Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Mark Twain's Birthday, Huckleberry Finn, IP, and the Nevada Constitution

Mark Twain (Nov. 30, 1835—April 21, 1910) was a prolific writer and social critic. This blog post from HeinOnline in honor of his birthday shows how to find Twain references in HeinOnline's vast resources. It also mentions a book published by Hein: Mark Twain vs. Lawyers, Lawmakers, and Lawbreakers: Humorous Observations (Kenneth Bresler ed. 2014).

Samuel L. Clemens (Mark Twain) postage stamp, 1940.
Hi-res scan of postage stamp by Gwillhickers. Wikipedia.
A number of the recent law review articles discuss Twain in the context of race and education. What does it do to children of color and to white children to tell them that Huckleberry Finn is a literary classic? Is the book racist? How should it be taught? Should it be taught?
Toni Morrison said her 8th grade experience with the book "provoked a feeling I can only describe now as muffled rage, as though appreciation of the work required my complicity in and sanction of something shaming." Ernest Hemingway praised the book so highly that he claimed "all modern American literature comes from Huckleberry Finn."
Sharon E. Rush, Emotional Segregation: Huckleberry Finn in the Modern Classroom, 36 U. Mich. J.L. Reform 305, 305-06 (2003) (footnotes omitted). That juxtaposition of comments from two American Nobel laureates sums up the conflict. For further discussion, see:

Twain not only wrote fiction that could stir discussions of justice. As an often-pirated author, he also participated in debates about copyright. See Mark Twain and the Copyright Dilemma, by Edward G. Hudon, from the A.B.A. Journal in 1966.

Twain also had a role in preserving legal history. As Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain was his pen name), he assisted another journalist in reporting on Nevada's first constitutional convention, in 1863. That constitution was not adopted and the records were lost for a long time. But Twain's brother, Orion Clemens, at the time the secretary of Nevada Territory, had saved a scrapbook of the reports. Over a century later, that collection was edited and published by Nevada's Legislative Counsel Bureau. So if you search library catalogs for works by Mark Twain, you'll find Reports of the 1863 Constitutional Convention of the Territory of Nevada. Nevada adopted a different constitution and became a state the next year. The telegram sending the text of the constitution to Washington, DC, is the longest telegram in the National Archives.

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