One of the University of Findlay’s biggest Mark Twain fans intends to write a book about the famous author and his original fans. To help her do so, Courtney Bates, Ph.D., has been awarded a fellowship that will fund a 1-month writing and research stay at Quarry Farm, the historic Center for Mark Twain Studies where Twain wrote the “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and other indelible works.
Located in Elmira, New York, the farm was home to Twain’s wife’s family. The couple spent 20 summers there. Today, the farm is listed on the U.S. Register of Historic Places, and is operated by Elmira College. Its use is restricted to scholars and planned events.
Bates, an assistant professor of English and director of UF’s Writing Center, will be residing at the farm this spring. She is one of 12 who were selected to receive fellowships this year.
Bates’ book will expand upon her doctoral dissertation that used reader-response theory to illustrate the rhetorical significance of Twain’s fan mail correspondence.
His written responses, which were as entertaining and varied as the man himself, reflect his evolution as a writer and as a person, and reveal interesting reader perceptions, Bates said. “Twain expected us to read his letters” to his fans, she explained. “Twain was so good at literary celebrity. He had a distinct authorial style and approachability.”
Bates, who also presented at the Eighth International Conference on the State of Mark Twain Studies, said she is drawn to Twain’s work, in part, because “he has a way of representing the knowingness that I like. He has an interesting moral compass.”
Bates noted that the many letters to him, which represented other well known, professional writers, along with regular readers, also include details that are rich in cultural meaning, and contain identifiable patterns inherent to followers of the nation’s earliest pop culture celebrities, she noted. Some were full of praise, some were critical, and some were seeking advice from Twain about writing and other topics. He often answered them. He occasionally jotted notes to himself regarding their subject matter, and filed them away for later reference. On one occasion, he tore a postcard into thirds, put the pieces back in the envelope, then labeled it, “Offensive postal card about Gilded Age.”
For more information on Bates’ ideas about Twain and his correspondence with readers, visit her Quarry Farm blog post.