Friday, August 18, 2006

Mark Twain in Hartford

This summer, I received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities - through their "Landmarks of American History and Culture" Workshops for teachers. It's a fantastic program, which affords full-time teachers the chance to visit various key places in American history, and study its importance in depth for a week. The seminar in which I participated was called "Mark Twain in the Golden Age: the Hartford Years," and was held at the Mark Twain House and Museum.

Wow! What a week! There were 50 teachers involved in the seminar, from all over the US and even 6 teachers from Japan. The focus of our study was really Huck Finn and how best to teach this sometimes controversial work. The scholars that spoke were really terrific. Their basic point was that since the day it was written, this work has been taught in American literature classes. Other "classics" have come and gone (House of Seven Gables? Moby Dick?) Yet, Huck is still there. Why? It obviously resonated with readers, even today. We also got to know Sam Clemens - what a fascinating man. He wanted to be a mogul - but always seemed to choose the wrong investment.

Many ask: why would Clemens live in Hartford of all places?? Well, at the time, Hartford was the center of the publishing industry, and boasted an active literary presence. Harriet Beecher Stowe literally lived next door to Sam! (Now, there's a very interesting person!)

What was also cool was the opportunity to visit his house in depth, and to touch some of his stuff. For example, in their library, they have his personal library. So you can pick up (with gloves) his personal copies of works by Austen, whom he hated - and read his snarky comments on the margins!

I also loved the opportunity to be a student again. It was great to be on the other side of the podium for once, to be the one challenging the teacher and asking the difficult questions. And the chance to meet and converse with teachers from all over the county.

So thank you for allowing me the chance to participate. Because, YOU the taxpayer covered my participation!


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