03 April 2009


copyright 2009 C Woods

Mark Twain ----one of my favorite religious skeptics.

The Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College (NY) holds a conference every four years. The Sixth International Conference on the State of Mark Twain Studies will be held August 6-8, 2009 beginning with a buffet breakfast at 8:00 am Thursday and ending with breakfast on Sunday morning. If you plan to attend the entire conference, I recommend arriving on Wednesday and leaving late Sunday morning.
Those in attendance are at the forefront of Mark Twain scholarship, many the authors of books on Twain and many who are professors of Twain studies internationally. However, many attendees are independent scholars or those who are Twain aficionados. A few Twain impersonators usually show up, too. In 2005 the keynote speaker was Ron Powers. In 2001 Ken Burns previewed his Mark Twain film. The keynote speaker in 2009 will be Russell Banks.
The three-day event is filled with panel discussions and speakers presenting their papers on Mark Twain, the man and his work. There are usually two or more choices of sessions to attend during each time slot.

Some of the 2009 topics that may be of
interest to freethinkers will be:
Mark Twain, Religion, and Imperialism
Mark Twain and Robert Ingersoll: The Freethought
Connection Revisited
Mark Twain’s Lover’s Quarrel with God: Readings
in Twain, Satire, and American Religion
Mark Twain’s Reading of John Milton, Reconsidered
The War Prayer: Marking the Twain of the Sacred
and the Profane
Maturity and Irreverence
Clash of Civilizations -- Contrast of Civilizations
Huck Finn and the Fifth Commandment
Waking from this Dream of Separateness: Hinduism
and the Ending of The Mysterious Stranger

Attendance at any one session is not mandatory, so one can take a walk or a drive, read, take a nap in a dorm room, enter a private discussion of Twain with other conference participants, visit Mark Twain's study or the campus Twain musuem.
Attendees are provided with scrumptious gourmet food provided by the Elmira College chefs. Thursday evening has a wine tasting event before dinner (where one will probably receive a discount coupon for a local wine warehouse.)
Friday night will feature Russell Banks.
On Saturday, everyone heads to the hill overlooking the city for a picnic at Quarry Farm, the home of Twain's sister-in-law where the Clemens family spent summers while Sam wrote many of his most famous works.
During one time-slot, a trip to the Clemens family grave site is a choice.

After each evening's festivities have concluded, one can head for the campus tavern for lively, informal Twain discussions.
Dorm rooms are available without air-conditioning, however a new dorm with A/C will be available for the 2013 conference. If you drive to Elmira, I suggest packing a fan. (One year I spent in the dorm, it was incredibly hot, so I chose to stay in an air-conditioned motel room the next year ---when the weather turned cool. ) There are several hotels and inns close to the campus and several motels in the Horseheads area about 5 miles north of Elmira.

I have attended the last three conferences: 1997, 2001, 2005. The conference committee is wonderful and creative. There, I have met the authors of some of the books on Mark Twain that I cherish most. After an Elmira conference, I spend most of the next four years in happy anticipation of the next one.

For more information and a registration form, go the the website:

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