Write to the Point!

A Neighborhood Studios Program at the Mark Twain House

Archive for the month “July, 2013”

Challenge of Tourette’s Didn’t Stop Librarian Josh Hanagarne

By Jahyra White

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

Librarian Josh Hanagarne went through a lot in his childhood, but still managed to make it.

In elementary school, Hanagarne was performing in a class play and noticed that something was wrong. But it wasn’t until high school that doctors diagnosed him with Tourette Syndrome, a neurological disorder characterized by involuntary tics and vocalizations.

According to Hanagarne, Tourette’s is just like a sneeze – hard to keep inside – but it’s an everyday thing and it happens all the time.

In school, he was bullied for his Tourette’s outbursts.

Hanagarne is used to his Tourette’s and he doesn’t seem to think he’s any different from anyone else, but his story gets better.

When he met his wife after high school, she became the love of his life.

When he talks about her and describes what kind of person she is, he gets a little teary eyed.

It’s clear that he really loves his wife dearly and is thankful for having her in his life.

It’s hard to imagine being married to someone who has Tourette’s but his wife told him all of that didn’t matter.

A couple of years go by and they decide that they want to have a kid. After trying unsuccessfully and being told they couldn’t conceive, they had a baby.

Now they have a healthy five-year-old son named Max.

Stowe’s Skillful Balancing Act

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Harriet Beecher Stowe’s home on Forest Street in Hartford, Conn.
Photo by Cecilia Gigliotti

By Ambriel Johnson

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

Harriet Beecher Stowe, born June 14, 1811, was always a balancer.

From the day this great American novelist was born until she died on July 1, 1896, she was always searching for a way to balance her work with other important things.

Whether it was finding a way to spend more time with her children, paint, or work on her now-world-famous novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Stowe always strived for a balance.  She sought a way to do her best in anything and everything she did.

This author is not only known for her book which changed the face of America forever, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, but other bestselling novels such as Oldtown Folks and The Minister’s Wooing.

As most Americans probably know already, Uncle Tom’s Cabin expressed Stowe’s opposition to slavery. Not all people in Stowe’s time agreed with this view, however, and she became despised by many.

This hatred never stopped her from writing. Stowe enjoyed the craft; she wrote her entire life, from childhood until her death.

Stowe sometimes used writing as a way to escape her life when things got rough. Her beautiful Connecticut mansion wasn’t always a place of comfort as it is talked about. She lost more than one of her children at a young age and used her writing as a way to deal with the sadness.

She enjoyed art almost as much as she enjoyed her writing.  Her paintings are prominently displayed at her home in Hartford, Connecticut, where she moved with her husband and children in 1873.

This extraordinary woman was not only the author of 30 books – one containing advice for homemakers – but a painter in her free time. She did most of this hobby painting while visiting her winter home in Mandarin, Florida. Connecticut became too cold for the Stowe family during the winter, so they spent the season in their Florida home.

It’s obvious to visitors that Stowe enjoyed painting landscapes. The decorated hallways of her estate are lined with her art. All the way from portraits to a number of still life paintings, Stowe did it all.

In the front parlor of her home, sophisticated pastels of garden life and country homes adorn the walls.

The home also includes paintings by at least one of Stowe’s daughters, who were aspiring artists like their mother.

The front parlor is the space where the Stowe’s guests would be entertained in the evenings. It is also the space where Stowe herself did most of her writing, at a small wooden desk tucked away in a corner.

Her husband Calvin, a professor of religion, had his own study in the upstairs of their home, tucked between the bedrooms. Despite the fact that Stowe was wildly more successful than he, she was reduced to a microscopic desk in the family living room.

Stowe made more than $1,000 on her first novel. In her time it was unusual for the woman of the house to make more money than the man, however Stowe’s husband was very supportive of her career.

Stowe’s family spent time together in the back parlor of her home. This room included many extravagant decorations, including a painting given to Stowe by a duchess who was a big fan of Stowe’s work.

Stowe was sometimes forced to give up time when she could be working on her art to pursue other things. After all, she did have seven children. This did not stop her from becoming a great American novelist, a role model for writers and an icon for all people.

Stowe, who expertly balanced her work and busy family life in her marvelous Hartford home, will forever have an impact on our world.

A Dream or a Nightmare: The Painful Reality of the Bad Boy

By Meaghan Szilagyi

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

Bad boys. They are the stereotypes that plague our dreams. But what defines a bad boy?

It seems that each individual has his or her own impression of what a bad boy is.

The most common characteristics of a “bad boy” are exactly what you would think. He lives off adrenaline and risk, he wears a leather jacket, he drives a motorcycle without a helmet, he wears dark shades, he sleeps around, he smokes, and he has tattoos.

Let’s give this bad boy a name. Seth. Perfect.

What about this bad boy image makes girls and guys so blind and infatuated? In my opinion, it depends on the person.

There’s the people pleaser. Let’s name this person Jordan. Jordan will do whatever it takes to gets into a person’s good graces. She gets so involved in what people need her to be that she spends almost no time taking care of herself.

People pleasers don’t have their own personalities. Their own opinions are stuffed and buried deep inside them because of their need to be what people need them to be. They get lost in a sea of perspectives that aren’t their own.

Stick up for yourself Jordan. Sing your own song, not the song everybody else wants you to sing.

Next there’s the rebel, Riley. Riley lives for risk. Hot guy on a motorcycle? Of course he’s going to want to be with him. All the drugs and drinking and other reckless behaviors are what attracted Riley to Seth in the first place.

Riley believes that he can handle anything, no matter what the cost and Seth wants to see just how far he’s willing to go.

Taylor is a scapegoat and always feels guilty about doing or not doing something. If she ends up with Seth, she’ll never leave him because if she did, she would feel like a terrible person. So when Seth asks Taylor for something like sex, she isn’t going to say no.

Does she want to try some LSD with him? Why not? Taylor thinks that saying no would ruin their relationship. Long story short, her life will be spent circling the drain because she just can’t say no.

Last but not least, there’s the enabler, Leslie. Leslie is a fixer. He sees Seth and thinks, He just needs a little bit of lovin’!

But in reality, the bad boy doesn’t want to be fixed. He just wants a new toy to flaunt. Leslie never hesitates to make excuses for Seth whether it be to his family, friends or even his boss.

What driving force has infected the human race to idolize bad boys like Seth? It could be about the chase, the bad-ass reputation, the need to put someone back together, or maybe there’s just something in the water.

Writing Apprentices Sign on With the Mark Twain Gang

Jahyra White of Hartford and Indira Senderovic of wethersfield show their support for the Mark Twain House & Museum.

Twain Studios Writing Apprentices Jahyra White and Indira Senderovic show their allegiance to The Mark Twain House & Museum.

Twain Studios is full of promising young people who clearly know where their loyalties lie: with the Mark Twain House & Museum in the ongoing, friendly summertime battle with Theater Works for the streets, hearts and minds of Hartford.

June Tran, Lina Allam

June Tran of South Windsor and Lina Allam of Glastonbury are most definitely on the side of The Mark Twain House & Museum.

Meaghan Szilagyi and Ambriel Johnson

Meaghan Szilagyi of Wethersfield and Ambriel Johnson of Hartford are key players in the Twain Gang.

Molly Miller, Cecilia Gigliotti

Molly Miller of Hartford and Cecilia Gigliotti of New Britain are on board with Mark Twain.

Rae Martin, Grant Henry

Twain Studios and the Twain Gang wouldn’t be the same without Rae Martin of Windsor and Grant Henry of Glastonbury.

CT News Junkie Editor Shares Her Story With Young Reporters

By Ambriel Johnson

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

Many Connecticut residents have visited the Mark Twain House & Museum, and even more may have endlessly searched for a reliable local news source.

These two merged together Wednesday into one woman, the editor of CT News Junkie, Christine Stuart.

Updated daily, Stuart’s popular Connecticut news site includes original reporting on state politics, public policy, the courts, and the complexities of the health care system.

This Central Connecticut State University graduate and editor-in-chief of one of Connecticut’s leading news websites addressed a group of young journalists at The Mark Twain House & Museum.

Stuart discussed how she got her start in journalism and how the young writers can get theirs, too.

The apprentices of the Write to the Point! Neighborhood Studios program eagerly questioned Christine about everything from her favorite news story to how old she is. The answer is 36, by the way.

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CT News Junkie Editor Christine Stuart

A few months after Stuart graduated from CCSU in 1999, the Hartford Advocate offered her a position as a reporter.

She was glad to take this position. She’d spent months waiting to hear from any one of the many news organizations she’d sent resumes to after graduation.

“Being a journalist is one of the only ways you can make a living writing,” said Stuart. “You do it because you love it. You don’t do it because it is going to support you.”

Stuart told the writing group that before she started CT News Junkie, she would typically have to take on two or three jobs besides reporting, just to get by.

However, after struggling to make a name for herself in the news industry, Stuart finally landed a better job at the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.

At the Journal Inquirer, Stuart covered a variety of beats, including the city of East Hartford, the state’s trash authority and a regional water commission.

In early 2006, after spending nearly four years as a reporter at the Journal Inquirer, Stuart bought CT News Junkie from a friend. She and her husband, Doug Hardy got this news site on its journalistic feet that same year.

Regular viewers of the site, she said, check it about four times a day.

As one of only five women reporters at the Capitol, Stuart primarily covers government and politics.

When asked her advice for beginner journalists, Stuart had a simple answer.

“Go out and do it,” she said. “Offer your stories up to publications.”

So, shut up and listen.

CT News Junkie Offers Career Advice to Writing Apprentices

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Christine Stuart, editor of CT News Junkie, with the Twain Studios Writing Apprentices. From left: June Tran, Molly Miller, Rae Martin, Cecilia Gigliotti, Alan Burkholder, Stuart, Jahyra White, Indira Senderovic, Ashaya Nelson, Grant Henry, Ambriel Johnson, Meaghan Szilagyi

By Meaghan Szilagyi

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

When CT News Junkie Editor Christine Stuart came to talk to the writing apprentices of Twain Studios about her job, we didn’t know what to expect.

We started with simple introductions and quickly came to talking about Stuart’s start in journalism and her current job.

A 1999 graduate of Central Connecticut State University with a degree in English, Stuart said she considered grad school but decided to go straight to work.

A few months after graduation, she landed her first journalism job at the Hartford Advocate.

Later, the Journal Inquirer in Manchester gave her a reporting job covering the goings on in East Hartford.

In 2006, Stuart bought the CT News Junkie website.

She didn’t make a lot of money at first.

There was, she said, “a long road to revenue.”

She worked to bring readers to the site.

“Traffic is where revenue comes in,” Stuart said.

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Christine Stuart presents to the Writing Apprentices at Twain Studios Wednesday.

In addition to original articles, Stuart frequently gives the preview of a story from a different source on her site and provides a link. She does this to help small operations get more traffic and more revenue, as well as to provide a service to her readers.

Stuart said she isn’t afraid of losing her readership to these other blogs because she knows they are loyal. The average reader on CT News Junkie checks the site about four times a day, according to Stuart.

To Stuart, credibility and accuracy are more important than being timely.

“It’s the only thing you have,” she said. If Stuart didn’t double-check her facts as she does now, she said, her site’s “value would be diminished.”

Stuart definitely considers journalism a “blue collar profession.”

While working as a journalist, you don’t think about what you’re getting paid, she said, you just care that you’re getting paid for writing.

“You do it because you love it,” she said. “You don’t do it because it supports you.”

When giving advice to aspiring journalists, Stuart has many words of wisdom.

“When in doubt, add a period,” she said, and stick to the point.

Interviewing is “always awkward at the beginning,” she said. “You’re nervous. You’re sweating.”

But, she said, “A better conversation always makes a better story.”

Chatting with Christine Stuart was definitely an eye opener. She is personable and friendly.

And it always helps to have connections.

Gilbert Goes Global to Act Local

Gilbert Bwette addresses the Jakes

Gilbert Bwette of Kampala, Uganda, presents to the apprentices of the Twain Studios last week.

By Grant Henry and June Tran

Writing Apprentices

Twain studios

Americans have an abundance of education, information and resources, a Ugandan photojournalist said in a recent presentation at the Mark Twain House & Museum.

Gilbert Daniel Bwette, 24, offered insight on the contrast between American and Ugandan cultures, starting with schooling.

In Uganda, there is no free public education for children, Bwette said, adding that his grandfather paid for him to attend school.

Bwette was amazed at the opportunities Americans have, especially young people.

In Uganda, primary education is not regulated by the government, he said, and often the teachers and funds are not provided, leading to a discrepancy between the private and public sectors.

Bwette said it’s difficult for students to obtain resources and job opportunities. Only about 35 percent of those who graduate from high school or who have a college degree will get a job, he said.

After completing high school, Bwette spent two years struggling to figure out what he wanted to do with his life.

This was not the first hurdle Bwette faced in his educational career. He said that during high school there were times he failed or when it felt like “it’s not really worth it.”

Eventually, he met the celebrity hip hop artist Babaluku, and became “connected” to him. It was this connection which inspired him to finish school and aim for an artistic career.

Bwette chose to be a photojournalist as opposed to the three ideal careers in Uganda: a doctor, lawyer or engineer.

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Gilbert Bwette presents before the apprentices of the Twain Studios

Although he said his mother “almost slapped” him when he told her his plans to pursue photography, he wasn’t scared of the limited income that his path would take him.

Bwette traveled to the United States as a youth presenter at a hip hop conference in Washington, D.C.

There are Ugandans who aren’t as lucky as Bwette, he said. An economic motivation sometimes isn’t a strong enough catalyst for these youths to push themselves in education.

According to Bwette, there is a rudimentary class division between those that are in power in the Ugandan government and average citizens who are simply trying to make ends meet.

In his work with the Ugandan youth, Bwette helps expose young people to a variety of careers that would afford them a better income while also contributing to their communities.

Stowe’s Home is Welcome Contrast to Twain’s Mansion

Stowe House, Cecilia photo

The Harriet Beecher Stowe House in Hartford / Cecilia Gigliotti

By Molly Miller

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

A tour of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s house is a nice antidote to the excessive grandeur and lurid extravagance of her Nook Farm neighbor, Mark Twain.

That’s not to say that her home was by any means plain or unimpressive; it was merely more reflective of the prolific, independent-minded woman who lived there.

I ought to preface this with a caveat: I knew almost nothing about Stowe before I toured the home in which she spent the last 23 years of her life. People in every region of the world are reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin in one of the 60 languages it’s been translated into over the years.

I live in the country of its origin, and although I’ve learned about its historical significance, I’ve never actually read it.

I now know a bit more about Stowe than I did before visiting her home, but any statement I make about her character will be brash and highly uninformed.

From what I know of her, I like her quite a bit more than I like Twain. She was from a different generation, and unlike Twain, she was born into a prominent and well-off family, so she lacked the outsider complex that may have led Twain to overcompensate with gaudy furniture and an excessive amount of décor.

Stowe was born into a family of 11 children in Litchfield, Conn. in 1811. Her father, Rev. Lyman Beecher, wanted all of his children to be educated to the same level, regardless of gender. All of Stowe’s brothers became preachers, and Stowe attended, and later taught at, the Hartford Female Seminary.

Her father’s principles might have been what led her to be a supporter of women’s rights.

She believed that women were society’s architects, and she encouraged women to take ownership of their households. This is perhaps why she only had two servants at a time, as opposed to Twain, who had about a dozen servants.

She was considered a “Martha Stewart” of her time, and published books about homemaking. Her expertise in this area showed in every room of the Harriet Beecher Stowe House. In the 19th century, gardening was the only science that women could practice, so of course Beecher practiced it to the fullest extent possible. She kept ivy in the bedroom, in order to bring more oxygen in the house.

Her love of plants and flowers showed not only in her garden and bedroom, but also in her many paintings throughout the house. She painted wildflowers as well as magnolias, and identified with the magnolias’ strength and toughness.

While the house itself is smaller and less elaborate than the Twain House, both houses had a few of the same showy affectations. For instance, the nicest and largest bedroom in both houses was the guest room. Both writers probably wanted their guests to feel welcome and appreciated, but it’s likely that they also wanted to show off their wealth.

It’s not entirely fair for me to evaluate the character of these authors based off of their homes; at least, they can’t be evaluated to the same degree. Stowe lived in her Nook Farm house at the end of her life, while Twain had his house built as he was becoming an established literary figure.

Stowe lived in seven houses before moving to Nook Farm, and while she was living in Hartford, she had another home in Florida where she spent her winters. She went on three tours of Europe, and brought home two Raphael paintings.

She by no means lived humbly, and yet I can’t help but feel like she was a more down-to-earth person than Twain. Her husband, Calvin Stowe, encouraged her to keep her real name as her pen name. He believed it was important for everyone to know that she was “a literary woman,” and this might be why she seems more sensible and less fantastical than Twain.

Like Twain, Stowe used her own experiences to help her writing. She wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin after her 18-month-old son Samuel Charles died of cholera.  After losing him, she said she understood what mothers must feel when they lose their children to the slave trade. Like Twain, fewer than half of her children survived her.

But perhaps I was overly critical of Twain. He didn’t grow up with the same educational advantages or privileges as Stowe, and maybe he couldn’t help it if he didn’t have the same level of comfort with his identity as she did.

According to our tour guide, Stowe was Twain’s mentor. I’d rather imagine that they were close friends. In my fantasy world, Twain would bring lemonade and biscuits to Stowe’s front porch. The two would discuss politics, travelling, art, and Nook Farm gossip, making snarky comments about their neighbors passing by on Forest Street.

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