Write to the Point!

A Neighborhood Studios Program at the Mark Twain House

Archive for the tag “Write to the Point!”

Thanks For A Great Experience!

Banner, snippedWrite to the Point! at The Mark Twain House & Museum, the newest member of the wonderful Neighborhood Studios program of the Greater Hartford Arts Council. The terrific work these teen writers did at Twain Studios this summer wouldn’t have been possible without the help of a lot of people who truly care.

The Arts Council is filled with talented people who are committed to the idea that music, photography, dance, theater, film and writing are crucial to a vibrant community. I’d like to especially thank Ashley Sklar for skillfully helping Twain Studios navigate through its inaugural year.

Supporters of the arts are true heroes. Without them, programs like this wouldn’t exist. That means these apprentices wouldn’t have had the tremendous opportunities they had all summer at The Mark Twain House & Museum. They wouldn’t have been writing, meeting fascinating visitors like Stephen King or, equally important, acquiring new friends throughout the Greater Hartford area. So I offer my deep gratitude for the generosity of Travelers, the Bank of America and all of the sponsors, but especially to our studio sponsor, The Hartford. We couldn’t have done it without you.

Finally, a huge debt is owed to The Mark Twain House & Museum for opening its doors to young people this summer. The entire staff put up with an energetic group of teenagers moving in and being mildly disruptive for six weeks and went out of their way to make us all feel welcome and at home.

As experts on all things Twain, Publications Editor Steve Courtney and Chief Curator Patti Philippon cheerfully answered an endless stream of questions. And Patti provided us with precious photos of our brief encounter with Stephen King. Manager of Communications and Special Projects Jacques Lamarre, who is wonderfully inclusive of young writers, arranged for apprentices to interview the governor of Bermuda and the world’s strongest librarian. Julia Pistell, a public relations pro at the Twain House, made sure the apprentices got to see Stephen King and took them to WNPR to record some of their writing with Senior Producer Catie Talarski, who kindly took the time to work with each of them. I am grateful to each of them for all they did to help me and support these young writers.

Such a warm and writer-friendly atmosphere wouldn’t exist without stellar leadership setting the tone, and at the Twain House, that’s the enthusiastic Executive Director Cindy Lovell.

Because all these people cared, a diverse group of terrific young people filled their summer with learning, adventure, fun and friendship. I’m honored to have served these amazing teens.

— Jackie Majerus, Master Teaching Artist

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Twain Studios Writing Apprentices had a great summer. Back row, from left: Meaghan Szilagyi, Ambriel Johnson, Master Teaching Artist Jackie Majerus, Alan Burkholder, Rae Martin. Center row, from left: Molly Miller, Cecilia Gigliotti, Lina Allam, Indira Senderovic, Jahyra White, Nick Sherman. Front row, from left, Grant Henry, June Tran, Ashaya Nelson.

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Writing Apprentices Working Hard at Twain Studios

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Writing Apprentices Cecilia Gigliotti, Rae Martin and June Tran worked hard and produced excellent stories in Twain Studios.

Concentration at 66 Forest

Concentration prevailed when the Jakes were working.

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Writing Apprentices playing a game where they discovered the many things they have in common.

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Writing Apprentice Jahyra White, with Writing Apprentice Grant Henry in the background.

Lina Alaam

Writing Apprentice Lina Allam

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Writing Apprentices of Twain Studios working on their stories.

 

 

 

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Writing Apprentices worked on their own, in pairs and as a group. Here, Meaghan Szilagyi and Ambriel Johnson collaborate.

 

 

 

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We didn’t work all the time, of course. The Writing Apprentices insist that no one is ever too old for the Balloon Game…

Mark Twain House Staff Shared Stories With Apprentices

Harry, MTH security talks to Jakes

Harry Cassidy, Assistant Chief of Security at The Mark Twain House & Museum, regaled the Writing Apprentices with spooky stories of things he’d seen and heard in the historic home.

Mallory Howard talks to Jakes

Mallory Howard, museum assistant at The Mark Twain House & Museum, talked with the Writing Apprentices about marginalia — Twain’s scribbles in the margins of his books — and the importance of proper sourcing. She also talked with them about her own career path and some of the adventures she’d had working at the historic home.

Lady Gaga: A Forgotten Genius

By June Tran

Writing apprentice

Mark Twain Studios

The bubble dress-wearing mega pop star Lady Gaga, topped the Forbes list of “Top Earning Celebrities under 30” over the summer.

This might come of a surprise since her latest release before the single “Applause” last month was the 2011 release Born This Way.

It seemed as if Lady Gaga had dropped off the face of the earth, as if America and the world had grown tired of her crazy shenanigans.

Although as a singer Lady Gaga does not have a wide vocal range or capability, as an artist she is unique in crafting her work.

Craftsmanship does not necessarily relate only to her musical work. Though her lyrics are often sparse of meaning or symbolism, it is her music videos and celebrity personality that really captures the audience.

Portrayed as a freak by the media, Lady Gaga would often be caught donned in a strange or unusual outfit.

Most notable of these ensembles were the meat dress worn during the 2010 MTV Music Award and the 2011 Grammys egg.

It is important to realize that there are two elements to Lady Gaga’s celebrity personality. The first is the symbolic significance of her creations and gestures.

Her outfits and music videos spark conversation about abstract topics such as acceptance, the entertainment industry and political movements.

In her “Born this Way” video, Lady Gaga featured an upside down pink triangle, a symbol for gay rights originally used by the Nazis in concentration camps to identify homosexual men.

There is also a symbolic gesture towards the end of her performance at the 2011 Grammys.

It’s a magnificent and powerful scene where Lady Gaga and her dancers gathered around a warm light and slowly each of them reached and stretched their whole body towards the light.

Aside from these various moments within her music videos and performances, some of Lady Gaga’s actions are just random and made for the shock factor.

It is hard to reason that Lady Gaga truly believes in the conventionality of her outrageous creations.

Rather, she is poking fun of what society views as typical standards of a celebrity. She has innate understanding of fame and its marked consequences.

Through her antics, Lady Gaga makes fun of the entertainment industry for its hypocrisy and treatment of celebrities.

Her genius does not lie in the fact that she was the first person to act out of standards, but she is the first person to make a point of it.

She is not trying to make the viewer take more notice of her, but rather for them to not pay attention at all.

The central focus should not be on the author but rather the work itself. This translates to all types of art, whether literary or musical.

In a way, Lady Gaga is doing her audience a favor. The viewer or reader should have the ultimate power in the interpretation of the work.

Lady Gaga’s fame points out the damage of this shift of focus away from the art and onto its creator.

We, as consumers, are so fixated on the commercial aspect of music that we drive out diversity within the industry.

Such an inbred industry is prone to volatile changes and leaves us vulnerable to record companies eager to make money off of the consumer.

‘Hello, Dolly!’ at Goodspeed Opera House a Total Delight

By Cecilia Gigliotti

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

I love theater. Especially musical theater. Few of God’s creations can top the surreal world that allows people to sing and dance their way through their troubles and triumphs. And few establishments celebrate this creation better than the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam. It’s been around since 1876, and, after numerous lifetimes, has been home to the Goodspeed Musicals company for fifty years this year.

This commemorative season included a special summer treat – Jerry Herman’s 1964 classic Hello, Dolly!

I was fortunate enough to snag a student-rush ticket to the show. I’ve always enjoyed this one, but my school’s band director, who played trombone in the pit, really sparked my interest to come by saying it was one of the best shows he had ever played at the Goodspeed, and he has played many.

Overall, I rank it among the top 10 Goodspeed productions I’ve seen, and that’s saying a lot.

One of the Goodspeed’s features is an amazing ability to fit so many people and so much activity onto a relatively small stage. There’s a ton of action, especially in a high-spirited show like this one.

The two major dance numbers in the second act blew my mind, partly because of the complexity of the dancing, and partly because of the spatial confines in which it was happening. It was a wonder to behold.

I have also always known the Goodspeed for its seamless scene transitions. The set transforms effortlessly from piece to piece, and many set pieces serve as creative doubles for other backdrops. It looks like a snake shedding its skin.

Given that so many productions are slowed down by hauling bulky sets on and off, the Goodspeed’s changes are always refreshing.

And the performances were truly standout this time. All the actors had excellent comic timing.

I can hardly remember a moment throughout the whole two and a half hours when I wasn’t smiling. The ensemble was energetic and synchronized, which is tougher to achieve than one might think. And the woman singing the role of Mrs. Molloy had a voice to die for. I hope my music studies in college will bring my singing ability nearer to hers. The whole cast had the audience hanging on every note.

Hello, Dolly! was one of the highlights of my summer. Catch a show at the Goodspeed and you might grab some of the magic, too.

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Hartford House is a Real Home

Apprentices at Stowe

The Writing Apprentices of Twain Studios visiting the Harriet Beecher Stowe House next door.

Lina Allam

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

     Upon entering the home of the famous author and wonderful mother Harriet Beecher Stowe, viewers can see the difference between a home and a house.

The Harriet Beecher Stowe home is nothing like the Mark Twain House. It depicts the nature of a woman who is both working on becoming one of the most elite authors of all time, and the typical wife and mother of her time.

Stowe had seven children, and only three outlived her. After the loss of her son Samuel Charles Stowe, who died at the age of two, she began understanding the feeling and emotion a mother felt when they saw their child sold into slavery.

Her son’s death became the inspiration for one of the most famous novels of all time: Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin was widely read, becoming the second best seller of the time, second only to the Bible.

This novel portrayed slavery in its truest form instead of portraying the political and economic side of the inhumane act. Stowe portrays slavery as an inhuman, horrific act that must end.

She describes events in the novel as she saw them in real life. Because this novel received worldwide attention, it helped strengthen the abolitionist movement.

The Duchess of Southerland was so inspired by this novel that she traveled all over Europe gathering over millions of signatures from women who agreed with abolitionists and encouraged them to continue their work.

Stowe wrote 30 books in 30 years, and completed multiple paintings, including some of magnolias, since she said this flower was like her: strong in the roots.

Today the Harriet Beecher Stowe House, where Stowe retired, is a museum dedicated to the works of this acclaimed author.

Information Age Cheapens American Language

By June Tran

Writing apprentice

Twain Studios

     Americans are idiots. The land of America is home to the popular term “YOLO – you only live once” and the constant usage of hashtags and abbreviations.

     We Americans are at the pinnacle of bad grammar and spelling. As demonstrated by the daily tweets spewed out by our regular Twitter addicts, the American language has taken a turn for the worse.

Going back more than a century to the time of literary giants Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe, we see a different type and view of the American language.

Twain, a celebrated American author, completely changed the way the rest of the world viewed the American language.

Joe Nunes talking

Joe Nunes

Patti Philippon, chief curator of The Mark Twain House & Museum, said what really elevated and characterized Twain’s and the American language was his use of “slangs and colloquialisms.”

Twain had the ability to put into words the way that people sounded, presenting the American language as something that is syntactically beautiful and admirable.

The act of crafting a piece of writing was not only practiced by Twain or by the esteemed classes – craftsmanship can be seen even in letters written by everyday civilians or even soldiers.

“People took time with their language and speech,” said Steve Courtney, publications editor at The Mark Twain House & Museum. Back then, he said, people would write 15 pages and take their time crafting it.

With the introduction of mass media technology during the 21st century, letters were replaced by a faster and more efficient medium of communication.

News surrounding a recent event can be received and understood by people in seconds.

Twitter, with its 140-character limit, emphasizes the need to be succinct and to the point.

Information utilized and passed by these sources, however, isn’t always informed and correct.

What is more striking than the degradation of the American language is the abuse of information by the media.

Twain praised the American press in a letter to British poet and cultural critic Matthew Arnold penned in the late 1880s, writing, “Its frank and cheerful irreverence is by all odds the most valuable quality it possesses.”

Christine Stuart

Christine Stuart

But there is a fine line between worthy and unworthy news.

As described by Donald Bliss in his book Mark Twain’s Tale of Today: Haley’s Comet Returns — Celebrated Author Critiques American Politics,  “like the newspaper of Twain’s time … there are lots of opinions and little fact-investigations. The more negative and sensational the opinion, the higher the ratings and advertising revenues.”

For serious journalists such as Christine Stuart, the editor of CTNewsJunkie, “being credible is more important than being timely.”

The language itself does not merely have to confine to a specific style or structure, but must exude the truth to its readers.

All writing, especially in journalism, will eventually shape the public opinion.

Writing something with a “purpose [is what] makes it all worthwhile,” said Joseph Nunes, a former editor at The Hartford Courant who is writing a book about the history of the newspaper.

Language would have no purpose as a method of communication if its receiver does not learn anything from it.

Learning is useless, Mark Twain wrote in his 1900 essay, “English as She Is Taught,” if the students’ memories “had been stocked but not their understanding.”

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 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.

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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.

Mark Twain’s Style of Humor Lives On in Today’s Comedy

By Alan Burkholder

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

Almost everyone in the world loves Mark Twain. There’s no denying that his work has had quite an impact on society, both in the past and in the present.

Don’t lie to me. You’ve heard the name Tom Sawyer before. If you know who Tom Sawyer is, you probably also know about his friend Huckleberry Finn. These two troublemaking brats have become two of the most famous child characters in all of literature. I say two of the most because a certain young woman from England has recently had more success in the way of children’s literature.

However, Samuel Clemens, who wrote under the name Mark Twain, is arguably the most celebrated author in classic American literature.

Being from a small town in Missouri, Twain had an American upbringing, and as such Twain’s books are very American in nature. These stories range from a story about a notorious gambler in Nevada who gets too cocksure about a jumping frog, to a man from Connecticut who winds up face to face with King Arthur and builds an industrial empire which later ruins their society. Whoops.

His books varied in message and tone, but Twain always had one quality which set him apart from other writers of the time: a sharp and dry wit. Twain was at heart a humorist, and he never stopped trying to be the witty gentleman, even in old age. He was aware of his humanity, and often poked fun at his own flaws.

“We ought never to do wrong when people are looking,” he wrote in “A Double-Barrelled Detective Story.”

But where did Clemens get his inspiration? What was the source of Twain’s persona as a witty individual?

Part of the blame can be pinned on Sam’s mother. While his father was strict and humorless, his mother was always the unconventional woman. She was humorous in nature and she bounced around from religion to religion, even once taking her son to a temple rather than a church.

According to Steve Courtney, publications editor at The Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford, Connecticut, Sam and his mother would often joke a lot with each other, probably trying to see if they could outwit one another.

“This disposition to experiment is an inheritance from my mother,” Twain said in a Feb. 28, 1901 lecture reported in the New York Times.

Twain was also inspired by a lot of other people in his life. He based several characters in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer on his boyhood memories in Hannibal, Missouri. His mother became Aunt Polly, his childhood sweetheart became Becky Thatcher, and several troublemaking boys combined to make the ever-bothersome Huckleberry Finn. He also based the runaway slave Jim on his butler, George Griffin.

Twain wasn’t just about characters, though. He was also heavy into politics and could never keep his mouth shut about anything. The grand result of this love of satire was a book called The Gilded Age, in which Twain practically tore American values of the time apart at the seams and revealed the ugly truth beneath all of it, all the while never letting up or apologizing for his actions.

Despite his controversial nature, however, Twain was not a troublemaker. He was simply a rabble-rouser, and he always had a good reason for writing every shocking sentence he ever put to paper.

“Always do right,” Twain wrote in 1901. “This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.”

Twain’s work, to this day, continues to both gratify and astonish readers all over the world. Part of the reason is the way Twain presents his humor.

Mark Twain House & Museum Chief Curator Patti Philippon said Twain tended to write how people actually sound.

Instead of being flowery and poetic, Twain wrote his books in plain English so that the message wouldn’t be lost.

“You can understand (Twain) a lot better” than most writers of the time, Courtney said.

People had written plainly before Twain, Courtney said, but he was “the first to make it a point.”

Twain, however was never completely blunt. He realized that in order for the audience to get the message, he had to make it interesting. He didn’t tell you to be honest. He simply said, “when in doubt, tell the truth.”

Twain is not the only person in the world to use humor as a selling point, however. Modern entertainers borrow heavily from Twain’s method of telling stories like they happened. Good humor is always a welcome addition to any story.

Most modern comedies realize that in order to be funny, there doesn’t need to be a lot happening.

Shows like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Colbert Report, and Louis CK’s Louie draw a lot of praise and laughs basically having a small group of people who have a small focus, but a lot of insight. I like to refer to this kind of humor as “Seinfeldian,” after the show (and comedian) that made it popular.

One person who’s familiar with this style of humor is Patrick Skahill, the producer of WNPR’s The Colin McEnroe Show, a Connecticut-based radio program that deal heavily with satire and wit.

Before each show, Skahill said, the producers and stars of the shows “keep an eye out for weird stories,” and then “brainstorm and think of ideas” that they want to discuss.

“Most of it is on the fly,” Skahill said.

Humorists don’t always script everything. Often, they just come up with ideas and work with them from there. This was certainly true of Huckleberry Finn, which started out as the sequel to a boy’s book and turned into one of the most humorous and heartfelt books in recent history. A lot of modern humor is based on social satire. Twain was not shy about social satire.

Twain did a lot of lecturing in his time, which was basically the 19th century equivalent of stand-up comedy. He would go out on stage, start telling a tale, and leave the audience roaring.

Off the stage, Clemens was shy and hated talking to people. On stage, he was a social commentator who seemingly knew more about the country than every politician of the era combined.

Philippon said Twain and Clemens were the same at the core, but Twain was more of a “persona.”

Twain used this persona when writing jokes, because Twain was much funnier. The same can be said for a lot of modern comedians. Everyone adopts a sort of stage persona, whether it be the loudmouth who loves to judge people, the quirky girl who observes a lot of crazy stuff happening, or the good-natured fat guy who likes to poke fun at himself.

All have a character on the stage who represents an exaggerated version of themselves. They earn bonus points if they act like this off of the stage as well.

Comedy writers also like to indulge in exaggeration for comic effect. Twain was a master in this field, especially when it came to his satire. Early in his career, Twain wrote in a newspaper about a “Terrible accident” that hadn’t actually happened, a satire on the sometimes alarmist nature of the news. Alarmingly enough, this kind of satire still holds up today, as several members of Saturday Night Live could easily attest.

Twain’s humor is timeless, touching on topics that are still relevant after about 150 years. To this day, people still follow his lead, in comedy, drama and in writing overall.

In his story, “Green Hills of Africa,” novelist Ernest Hemingway wrote, “All of modern American literature can be traced back to … Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”

It seems rather ridiculous to place this much credit upon one person, but Twain was brilliant enough to deserve it at the time.

And he still deserves it today.

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