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Baylor Professor Wins Award for Book on Mark Twain

Nov. 4, 2009

Dr. Joe Fulton, professor of English at Baylor University, has been named the winner of the 2010 Jules and Frances Landry Award for Best Book on Southern studies for The Reconstruction of Mark Twain.

The book, a blend of biography, history and literary criticism, is a radical reappraisal of Twain and his evolving political allegiances, actions and writings during and after the Civil War.

"I was stunned when I learned I had won the Landry Award. Speechless, really, which is unusual for an English professor," Fulton said. "My first thought was that (author-historian) John Hope Franklin and (Pulitzer Prize-winning poet) Robert Penn Warren were Landry Award winners. It took me awhile to believe that I had really won the award and was part of such august company."

The book will be released in fall 2010, the 100th anniversary of Twain's death, he said.

Fulton spent years traveling to sites where Twain lived, among them his boyhood home in Hannibal, Mo.; Virginia City, Nev.; and Elmira, N.Y., the author's summer home and where he wrote books.

"Writing the book has been a journey in other ways, too," Fulton said. "I've learned a great deal about how Sam Clemens became Mark Twain. I've learned how a young man from a slave-holding family in a slave state joined the Confederate Militia after Federal troops 'invaded' Missouri. It's been fascinating to explore how Sam Clemens, a Confederate 'bushwhacker,' became Mark Twain, the writer who became a champion of racial justice in works like Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."

Dr. Michael Parrish, the Linden G. Bowers Professor of American History at Baylor, said he was impressed three years ago by Fulton's application for a sabbatical to write an article about Twain.

"Professor Fulton proposed to take a fresh approach to a big subject: Mark Twain's political convictions and personal actions during the Civil War era," he said.

He persuaded Fulton to expand the project into a book for Parrish's Civil War series with LSU Press.

The Landry Award, given yearly for the best book on Southern studies published by LSU Press, was "the icing on the cake," Parrish said.

Parrish said Fulton learned Twain remained "a southerner if not a diehard Confederate, who opposed and satirized Lincoln and the North for much longer during the Civil War and postwar years than previously assumed. Only gradually and incompletely did he become 'reconstructed.' He recognized very clearly that slavery and racism represented a national--not simply southern--failure and tragedy."

Twain remained skeptical of politicians, northerners, southerners, Republicans and Democrats. Parrish said Fulton proved that by finding and using sources such as Twain's anonymous newspaper articles, which other Twain specialists have overlooked or misinterpreted.