Mark Twain and his Short Stories: Classic American Literature

When one thinks of classic American literature, Mark Twain is one of the first names to come to mind. Samuel Longhorne Clemens, the man behind the pseudonym, was born on November 30, 1835 in Hannibal, Missouri. After applying for and receiving an apprenticeship with a local printing shop, Twain found a love for wit and sarcasm. The money he received from his apprenticeship was able to pay for family expenses, and he was able to save money to start writing and publishing humorous articles and witty newspaper sketches, which introduced him to the world of an author. With this experience and inspiration, he went on to avidly pursue a writing career. While most know him as the author of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, Twain’s portfolio expands into short stories as well.

Twain’s short stories are wrought with wit and sarcasm. He really shows his expertise in being able to implement so much humor in a story only seven pages long. When an author is working within such a short page range, every word counts, and Twain fully understands this. Upon publication, his works and collections garnered international attention, and were even translated into different languages during his lifetime. In his stories like “Luck” and “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” Twain uses alliteration, repetition, and colloquial language to engage and entertain his readers. Plus, his stories all have value for both entertainment and academic purposes. There is always something new to be found his stories every time they are reread.

While Twain was a well-versed humorist, he was also able to create more serious pieces like “The War Prayer,” a scathing critique of war and its religious elements. Written closer to the end of his life, it remained unpublished until after Twain passed away due to his family’s fear that it would appear sacrilegious. Twain is quoted saying, “I have told the truth in that, and only dead men can tell the truth in this world. It can be published after I am dead.” And “The War Prayer” was finally published in 1923, thirteen years after his death.

Mark Twain is a wonderfully hilarious author with a lot of imagination and relatable content. He is a master wordsmith whose works will be read for generations to come. He will forever be remembered as one of the most iconic American authors and constantly reminds us to never take ourselves too seriously, but also to think before we speak.

It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.” – Mark Twain

 

Happy Mother’s Day!

Mother’s Day is here. It’s time to break out your best card, grab some pretty flowers, and maybe even make your mom breakfast if you feel like really going the distance.Despite it being celebrated at different times—and in different ways—around the world, Mother’s Day in the U.S. is traditionally celebrated on the second Sunday of May. Mother’s Day as we know it here in America was founded by Ann Jarvis in 1908, although it wasn’t until 1914 that it became an official U.S. holiday.

My own mother has a literature-infused heart, much like myself. So, in honor of her, on a day that was formed to honor her and others who have taken on the joys and challenges of motherhood, I decided to ask her for a few of her favorite titles. Here are some of the titles she decided to share with the world and why she loves them:

1) Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Via Barnes & Noble

“I enjoyed it so much and immediately knew it was a keeper, read it over and over. I loved the rich detail of the fictional Camelot history mixed with the amazing story telling. I fondly remembering reading this and experiencing love and heartache with sprinkles of intriguing history.”

 

Via Barnes & Noble

2) Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

“One of the first non-teen books my daughter (me) and I both got into. Loved seeing her get to parts that were disturbing or heartbreaking and how the crafted world affected her. We would get lost in conversations discussing the story and share our love or dislike of the characters. When I think of this book, I think of the bonding between us that was sparked by the amazing story.”

 

3) City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

Via Barnes & Noble

“My daughter and I fell in love with this series. The thought of half-human half-Angels here to protect mankind was thrilling to me. I enjoyed the youthful interactions between the eclectic casts of the human and supernatural characters. I always thought a little teenage angst is good for a 50-year-old’s soul—gotta stay young!”

My mother and I felt joy together within the pages of these books, and many more. They helped us form a friendship that has lasted into my adult life. Growing up, our moms may have yelled at us, grounded us, and more. Just try and remember, especially today, that most of the time it was out of pure love. And just because we grow up, doesn’t mean they stop being our moms.

Happy Mother’s Day!

A Look at Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates was born on June 16, 1938. She has reached literary acclaim through her novels, short stories, poetry, and essays. Her largest achievement was receiving the National Book Award for her novel, Them.

Courtesy of WikiMedia

Oates grew up in Lockport, New York, living a farm life that has been repeatedly described as a tough upbringing. She was said to have found her solace in the written word and in her love of writing. Starting young, she developed the writing skills needed throughout her formative years to reach acclaim as an adult. She received her first typewriter as a gift from her parents in her teens; they continued to show her support for wanting to be a writer as she continued to write through high school and college.

Her hard work payed off, and she was attended Syracuse University on scholarship and, in 1960, graduated as the valedictorian. Only three years later, in 1963, she released her first story collection By North Gate.

Throughout her career, she continues to put herself in her stories with an incomprehensible depth. When events such as her husband Raymond Smith’s death in 2008 occurred, she put all of her pain and loss in her short stories. This culminated in her work of short stories called The Widow’s Story.

In 2014, her work Lovely, Dark, Deep was a 2015 Pulitzer Prize Winner for Fiction. Even today, she is seen a prolific writer (published over forty books), whose legacy has been carved in stone years ago, keeps amazing readers with new works like A Book of American Martyrs published February 2017 and Dis Mem Ber and Other Stories of Mystery and Suspense forthcoming June 2017. Alan Cheuse of NPR once said the following of Oates while reviewing the said work,

She writes about both men and women, ordinary people and professional people, Easterners and country

Courtesy of Amazon

folk, the unloved, those caught up in the web of first love, the married, and the bereaved, families with children, widows, the famous, the gifted but underrated, celebrities and those who toil away at their lives in obscurity. Where Balzac wanted to give his readers Paris in its entirety, Joyce Carol Oates has dared to give her readers an entire country — our own.”

Today, at the age of 87 her work still has the ability to reach into the minds of all sorts of people in all walks of life. You can tell that short story collections seemed to be her great love. Despite her age, she is able to not only still relate to readers of all ages in them but also finds the root of the human experience and express it in such a way that it’s hard to feel alone while reading her stories.

If you wish to delve further into her expansive work of short story collections, feel free to visit Celestial Time Piece for a complete list!

Test Tips!

As a graduating senior, I am intimately familiar with finals week—the chaos that ensues, and the stress that plagues students at the end of each semester. So I’ve compiled a list of tips and techniques to (hopefully) see you safely to the other side of the semester’s end:

Prioritize. Some tests may be harder than others, some will be worth more of your grade, and some will be more difficult to study for. Make sure that you spend your time where it counts the most.

Create your own study guide. Even if your professor does provide one, it can be extremely helpful to outline the things that you think are import and make sure that you know the right answer. And some professors purposely ask a few questions on the test that weren’t on their study guide, so making your own can be especially important.

Study with a group. Sometimes having the accountability of other people in your class can help you focus on the most important aspects of the material, sometimes not. So, make sure you choose group members that want to actually study. And if you teach your group members, it will help you reinforce those concepts too.

Take breaks. Everyone’s brain gets overloaded sometimes—this is normal, but you don’t want it to get to that point. A good policy is to take a thirty-minute break every two hours or so. Take a walk, watch a video, or talk to a friend. Taking these breaks can also help your brain move your cram session into your long-term memory.

Rest up. I know it’s tempting to pull an all-nighter on Tuesday of finals week when you have two tests the next day, but don’t. While you may get in some extra study time, you’ll also forget most of it during the test because you’re sluggish and struggling to stay awake (and so is your brain). Trust me, I’ve been there.

Make it fun. Reward yourself with a sip of coffee or a piece of candy when you answer something right, or give yourself a quick study break after you tackle a difficult chapter. Studying can be a drag, but it doesn’t have to be.

Finals are a challenge, but that’s the point. College stretches us; it changes and grows us. And final exams are a big part of that. Prioritization, multitasking, organization, and more work together to help us both survive and thrive. You can do this!

Yusef Komunyakaa

Yusef Komunyakaa was born James Brown in Bogalusa, Louisiana on April 29, 1947, and raised during the beginning of the Civil Rights movement in the South. Then, in 1969, he served a short stint in the U.S. Army before becoming the managing editor of the Southern Cross during the Vietnam War and earned a bronze star for his work there.

He lived a very full twenty-six years before he began writing poetry in 1973 and hit the ground running. He earned his first bachelor’s degree on the GI Bill from the University of Colorado Springs in 1975. Then, in 1977, his first book of poems, Dedications and Other Darkhorses, was published, followed by Lost in the Bonewheel Factory in 1979. He also earned an MA from Colorado State University and MFA in creative writing from University of California, Irvine during this time.

Komunyakaa’s poetry plays with the inclusion of personal narrative, jazz rhythm, and vernacular language to summon forth images of life during both peace and war. The first major recognition of his poetry followed the publication of Copacetic in 1984, which was a collection of poetry using colloquial speech and incorporating jazz influences. Then I Apologize for the Eyes in My Head (1986) won the San Francisco Poetry Center Award, and Dien Cai Dau (1988) won the Dark Room Poetry Prize and has been noted as being among the best writing of the Vietnam War.

Since then, Komunyakaa has published nine more collections including his most recent, The Emperor of Water Clocks (2015). He has also written a bit of prose over the years, and this work is collected in Blue Notes: Essays, Interviews & Commentaries (2000). Komunyakaa has also taught at several universities, including University of New Orleans, Indiana University, and Princeton University. He is currently the Distinguished Senior Poet in New York University’s graduate Creative Writing program.

Komunyakaa’s work, and the images that it conjures, has been instrumental in the effort to help civilians understand what soldiers went through during the Vietnam War and how it affected all aspects of their lives. So in honor of soldiers and veterans on his birthday, let’s remember what our soldiers and veterans have sacrificed for our safety and freedom and that this sacrifice wasn’t simply physical.

My black face fades,

hiding inside the black granite.

I said I wouldn’t,

dammit: No tears.

I’m stone. I’m flesh.

My clouded reflection eyes me

like a bird of prey, the profile of night

slanted against morning. I turn

this way–the stone lets me go.

I turn that way–I’m inside

the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

again, depending on the light

to make a difference.

I go down the 58,022 names,

half-expecting to find

my own in letters like smoke.

I touch the name Andrew Johnson;

I see the booby trap’s white flash.

Names shimmer on a woman’s blouse

but when she walks away

the names stay on the wall.

Brushstrokes flash, a red bird’s

wings cutting across my stare.

The sky. A plane in the sky.

A white vet’s image floats

closer to me, then his pale eyes

look through mine. I’m a window.

He’s lost his right arm

inside the stone. In the black mirror

a woman’s trying to erase names:

No, she’s brushing a boy’s hair.

—“Facing It”—Yusef Komunyakaa, from Dien Cai Dau (1988)