Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Center for Mark Twain Studies: Quarry Farm Fellowship

With enormous thanks to the Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College, I'm thrilled to be one of the Quarry Farm Fellows this year. This means that for two weeks in the summer of 2018, along with my family, I'm going to be living and working at Quarry Farm, Mark Twain's summer retreat and the place where he wrote many of his most important books (Adventures of Huckleberry Finn chief among them). While there, I'll be spending my time on my next book, provisionally entitled: Deep Water: The Mississippi River in the Age of Mark Twain. Here's my blurb for the Quarry Farm website:

 A full list of the 2018 Fellows is available here - a tremendous list of projects!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Readex Report: Ralph Keeler

In my continuing effort to keep the memory of Ralph Keeler alive, I've just published a short account of his career and disappearance in the Readex Report (Vol 12, Issue 1): "The Lost Prince of American Bohemians: The Strange Life and Mysterious Death of Ralph Keeler, Literary Vagabond." You can check it out here.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

America Changed Through Music - More Advance Praise

I'm thrilled to say that our collection Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music: America Changed Through Music has garnered some more praise - this time from Rob Young, author, amongst many other things, of the magnificent Electric Eden. Here's what he had to say:
The Anthology of American Folk Music is a talismanic casket of musical treasures, containing the key to decoding the tangled patterns of Harry Smith’s interests in multiple art forms. This valuable essay collection offers invigorating and learned perspectives on the Anthology and its connections with folklore, magic, and hidden histories of America. It’s a celebration of Smith’s maverick verve and shamanic energy, reinstating him as a wonder-working polymath whose occult activities rippled out widely into 20th century culture.
- Rob Young, author of Electric Eden and Editor-at-Large of The Wire magazine

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music: America Changed Through Music

I'm delighted to say that tomorrow is the release date for Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music: America Changed Through Music (Routledge) - a collection of essays about this landmark collection of music that I've been working on with my colleague Ross Hair for a good little while. It started life as a conference in 2012 marking the 60th anniversary of the Anthology - much more information about that here.

For those who don't know, the Anthology of American Folk Music was a pioneering collection of songs released by Folkways records in 1952. It contained eighty-four commercial recordings of American vernacular and folk music originally issued between 1927 and 1932, and featured an eclectic and idiosyncratic mixture of blues and hillbilly songs, ballads old and new, dance music, gospel, and numerous other performances less easy to classify. Harry Smith, the curator of this collection, was himself an extraordinary polymath - a collector, musicologist, painter, film-maker, and much more - who overlaid his musical selections with mystical symbolism and esoteric knowledge. Taken together, the collection has been delighting and perplexing its listeners ever since.  

Despite its high-profile fans and endless influence, this is the first book devoted to the Anthology. We are thrilled that so many wonderful people agreed to contribute to the collection. Alongside scholarly discussions of the collection's methods, meanings and music, we also have essays by contemporary musicians Nathan Salsburg and Sharron Kraus, and an afterword by Rani Singh, Director of the Harry Smith Archives and one-time assistant to Smith himself. 

We've already garnered some nice praise, too:
The Anthology of American Folk Music is an extraordinary cultural entity, one that has assumed mythical status. And Ross Hair and Thomas Ruys Smith’s fascinating collection manages to preserve our wonder at the music and at the eccentricity of its curator, while bringing new insights and fresh arguments to its history. Just as the Anthology is full of strange delights, so too is this book.
- Professor John Street, author of Music and Politics.
You can find the book on the Routledge site here.

It's available on amazon UK here, and amazon US here. The kindle edition is affordable! It should be out in paperback soon. Enjoy!

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Missing Ralph Keeler: Comparative American Studies

Many moons ago I came across a couple of oblique references to Ralph Keeler while researching travel accounts of the Mississippi River in the wake of the Civil War. He quickly proved to be too intriguing to ignore. After a paper at BAAS 2012 and a lot of digging around, I managed to piece together an account of his career and, in particular, his very significant literary friendships with writers like Mark Twain, William Dean Howells, and Thomas Bailey Aldrich that has a lot to tell us about the literary world in the decade after the war. "Missing Ralph Keeler: Bohemians, Brahmins and Literary Friendships in the Gilded Age" has just been published in Comparative American Studies, 14:2 (2016), 1-23. It's available here, for those with access. And for a limited time, even those without a subscription should be able to read it here. I hope this lays his ghost to rest!

The Oxford Handbook of the Literature of the U.S. South

A belated announcement that my chapter on highwayman Joseph Thompson Hare (remember him?) has been published in Fred Hobson and Barbara Ladd's Oxford Handbook of the Literature of the U.S. South. It's a wonderful volume and a thrill to be in such good company. More information available here.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Open Rivers: Knowing the Mississippi

It was great to be asked to contribute something to Open Rivers, a fantastic new interdisciplinary journal "that recognizes rivers in general, and the Mississippi River in particular, as space for timely and critical conversations about the intersections between biophysical systems and human systems." Along with a number of other people to have written about the river, I was asked to respond to two questions: "How did you come to know the Mississippi River?  What does it mean, to you, to know the Mississippi River?" You can find my answer here, and below:

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Mark Twain Journal

Solomon Eytinge, illustration for John Hay's "Jim Bludso" (1871)
I've got an article coming out in the next issue of the Mark Twain Journal (Fall 2015): “‘The Mississippi was a virgin field’: Reconstructing the River Before Mark Twain, 1865-1875.” This one was a long time coming! As you can see here, I've been working on this since at least 2009. Gosh, I think it might be even longer. Anyway, I'm delighted that it's coming out in the Mark Twain Journal, and I'm equally delighted with how many illustrations they've allowed me to include. It should look pretty lovely, at least. This is my attempt to build a picture of the cultural life of the Mississippi in the decade before Mark Twain properly claimed the river as a subject. It's still amazing to me how rich this subject is - I look at steamboat races, bridge building, art, literature, travel writing, and plenty of other things too. More information here on the journal's website. I'll update this post when it's available online. Enjoy.

UPDATE: for those who have access, it's now available here.