Write to the Point!

A Neighborhood Studios Program at the Mark Twain House

Archive for the tag “Grant Henry”

Twain Studios 2013 Anthology

Anthology cover

This is the cover of the 48-page anthology of work by the Writing Apprentices of Twain Studios. You can see the whole thing by following the link below.

For six weeks in July and August, 2013, a dozen teenagers from diverse backgrounds, different schools and towns, came together as a group at The Mark Twain House & Museum.

This group, the newest of the Neighborhood Studios of the Greater Hartford Arts Council, originated with a great conversation between the arts council and Julia Pistell, who is part of the Mark Twain House communications team.

Led by Master Teaching Artist Jackie Majerus, the teens practiced reporting, interviewing and writing creative non-fiction. They learned about Mark Twain, his Nook Farm neighborhood and neighbors past and present and about each other. Lasting friendships formed. They explored Nook Farm and the state Capitol and learned from an array of guest speakers.

The program was called Write to the Point! and the students, who were writing apprentices, called themselves The Jakes, their shorthand for “Journalism Kids.”

The teens, who ranged from age 14 to 18, worked individually and cooperatively on all sorts of non-fiction writing. They wrote a lot. Most of it is on this blog. Much of their best work was printed in a 48-page anthology – their crowning achievement distributed at their showcase last month, where the youth read their work aloud to an audience of family, friends and others interested in the arts.

Besides the written work, and some artwork of the youth in the studio, the anthology also includes many photographs of these wonderful young people throughout their summer adventure. It is impossible to fully capture a lively group of creative young people on a blog or on a printed page, but this blog, and the anthology, should offer a glimpse into an amazing summer experience.

Thank you for taking time to explore this blog and the anthology.  Comments are welcome, too!

To see the anthology in PDF form, follow this link:

 Twain Studios 2013 Anthology

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The Grating American Novel

By Grant Henry

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

For a nation so proud of its literary canon, the most popular books in America tend to be nothing to write home about.

William Faulkner and Mark Twain are among the many skilled authors that have defined the standards for the novels and nonfiction writing of the nation. But when checking The New York Times bestseller list, you will never find books of the caliber of American Classics listed.

The erotic novel 50 Shades of Grey succeeded in selling a million physical copies in only 11 weeks, and that is not considering the millions of sales on digital e-readers like the Kindle. Meanwhile, there likely are hundreds of potential instant classics that get ignored every year.

Back in the 1990s, according to the Lakeland Ledger newspaper, the Delray Beach Public Library in Florida had little space in the library and used the frequency a book was loaned out to decide which stayed on shelves and which were archived in a back room.

To the discomfort of many, the number of times novels by Tom Clancy or Stephen King got checked out was high enough for those books to stay openly available while works by Hemingway and other classic authors had to be stored away, only obtainable by asking a librarian for access.

Stories like these are not rare. The reading habits of the average American seems to contradict what they learn in their high school English courses. Those who are angry about this are incredibly vocal about their thoughts on the matter.

What audacity writer James Patterson must have, to write cheap thrillers meant to mildly entertain people on airports! He should put his talent – and team of ghost writers – on the task of creating something meaningful that will last against the changing tides of cultural fads! It is the saddest thing to learn that those books get read more than critical darlings and classics, many fans of literature and struggling novelists might say.

Folks on the side of high-brow literature fight a mean fight when given the chance. They cannot fathom the stark contrast between the opinions of critics and the reading habits of consumers.

What needs to be considered when addressing the topic of high and low art is the criteria and amount of time required for something to be regarded as “important,” and how public perception and awareness of a work of art can change drastically over extended periods of time.

Let’s look at Mark Twain’s novel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Though it paved the way for the modernist movement, the novel’s controversy existed right from publication.

The language, for example, was criticized. In Huck Finn, Twain portrayed the common language of Missouri rather than the idealized Oxford way of speaking commonly seen in literature. Today, English majors and writers alike see this as a milestone in literature, but at the time of release, people saw the phonetically spelled words an inconvenience that got in the way of telling the story.

Critics hated the handling of race as well. To some, the runaway slave Jim comes off as a caricature and the heavy use of the word “nigger” is still a tough issue today.

Stephen King, Patti P

Stephen King at The Mark Twain House in July 2013

But over time and many readings, the consensus grew to see the novel as incredibly anti-racist, vilifying the communities that owned slaves and raised children to morally accept it.

The world could easily have shrugged Huck Finn aside after its publication, and the book wouldn’t be seen as the achievement it is today. But the test of time proved it a classic and a high contender for the Great American Novel. It’s unfair to compare classics like Huck Finn to most modern novels because contemporary fiction doesn’t have the volumes of in-depth analysis Huck has.

It took decades for The Great Gatsby to gain the legendary status it has today, and A Confederacy of Dunces was published posthumously long after John Kennedy Toole’s suicide. We will not know what novels will define our generation, just as people didn’t know how Huck Finn would be remembered a century ago.

But even so, is it worth throwing a fit over people reading paperback romance novels rather than complex contemporary fiction? Should we care when Twilight sells more than a Murakami novel?

Many people believe that people shouldn’t sweat over books that don’t strive for greatness. The popular novelist Stephen King calls himself “the literary equivalent of a Big Mac and fries.”

During a recent appearance at Hartford’s Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, King explained that he dislikes people who willingly avoid the kind of pop-literature that often includes his own work. He compared those people with children who try to keep different types of food on their plate from touching.

Sculptor Joe Keo brought insight, pointing out that art is a business just like anything else. An artist, Keo said, is more than a pretentious person wearing a beret.

An artist is anyone, and the few artists that become household names are incredibly uncommon.

An actor isn’t only those seen on the Hollywood screen or Broadway stage, either. There are thousands of actors trying to make a living doing what they love.

To bash books that become financial successes despite sub-par quality is to put up an imaginary distinction that does not exist.

Joe Bun Keo

Joe Bun Keo

One of Mark Twain’s primary focuses when writing was to make money.

In an 1887 letter to William Dean Howells, Twain wrote, “High and fine literature is wine, and mine is only water; but everybody likes water.”

Had it been impossible to make money from book sales, we wouldn’t have James Patterson OR Mark Twain.

Time sorts out the imbalances we observe in present-day art. You likely don’t know the name of the novel that will be known as this generation’s greatest literary achievement. That book will be analyzed and read extensively in literary journals and English classes everywhere.

50 Shades broke sales records, but that won’t go on forever. As long as you wait it out, you will find the early 21st century’s Great American Novel, but for now, don’t sweat about it.

Grant Henry’s ABCs: Anime, Breaking Bad, Clark University

Jakes at work on news story

The Writing Apprentices of Twain Studios worked together and on their own. For a story about the governor of Bermuda visiting the Mark Twain House & Museum, they collaborated. Grant Henry, seated in the center, typed as his colleagues chimed in with additions and changes. From left, Ambriel Johnson, Rae Martin, June Tran, Molly Miller, Nick Sherman, Meaghan Szilagyi and Ashaya Nelson.

By Ambriel Johnson

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

Hoping to spread his passion for Hayao Miyazaki, the visionary director of well-known animations such as Spirited Away and Castle in the Sky, Grant Henry spends his evenings online, scouring Facebook for a new person to chat up about anime.

This is one of his favorite pastimes, aside from working on his latest project, Breaking Bad the Musical … soon to be on Broadway.

Grant reading at showcase

Grant Henry reads from his work at the Twain Studios Showcase.

“I’ll show people things,” Henry said, when asked how he shares his love for animation. “If they’re looking for a good movie, I’ll send a clip to someone.”

Henry’s strong passion for animation comes from someone very dear to his heart, his grandfather, Paul Kelley.

His grandfather used to give him copies of Herge’s Tintin.

“We would get together and discuss the art,” Henry said, his fondness for his grandfather readily apparent.

Henry’s favorite movie is Akira, an anime film directed by Katsuhiro Otomo.

“It’s one of my recent favorites,” said Henry. “It’s about this teenage biker gang. One of the boys gets mixed up in government experiments and gains extraordinary powers.”

He speaks excitedly about his favorite film, as if it were better than the comic it is based on.

“I’m also a big fan of comics. They go hand-in-hand with animation,” he said, following up his statement on the film Akira.

His enjoyment of animation is obvious, as is the influence it’s had on his life.

When asked about his all-time favorite comic, Henry talked enthusiastically about a French one called The Rabbi’s Cat.

“This is a really fun one,” he said with a smile. “It’s about a jealous cat that eats a talking parrot so that he can communicate with his owner, The Rabbi. They have discussions about religion.”

Henry, 18, is a philosophical person, always looking for a metaphor.

This recent Watkinson graduate,  now a freshman at Clark University, said his grandfather helped shape him into the anime lover he is today.

“Animation is under appreciated,” said Henry. “It’s a very challenging and time-consuming process.  People don’t consider this.”

One of the many reasons why Henry tries to spread his appreciation for animation online is because not many people do.

But what about that Breaking Bad musical?

Begun recently, the project is a rap musical he has entitled Breaking Bad the Musical.

“It started as a conceptual joke, and then got serious,” said Henry, who said he loves the television show because it is so suspenseful.

“I thought it would be very fun to write a musical on it. Embarrassingly enough I found out I couldn’t write music, so I decided to make it a rap musical.”

Henry is also currently working on his own graphic novel.

Don’t forget to keep a lookout for this aspiring artist’s many projects, coming to theaters and bookstores near you soon.

Oh, and be sure to check out a few films by the director Miyazaki, too.

Soccer is Just One of Ambriel Johnson’s High School Goals

Rae, Meaghan, Ambriel

Ambriel Johnson, right, connected with other Writing Apprentices at Twain Studios. Here she is taking a break with friends Rae Martin, left, and Meaghan Szilagyi, center.

By Grant Henry

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

Fourteen-year-old Ambriel Johnson is a freshman at the Connecticut International Baccalaureate Academy, just starting her high school career.

She plans to pursue many of her hobbies at the school, like writing and clarinet playing, but she is especially looking forward to joining their soccer team.

Johnson has played soccer since she was six.

“Probably my dad got me into it,” she said. “My dad was my first coach. He coached me till I was about nine.”

Soccer clearly provides a good bond between father and daughter. They watch soccer games together, and he goes to as many of his daughter’s games as he can.

“He still plays, even though he’s like 40,” Johnson said with a smile.

At first she played only recreational games, but began playing varsity once she felt she was ready. She’s already won many trophies in tournaments with her traveling team.

Along with personal experience, she often watches soccer games on the television.

“I always watch the World Cup and the Women’s World Cup.”

Though Johnson has no particular team she roots for, her favorite athletes are Mia Hamm and Lionel Messi.

Johnson’s passion for soccer is clear when you talk to her. She “gets pumped” before every game by wearing an orange prewrap as a headband.

“It’s like my lucky thing,” said Johnson.

On an average week she will have two practices and two games. During tournaments, it’s five to six games. It is unclear how rigorous her high school’s soccer team is, but she plans to attend the tryouts.

If she feels her skill level has advanced far enough, she will join the team of her future college, but that time is far away.

As school gets underway, the athletics department will have a skilled young athlete to bring life to the soccer field.

Johnson’s love of the sport inspires those close to her to find a similar passion for a hobby of their own.

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