I taught freshman English only one year at Kent State--1981-1982. And that summer (1982), striding toward the KSU Library, I bumped into Denny Reiser, a former colleague at Harmon School, who told me that there was an English opening for the coming year. I zoomed home (library tasks forgotten), called the school, set in motion the application that in the fall of 1982 would see me back in a Harmon classroom (after a resounding vote of approval from the Board of Education, 3-2), where I stayed (with a couple of sabbatical leaves) until I retired in January 1997.
After I retired, I worked on my Mary Shelley book for several years--seven days a week, no exceptions (here's link to it on Amazon! Link). Then in the summer of 2001 I learned from old friend and WRA English teacher Tom Davis that there was an opening at WRA for the fall. English III (juniors: American lit + Hamlet). I decided to try it for a year or so. I stayed for ten.
And every one of those years, I ended the year with Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. My reasons were not complicated:
- I love the book.
- Most literary critics/historians place Huck among the two or three greatest novels ever written in America (Moby-Dick is invariably there, too).
- I love the book.
In the years I was there WRA had some funds to support summer study and travel, and for most of the summers I was there, the school cheerfully helped pay for our summer travels to various literary sites around the country--including a number of them related to Twain. For example ...
1. In July 2002, we drove to Hartford, Connecticut, and saw/toured the Mark Twain House, the home he built and adored. (Very close by--the home of Harriet Beecher Stowe.)
2. In June 2004, we drove along the Mississippi River, looking at sites mentioned in Huck, including a stop in Cairo, Illinois (where the clear Ohio River flows into the muddy Mississippi--quite a site--and sight).
3. In July 2004, I, for the first time, took the tour through the Mark Twain Cave, the site that figures so prominently in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Coolest: We saw the spot where Injun Joe, chunks of bat in his mouth, breathed his last.
4. In June 2008, we traveled to Hannibal, Missouri (hardly our first trip) and also to Florida, Missouri, not far away, where Twain was actually born (they did not stay there long--and Twain never went back). At Florida, MO, they have the "birth cabin" placed inside a museum.
5. In July 2008, we were in Reading, Connecticut, site of the final home where Twain lived--his mansion called "Stormfield" (destroyed in a fire in 1923, thirteen years after his death). There are still some Twainy things to see near Reading (including the local library, where there's a statue).
And we were not just driving around looking at Twain sites. I'd also decided I was going to read every book he ever published. I'd not ever read some of his major books--e.g., Roughing It, Life on the Mississippi--and more than a few of his minor ones (The American Claimant, Tom Sawyer Abroad). And this has taken awhile. Right now I'm reading his historical novel Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (1896), then will move to Christian Science (1907). Then ... just a handful of smaller things remain.
And then what?
TOMORROW: Teaching Huck at WRA ... and final thoughts?