Write to the Point!

A Neighborhood Studios Program at the Mark Twain House

Archive for the tag “Molly Miller”

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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Mark Twain: Working Class Hero and Capitalist Protégé

By Molly Miller

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

Between his lavish Nook Farm home and his reckless business ventures, Mark Twain could easily come across as a greedy capitalist, a man who could care less about the thousands of workers who could lose their jobs to the Paige Compositor, so long as it could keep his wallet fat.

In Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain, Justin Kaplan wrote that Twain signed an agreement in 1889 which bound him to paying James W. Paige about $160,000, plus $25,000 a year for 17 years, in exchange for all rights in the compositor, which Twain referred to as “a magnificent creature.”

Twain thought the machine would give returns of about $55 million a year.

The Paige Compositor did not pay off as Twain thought it would; instead, it left him bankrupt.

And though Twain did work his way out of bankruptcy by giving lectures and writing novels, he also got by with a little help from his friends in high places.

Henry Huttleston Rogers, for instance, helped bail Twain out of his typesetter troubles. Rogers was a chief architect of the Standard Oil trust, and despite Rogers’ questionable business practices, Kaplan wrote that Twain called him “the only man I care for in the world; the only man I would give a damn for.”

In fact, Twain admired Rogers for his faults.

“He’s a pirate all right, but he owns up to it and enjoys being a pirate,” said Twain. “That’s the reason I like him.”

Kaplan wrote that steel industrialist Andrew Carnegie spoke about  Twain’s recovery in terms of admiration and approval: “Our friend entered the fiery furnace a man, and emerged a hero.”

It may not be accurate to describe Mark Twain as a friend, or even a member of the elite.

“There were definitely people in Hartford who looked down on him because he came from a different area,” said Patti Philippon, chief curator of The Mark Twain House & Museum.

Twain married into and lived among the upper-middle class, but he still had to work to gain approval.

He was less of a friend, and more of a protégé.

Twain took the advice and earned the approval of the great robber barons, and had a hard time turning down get-rich-quick schemes.

And yet in March, 1886 at the Monday Evening Club, in the company of the most distinguished gentlemen in Hartford, Twain spoke of the worker in high esteem, and condemned the capitalist.

“Who are the oppressors?” Twain asked, according to Philip S. Foner’s account in Mark Twain: Social Critic. “The few: the king, the capitalist, and a handful of other overseers and superintendents. Who are the oppressed? The many: … they that make the bread that the soft-handed and idle eat. Why is it right that there is not a fairer division of the spoil all around? Because the laws and constitutions have ordered otherwise.”

Twain valued the consent of the governed and the power of the workers.

“If the banded voters among a laboring kinship of 45 million persons shall speak out to the other 12 million or 15 million of a nation,” Twain continued, “and command that an existing system has in that moment, in an absolutely clear and clean and legal way, become an obsolete and vanished thing, then it has utterly ceased to exist.”

In fact, Twain’s Monday Evening manifesto almost sounded Marxist in its declaration of the inevitability of a revolution, once the superstructure falls away and the working class becomes aware of its destiny.

“When all …  the myriads of toilers in whom is slumbering the reality of that thing which you call Power … when these rise … a Nation has risen,” Twain is quoted as saying in Foner’s book.  “The working millions, in all the ages, have been horses – were horses; all they needed was a capable leader to organize their strength and tell them how to use it, and they would in that moment be master.”

Privately, Twain wrote that men were “half murdered by overwork,” and condemned “capitalist-employers” who demanded that eight-hour work days should be voluntary, not mandated by legislation, according to Foner’s book.

In thought and word, Twain was a staunch supporter of the budding labor movement. According to Kaplan, he saw himself as a sans-culotte, fighting for the common man.

Twain saw himself as a working class hero, and probably a self-made man. He did his part as a writer and lecturer to elevate the workers and denounce the management, but he never put his money where his mouth was.

Instead, Twain put all of his money in the Paige Compositor, even though he knew that, if successful, the machine would put thousands of printers out of work.

He tried to research the membership and organization of printers’ and compositors’ unions, but Kaplan wrote that Twain did so through an intermediary to keep his name out.

Twain referred to capitalists as “oppressors.” Yet when he tried to make millions off of the Paige Compositor, he relied on capitalists to help him pursue his dream.

He relied on their help again after the Paige Compositor left him bankrupt.

The Life of Labor in Hartford

By Molly Miller

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

Although Mark Twain’s neighbors in Nook Farm may have represented the late 19th century Hartford aristocracy, many of them, especially former abolitionists, supported workers’ rights.

Opposition came from captains of industry, said Hartford labor historian and former union organizer Steve Thornton. In Hartford, this meant people like Albert Pope of the Pope Manufacturing Company.

In a speech given at his Monday Evening Club, Twain called the Knights of Labor “The New Dynasty.” The Knights had more than 30 people elected to the state legislature to represent the workers’ interests, said Thornton, including safety and child labor laws. They encouraged everyone to join, and were certainly powerful, but they had    no legal protection.

Workers didn’t have the right to organize into unions until 1935, and workers who would try to organize were often fired, blacklisted, or jailed for conspiracy.

In 1883, telegraph operators in the Hartford branch of the Western Union Company participated in a nationwide strike, according to Thornton.

Operators worked for 12 to 16 hours at a time. They pushed for an eight-hour day, overtime pay on Sundays, a raise to compensate for the increasing hours and profits, and equal pay for both genders.

The telegraph operators’ strike lasted for about a month, and yielded no results for the Western Union workers. Most strikers were fired, and those who weren’t were forced to sign “yellow dog contracts,” Thornton said, which prohibited them from joining a union.

According to Thornton, many workers’ issues stemmed from the transfer from farms to factories after the Civil War.

“People weren’t working for themselves anymore,” said Thornton.

Workers would commonly fight for better working hours.

“That was something everyone could fight for,” said Thornton. The slogan, Thornton said, was “eight hours for work, eight hours for sleep, and eight hours for what we will.”

The business mantra at the time was “make more stuff more cheaply,” said Andrew Walsh, who is associate director of the Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College. The health and living conditions of the workers weren’t taken into consideration.

“They wanted to take advantage of mechanization,” said Walsh. “They wanted less skilled work.”

If the Paige Compositor – an invention Twain poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into – had been successful, Twain would have helped management take as much skill as possible out of the printing process.

The biggest issue facing workers, in Thornton’s view, is the right for unions to exist. This is somewhat similar to the concern that faced workers while Mark Twain lived in Hartford.

“There’s this all-out assault on … unions,” said Thornton, referring to recent collisions between workers and legislators around the country. “The right to exist is the first big issue.”

With Detroit hoping to cut workers’ pensions in order to aid the city’s economic recovery, and fast food employees across the country striking for higher wages and the right to unionize, the issues facing workers today are somewhat similar to those workers faced in Twain’s day.

“The people who thought that unions should never have any benefits are now in power,” said Thornton, making retirement funds “an easy scapegoat.”

However, there are many who believe that unions just aren’t as pertinent in a world where workers already have the rights they need.

Wallace Barnes, former CEO and chairman of Barnes Group Inc. and former chairman of the Connecticut Employment and Training Commission, doesn’t deny the importance of unions in the late 19th and early 20th century.

“They were very, very necessary,” said Barnes. “There was an imbalance of power between workers and management.”

But Barnes doesn’t think they are as necessary today.

“There’s still some need,” Barnes said, “but the balance has shifted. Workers have recourse now through the law that they didn’t have then.”

As a lawyer, Barnes negotiated contracts with unions. Since workers can sue, he said, there’s less of a need for organized labor.

Barnes sees Detroit’s bankruptcy as “a wake up call to all cities that they’ve got to adequately fund these pension programs,” but he says that unions needn’t be involved.

Meet The Jakes of Twain Studios

Jakes on the Clemens porch

The Jakes, on the porch of The Mark Twain House, July 2013. From left: Indira Senderovic, Ashaya Nelson, June Tran, Nick Sherman, Meaghan Szilagyi, Molly Miller, Alan Burkholder, Cecilia Gigliotti, Rae Martin, Lina Allam, Ambriel Johnson, Grant Henry, Jahyra White

Editors’ note: The work published in August 2013 in a printed anthology that was not previously published on this blog follows in this and subsequent entries on the Twain Studios blog.

By Molly Miller and the Jakes

Writing Apprentices

Twain Studios

Five and a half weeks ago, we were just a bunch of crazy teens staring at blank Microsoft Word pages, unsure of what to say to each other, let alone to the world. But through our shared love of the written word, we quickly became best friends, dubbing ourselves the “Jakes” (short for J.K.s, which is short for Journalism Kids.)

The Jakes went on all kinds of wonderful adventures together, through haunted houses, the Connecticut Public Broadcasting recording studios, and the basement of the Immanuel Congregational Church. All of these places inspired our writing.

We honed our interrogation skills by hammering the governor of Bermuda, the world’s strongest librarian, and a photojournalist from Uganda with all the tough questions. We learned to avoid passive tense like the plague by listening to and meeting Stephen King. Journalists from The Hartford Courant and CT News Junkie told us what it was like to work professionally as writers, and taught us tips for acing interviews. We received expert advice on the art of writing resumes and managing money.

In no time, our blank Microsoft Word pages became saturated with our thoughts and research on everything from the mysterious allure of bad boys to Victorian fashion, from One Direction to Harriet Beecher Stowe, and we shared our work with the world through our blog, TwainStudios.com.

We now present an anthology of our finest works in this literary journal. We’d like to thank our teacher Jackie Majerus, who worked hard to put this booklet together, and everyone at The Mark Twain House who taught us about Mark Twain and let us use their space. We’d also like to thank the Greater Hartford Arts Council, and all of the sponsors who made this program possible. We hope you enjoy reading our work!

Molly Miller: Journalist, Actor, Singer, and New UConn Student

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Molly Miller, center, spent her summer as a Writing Apprentice at Twain Studios. Behind Miller are, from left, Ambriel Johnson, Lina Allam and Rae Martin. Photo courtesy of the Greater Hartford Arts Council.

By Ashaya Nelson

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

Molly Miller, a new freshman at UConn this fall, was still deciding over the summer what to study other than journalism.

Does she want to also study environmental science or history?

Miller has been interested in history since a young age.  She was “weirdly obsessed” with World War II and Hitler, and her dream is to become a writer for a magazine or newspaper.

Senior year of high school Miller wrote for her school’s newspaper. It was stressful being in charge of the newspaper, but she continues to be determined to write for a major magazine in the future.

When Miller isn’t writing, she’s singing. But you won’t catch her singing solo.

“Hate singing alone,” said Miller.

She isn’t as shy as she used to be.

Last year, she worked at a theatrical camp for children, where a 12- year-old girl motivated her. The girl was shy at the beginning of the camp, but became confident.

Asked if she helped the girl gain self-confidence, Miller said, “She helped me.”

When in the cast of Annie, the adults involved also helped Miller come out of her shell. When she needed someone to talk to, they were there for her, something she appreciated.

An obsession of Miller’s is the panda bear.

It all began when her brother brought her a panda hat. She refused to take off the hat when teachers asked her to do so, saying that wearing it was part of her religion.

A friend gave her a pillow pet for her 17th birthday, naming it “Shipanda.”

In an interview over the summer, Miller said she might bring Shipanda with her to college, but said her roommate will think it’s creepy.

Pillow pet or not, the summer found Miller ready for college.

“Looking forward to it,” she said.

But there could be one hitch: Is her father looking forward to it?

Miller is daddy’s little girl, and enjoys a good relationship with her father.

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