Local Teachers Discover Mark Twain, “Man of Letters”

August 17 2016
Category: Twain


The Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies recently collaborated with the Schuyler-Chemung-Tioga-Corning Teachers’ Center to offer the 2016 Summer Teachers’ Institute. More than 45 teachers attended the two-day institute held in the Gannett-Tripp Library on campus and at Quarry Farm.

This year’s theme was "Mark Twain: Man of Letters," and teachers were given reading material before they arrived for the multi-day Institute to help them prepare for the topic.

“Before tweets, texts, video conferencing, and voicemail there were letters,” said Dr. Joseph Lemak, Director for the Center for Mark Twain Studies. “Mark Twain’s America was an age in which letters were both a daily necessity and a vibrant art form.”

“In one of her most famous poems, Emily Dickinson wrote, ‘Here is my letter to the world/That never wrote to me;’ - Mark Twain never had that problem,” said Lemak. 

Twain wrote and received thousands of letters—some funny, some practical, some poignant, but always illuminating.

Attendees enjoyed stimulating discussions and lectures on Mark Twain, led by Dr. Kerry Driscoll of the University of Saint Joseph, Dr. Ann M. Ryan of Le Moyne College, and Dr. Matthew Seybold of Elmira College.

In their respective lectures, Driscoll, Ryan, and Seybold explored Twain’s fascination with letter writing as a metaphor, as plot device, and as an integral part of his relationship to the world around him.

The professors drew examples from Twain’s letters to and from friends and family, critics and contemporaries, fans and luminaries. Additionally, the instructors discussed a number of fictional works in which letters serve an important role, often assaulting the complacency of the community that receives them, including the community of readers.

"The Mark Twain Teachers' Institute is an outstanding opportunity to meet other educators interested in integrating Twain into their curriculum. The discussions on how to offer our students rigorous, age appropriate texts in authentic and meaningful ways inspires me," reflected Michelle Halperin, Institute participant and fourth grade teacher with the Elmira City School District. "I use Twain's biographical information, letters, quotes and short stories to connect my students not only to reading and writing, but to a sense of community pride as well. They love learning about and reading Mark Twain."

After the lectures, the participants had the opportunity to go into Elmira College's Mark Twain Archives, where they viewed and worked with actual letters from Mark Twain himself. 

Click here for more information on the Center for Mark Twain Studies.