author and humorist. Driscoll brought to the podium her extensive research and her theory on Clemens’ deep-seated hate for the Native American’s. Driscoll began by speaking of just how timeless the 19th century writers work can be, relating some of his pieces to the recession that America faces today and then she quickly got down to business by bringing to light work of Twain’s which outlines his racism towards the Native Americans.
The first piece of literature Driscoll referenced was a short excerpt from “Innocents Abroad,” the best selling work of Twain during his lifetime, published in 1869. The excerpt served as merely an introduction into Driscoll’s lens on Mark Twain, as he himself spoke of being what he would later call a “savage.” Along with an illustration of Clemens in Native American clothing were several other passages that Driscoll brought to the lecture which included “The Noble Red Man” written in 1870, and “Plymouth Rock and the Pilgrims,” an address at the first annual dinner of the New England Society in Philadelphia.
There was also a letter written by Clemens to President Grover Cleveland in protest of Cleveland’s efforts seeking to assimilate Native Americans into white society by means of education, private land ownership, and parental guidance from the federal government.
With these and other resources on the topic of Twain’s Indian Hating, which she will be addressing in her book, due out later this year, Driscoll astounded many students and faculty members alike with just how racist Samuel Clemens was towards Native Americans. After the lecture there was a brief question and answer period headed by Professor Benjamin Click himself, the director of the Mark Twain Lecture Series on American Humor and Culture. During the sessions students and faculty members got the chance to ask Driscoll more about her theory on the metaphysics and psychology of the stark racism that Samuel Clemens displayed in his life.
The lecture, to say the least, left students both surprised and enlightened even though a lot of the audience members were students of Dr. Benjamin Click and enrolled in his various Twain-related classes. First-year Michelle Sultzman, who has attended previous lectures in the Mark Twain Lecture Series, said the entire speech “was very interesting” even though she’s had classes before where she has learned about Mark Twain’s life. Senior Lael Neale also enjoyed it. “I had no idea that Twain had been accused of being biased” against the Native Americans, she said.
“Everyone has this vision of Mark Twain as being this noble guy,” said senior Matthew Decker, the assistant to Click in the Mark Twain Lecture Series on American Humor and Culture. “It’s kind of unnerving to find out his views on other races.”