Sunday, April 29, 2012


In 1905, Mark Twain published something surprising.  His work in his later years tended more toward the critical and the vitriolic.  This piece was tender, heartfelt, innocent and emotional.  Having suffered the loss of his beloved wife Livy in 1904, Samuel Clemens reflected on his Edenic married existence in Eve’s Diary.

First found in the Christmas issue of Harper’s Magazine, Eve’s Diary was a short companion piece to his earlier comic story Extracts from Adam’s Diary.  A light comic burlesque on the Book of Genesis, Adam’s Diary focused on the grouchy chiselings of the first man vis-à-vis the troublemaker who sprung from his rib.  Eve’s Diary shows the first woman to be more open, honest and, frankly, smarter than her companion, and his life is all the better for her being there.   

It is fitting, then, that The Mark Twain House & Museum in collaboration with the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center and the World Affairs Council of Connecticut, welcome another open, honest and smart Eve to our little corner of the globe on May 6th at Manchester’s Cheney Hall.  EVE ENSLER is, in many ways, the Darwinian evolution of the Bible (and Twain’s) Eve. 

Where Twain’s Eve is willing to endure much abuse out of love for her husband, Ensler has become an outstanding advocate for the world to end abuse against women.  Where Twain’s Eve will often sublimate her intelligence to make her male counterpart seem brighter, Ensler fights for women to own their intelligence and rebel against social and political patriarchies.  Where Twain’s Eve relentlessly pursues Adam, one cannot help but feel Ensler would say, “Enough of this!” and move to her own corner of Eden.

There are, however, indicators that Ensler and Twain’s Eve are still soul-sisters.  They both share an inordinate amount of compassion for other living beings.  They both love openly and unashamedly.  Both Eves are incredibly inquisitive and are not afraid to talk about their feelings.  And, they both write.

Maybe the biggest area of evolution comes with the concept of original sin.  Twain, perhaps in deference to his sainted wife, avoids mention of “the fall” in Eve’s Diary. Eve’s consumption of the apple and the subsequent banishment from Eden are skipped over in her diary.  Maybe he is assuming that this topic was adequately covered in Adam’s Diary:

“She says the snake advises her to try the fruit of that tree, and says the result will be a great and fine and noble education.  I told her there would be another result, too – it would introduce death into the world…I advised her to keep away from the tree.  She said she wouldn’t.  I foresee trouble.”

Of course, Eve eats and then tempts Adam, subsequently blaming him for their downfall.  And, of course, they cover up their genitalia with fig leaves out of a nascent sense of shame, something heretofore unknown in the Garden of Eden, a paradise from which they are about to be expelled. 

Ensler has, famously, ripped off the fig leaf covering women’s vaginas with her (in)famous Vagina Monologues.  She cries out against the mutilation of women’s genitalia and forced rape.  She has refuted that eating from the Tree of Knowledge is a bad thing.  She repudiates Adam’s curmudgeonly responses to Eve’s feelings with I Am an Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls Around the World.  She has sought to eliminate women’s sense of shame regarding their sexuality, their bodies, and, most importantly, their minds.  She has fought to create a better sense of parity between the genders. 

One gets the sense that maybe this Eve wouldn’t have lasted too long in Eden.  Rather than resting on her laurels as an artist, Ensler has become a world-renowned activist, advocate and agitator.   From Adam’s Diary: 

“About an hour after sunup, as I was riding through a flowery plain where thousands of animals were grazing, slumbering, or playing with each other, according to their wont, all of a sudden they broke into a tempest of frightful noises, and in one moment the plain was in a frantic commotion and every beast was destroying its neighbor.  I knew what it meant – Eve had eaten that fruit, and death was come into the world.”

Ensler’s efforts to halt violence against women and to celebrate the female body and spirit have taken her to some of the most war-torn parts of the globe:  Afghanistan, Bosnia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to name a few.  In effect, Ensler chooses to live in the world and change it rather than retreat to a Club Med-style Eden.  Instead of bringing death into those worlds, this Eve seeks to promote peace, life, love and education.  These are goals that, in the end, are shared with Twain’s take on the biblical Eve. 

We welcome both Eves back to the Garden with the quote Twain uses to end Eve’s Diary, tellingly written in the hand of Adam:

“Wheresoever she was, there was Eden.”

An Evening with Eve Ensler at Cheney Hall, sponsored by The Mark Twain House & Museum, the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center and the World Affairs Council of Connecticut is Sunday, May 6th at 7:30 p.m.  Tickets are $45.  A special ticket with VIP seating and a pre-lecture reception with Eve Ensler is $75.  Tickets can be ordered by calling (860) 647-9824.  There will be a book signing following the lecture.

"I Am an Emotional Creature" is Hartford Public Library's One Book - One Hartford selection for 2012.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Questions for Judy!

As you may or may not be aware, The Mark Twain House & Museum is presenting Judy Blume at the University of Hartford on the evening of June 21st. We're very excited to have her here-- we'll be interviewing her live onstage.

We'd love to include some of your questions (and, of course, your favorite Judy Blume memories), so please tell us-- if you could ask Judy one question, what would it be?

And which of her books do you love the most?

And do you remember where and when you read them?

Leave your memories and questions in the comments, and we'll refer to them as we prepare. Who knows; maybe we'll ask Judy YOUR question.

Tickets available here.

-- The Mark Twain House & Museum

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Writing Weekend at the Twain House!

Our Writers' Weekend

APRIL 20-21: A Writers' Weekend at the Mark Twain House will offer talks, workshops and other events devoted to the craft of writing and its practitioners.
Novelists, authors of non-fiction, poets, memoirists and playwrights will be supplying a rich array of events. Participants include Lewis Lapham, Jon Clinch, Alfred Uhry, Bessy Reyna, Lary Bloom and A.R. Gurney.
The Friday-Saturday event begins with an April 20 early-evening reception followed by a keynote speech by legendary editor Lewis Lapham of Harper's and Lapham's Quarterly.
On Saturday, there's a kickoff talk by novelist Jon Clinch (Finn, Kings of the Earth), a panel including playwrights Gurney (The Dining Room) and Uhry (Driving Miss Daisy), and nearly a score of workshops, talks and other sessions.
The event will run from 8:00 am to about 6:00 p.m.on Saturday. A box lunch will be provided, and the event winds up Saturday evening with a closing reception.
The cost of the Writers' Weekend for participants is $100. This includes the Friday night reception and lecture, all Saturday sessions, a box lunch and the Saturday night closing reception. Participants will also receive a voucher good for a tour of the Mark Twain House at any time. Space is limited, and advance registration and payment is a must: Call 860-280-3130 to register.
Eighteen panels, talks and workshop sessions will take place Saturday. No fewer than two winners of the Connecticut Book Award Lifetime Achievement Award holders will be participating in sessions at the Weekend: Lary Bloom, longtime editor of Northeastmagazine, columnist, author of many books, and sage teacher of writing at the Mark Twain House and many other places; and Bessy Reyna (Memoirs of the Unfaithful Lover), the beloved Cuban-born poet who has been called "a clear-eyed guide to the world we see but don’t see" by Martin Espada.
Among the authors slated to lead 50-minute sessions on Saturday are Susan Campbell(Dating Jesus), Susan Schoenberger (A Watershed YearSuzanne Levine (The Haberdasher's Daughter), Denis Horgan (Ninety-Eight Point SixCindy Brown Austin (By the Waters of Babylon) and Wendy Clinch (The Ski Diva).
There will be sessions on blogging, the business of getting published, and new forms of storytelling unleashed by the existence of the Internet.
The Writers’ Weekend builds on the success of Writing at the Mark Twain House, the writing program that bears out The Mark Twain House & Museum's explicitly stated mission, promulgated in 1955, to develop a literary center. The program has offered fall and spring evening courses in memoir, non-fiction, and fiction over the past few years.
During the Writers' Weekend, a panel of faculty and students in the Writing at the Mark Twain House program will be discussing the ins and outs of teaching and learning writing.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Birth of a Nation Screening

Race, Rage & Redemption Film Series kicked off with The Birth of a Nation.

With the announcement of The Mark Twain House & Museum’s Race, Rage & Redemption film series, the selection that has drawn the most shock and concern is, surprisingly, almost 100 years old.  One could not rightly say that D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (screened on April 4th) is polarizing in the way that Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, a film we will be screening on June 13th, divides audiences.   There is no doubt that Griffith’s three hour silent film is an epic piece of moviemaking.  The Birth of a Nation has been inducted into the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry.  The American Film Institute declared it one of the top 100 films of all time.  Until the release of Gone with the Wind, it was the highest grossing film ever making $10 million and by 1950, it had earned $50 million total.  It was the first film in American History to be screened in the White House, for President Woodrow Wilson.

Much like Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Birth of a Nation was hugely popular and provoked controversy upon release.  While Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin supported the abolitionist cause and Twain’s Huckleberry Finn decried the backwards Jim Crow Era, the controversy surrounding this movie is the naked racism on display.  Blackface, examples of blacks as drunken and sexually aggressive brutes, and the glorification of the Ku Klux Klan make this landmark film a rarity today.  Of course, the fact that the movie is silent and runs slightly over three hours does not help.  

Founded in 1909, the NAACP protested the film’s release in 1915 with pickets and boycotts.  The movie was banned in some cities and incited riots in others.  It emboldened gangs of white men to attack blacks and is believed to have been the cause of a murder of a black teenager in Indiana.  The most damaging result of the film was likely the use of the movie as a recruitment tool for the KKK.  Some believe it inspired the group to reorganize in the 1920s after a post-Reconstruction lull.  He adapted the film from the 1905 novel and play, The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan” written by Thomas Dixon, Jr., a Baptist Minister, playwright and state legislator.  The book, and its subsequent play,were written as a warning to Northerners against desegregation, portraying blacks as brutes and the KKK as necessary for law and order. 

D.W. Griffith’s father was a colonel was in the Confederate Army.  In a newsreel, when asked, “When you made The Birth of a Nation, did you feel as though it was true?”  Griffith responded, “The Klan at that time was needed.  It served a purpose.  Yes, I think it’s true.”  One year later, chastened by the protests and backlash, Griffith released the anti-prejudice film, Intolerance.  Of his masterwork, The Birth of a Nation, film critic and Mark Twain fan Roger Ebert says the following:

"The Birth of a Nation is not a bad film because it argues for evil. Like Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will it is a great film that argues for evil. To understand how it does so is to learn a great deal about film, and even something about evil."

Two other interesting facts:  a sequel was released in 1916, directed by the Klansman novelist Thomas Dixon, entitled, The Fall of a Nation.  No prints are known to exist.  On May 17th at 7:30 p.m., The Mark Twain House & Museum and the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center will present “Rebirth of a Nation,” a remixed look at D.W. Griffith’s racist film.  With a hip-hop and electronic score by artist DJ Spooky, the film is 100 minutes long and will be preceded by a lecture with DJ Spooky himself and a Q&A.  We hope you will join us on May 17th.  Tickets for the DJ Spooky lecture and screening of Rebirth of a Nation are on sale now at (860) 280-3130.