Thursday, August 13, 2020

Susan Harris discusses her Mark Twain book

A few months back, I read and blogged about Susan Harris's book Mark Twain, the World, and Me: Following the Equator, Then and Now (2020). The work merges literary criticism, travel narrative, cultural history, and memoir. Last week, August 6, Harris gave a talk about her book online for the Trouble at Home series sponsored by the Mark Twain House & Museum. (Here's a link to her presentation.)

It was cool hearing Harris discuss the book, her motivations, her ongoing concerns, and her travels. I often get to hear poets and novelists discuss their works. However, I somehow get fewer opportunities to check out literature scholars talking about aspects of their books.

It was special listening in on this conversation in the context of a group of Twain scholars who were represented in audience because so many of them were quite familiar with Twain's work. During the Q & A, Harris was deftly fielding a variety of specialized questions, demonstrating her expertise well beyond what she covered in the book. 

At one point, someone asked her about the inclusion of "Billy" (her husband William J. Harris) in the book. He traveled with her on some of the global excursions. Unlike conventional scholarly writing where authors avoid first-person narrative, Harris included herself in the narrative, and it was natural to acknowledge William Harris traveling alongside her as she processed what she experienced. 

It was through William Harris, who was and remains one of my professors, that I first learned that Susan Harris was writing a book on Twain and her travels. On social media, he would provide photos from the various travels and when I asked what he was doing in all these far-flung places, he mentioned that Susan Harris was writing a book. His travel posts prepared me for Mark Twain, the World, and Me.    

Listening to Harris discuss her book gave me even more ways into her book and approaches. I'm also now on the lookout for more literature scholars reflecting on their work and the processes of producing it. 

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