Stanford University

Shelley Fisher Fishkin is the Joseph S. Atha Professor of Humanities, Professor of English and Director of American Studies at Stanford University. She is the author, editor, or co-editor of 48 books, including the 29-volume Oxford Mark TwainWas Huck Black? Mark Twain and African American Voices; The Mark Twain Anthology: Great Writers on his Life and Work; and Writing America: Literary Landmarks from Walden Pond to Wounded Knee.  Professor Fishkin is a past president of the Mark Twain Circle of America and the American Studies Association, as well as a founding editor of the Journal of Transnational American Studies. In addition to lecturing on Mark Twain across the world, her research on Twain has been featured twice on the front page of The New York Times. She also is the recipient of the John S. Tuckey Award for Lifetime Achievement in Mark Twain Studies by the Center for Mark Twain Studies.


Professor Fishkin’s Recommended Reading:

The Mark Twain Anthology: Great Writers on his Life and Work – ed. Shelley Fisher Fishkin

Lighting Out for the Territory: Reflections on Mark Twain and American Culture, Shelley Fisher Fishkin

The Innocents Abroad (1869), Roughing It (1872), The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889), Following the Equator (1897), The Diaries of Adam and Eve (1904, 1906)

– all reprinted in The Oxford Mark Twain, ed. Shelley Fisher Fishkin


Mark Twain On Travel & Writing

In 1908, William Dean Howells introduced Mark Twain in a speech as “Mark Twain, originally of Missouri, but then of Hartford, and now ultimately of the solar system, not to say the universe.” Samuel Clemens entered the world and left it with Halley’s Comet, little dreaming that generations hence Halley’s Comet would be less famous than Mark Twain. He has been called our Rabelais, our Cervantes, our Homer, our Tolstoy, our Shakespeare.   Ernest Hemingway maintained that “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn.” President Franklin Delano Roosevelt got the phrase “New Deal” from A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Twain saw more of the world than any other American writer of his era–and the world saw more of him, as well–both in print, and in person. Throughout the world he is viewed as the most distinctively “American” of American authors—and also as one of the most universal.

In this talk, leading Mark Twain scholar, Shelley Fisher Fishkin, will explore what Twain learned from his world travels and what the world learned from him–both during his lifetime and in the century since his death: a century during which his work has been translated into virtually every language in which books are printed.


Discussion Questions:


1. What did Mark Twain learn from his travels? How did they shape his work?


2. What universal themes that Twain addressed spoke to audiences around the globe?


3. Why were Americans relatively inattentive to Twain’s social criticism? Why did readers outside the United States pay so much more attention to the serious issues he raised?


4. What allows humor to travel and what stops it from travelling? What is hard or impossible to translate?


5. What is the connection between laughing and thinking? Twain thought it was very important for his readers to learn to think for themselves. What role could laughter play in that process?

Learn More About Mark Twain And His Writing

Learn more about Mark Twain and his writing as well as other important topics by checking out additional great videos at OneDayU, including ‘The Future of Green: Environmental Sustainability and Business’, ‘Dorothy Fields Songs & Musicals& ‘Monkeynomics & The Evolution of Decision Making’ all on-demand now.





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