The Mark Twain Circle of America was founded on December 28, 1986 by Twain scholars Louis J. Budd, Everett Emerson, Howard Baetzhold, Alison Ensor, Stanley Brodwin, and Alan Gribben, among others. Its mission was to further the study of Samuel L. Clemens’s work, life, and times. Beginning within the confines of academia, over the years the Circle’s membership has broadened to include teachers and enthusiasts from all walks of life and many parts of the world. As we have grown both within and beyond the academy, our vision has also expanded. Today we welcome participants interested in Twain’s works and life across temporal and disciplinary spectrums. Our purpose is to foster awareness of the continuing relevance of this gifted, versatile, writer and thinker to the life of the United States and to the world.
Membership in the Circle opens up opportunities for networking, information gathering, and Twain-related activities across and beyond the member spectrum. To these ends the Mark Twain Circle is an active presence in the American Literature Association, Modern Language Association of America, and South Atlantic Modern Language Association (SAMLA). We also cooperate regularly and cordially with the American Humor Studies Association, The Mark Twain Papers and Project at the University of California at Berkeley, The Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies, The Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford, Connecticut, and The Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum in Hannibal, Missouri. Additionally, many Circle members speak at library events, to book clubs, and with other groups interested in Twain’s life and works. We welcome members of under-represented communities and emerging scholars, and hope that they will contribute to our conference panels and to our publication The Mark Twain Annual. We are especially interested in papers and essays that address issues of race, gender, ethnicity, and class in Twain’s works and life--in his time, and in ours.
The members of the Mark Twain Circle are keenly aware that Mark Twain’s writings reflect some of the most reprehensible aspects of American life as well as its most admirable. Our commitment to studying Twain’s works embraces his dark sides as well as his bright; we believe that doing so helps us understand some of America’s ongoing traumas, moving us towards viable solutions. Our pursuit of social justice leads us to condemn scapegoating, exploitation of racial and ethnic divides, and exclusion of any group or individual on the basis of race, origin, gender, or religion, and to support all those who work for racial, gender, and economic equality.
Originally posted on June 8th, 2020, the following statement affirms our solidarity with protesters against police brutality.
“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 dead because in remembering them, we remember that it is our constant duty to struggle against injustice. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Nina Pop, Monika Diamond, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Trayvon Martin, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Pamela Turner, Tamir Rice. We are mindful that these names summon only the most recent victims; they join countless others in the list of those wrongfully killed by the authorities pledged to protect them.
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 19th 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 1900, 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 teach, interrogate, and uncover 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 practices. The teachers among us routinely interrogate American racial practices 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] To Jane Lampton Clemens, August 24, 1853. 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.