Shelley Fisher Fishkin receives lifetime achievement award for Mark Twain scholarship

Shelley Fisher Fishkin
Shelley Fisher Fishkin, Photo by Steve Castillo

English Professor SHELLEY FISHER FISHKIN earned a lifetime achievement award this month for her contributions to Mark Twain studies.

The Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College honored Fishkin with the John S. Tuckey Award on Aug. 4 at the Eighth International Conference on the State of Mark Twain Studies for “helping to assure that a rigorous, dynamic account of Twain stays in the public consciousness,” according to the award announcement.

Fishkin, the Joseph S. Atha Professor in the Humanities, was the first woman to receive the award, which was established in 1991 and is given every four years.

“Nobody has done more to recruit, challenge and inspire new generations and new genres of Mark Twain studies,” the award committee said.

Fishkin has written, edited and co-edited more than 46 books and has published over 150 articles, essays, columns and reviews, and much of her work has centered on Twain. Among her publications are Lighting Out for the Territory: Reflections on Mark Twain and American Culture and Was Huck Black? Mark Twain and African-American Voices. She also edited the 29-volume Oxford Mark Twain and other anthologies and scholarly editions by and about Twain.

The committee also praised her work as a consultant for organizations like PBS and the American Writers Museum.

“(Fishkin) writes scholarship which is innovative and rigorous, yet accessible, addresses audiences beyond the academy and across borders, organizes and promotes transnational and interdisciplinary communities of scholars,” said Matt Seybold, assistant professor of American literatures and Mark Twain studies at Elmira College.

The honor was presented to Fishkin amid a group of about 150 Twain scholars from around the world.

“It was a complete surprise to me,” Fishkin said. “I welcome this award as a vindication in the scholarly community of my understanding of Twain as one of America’s important social critics.”

Throughout her career, Fishkin has focused on Twain’s use of satire and humor, as well as on the concept of the “lie of silent assertion” that Twain coined – the idea that if people stay silent about what’s going on around them, they are allowing it to happen by default.

In the light of the ongoing injustices around the world, Twain’s legacy and ideas are still relevant today, Fishkin said.

“He was someone who asked his countrymen to confront our history of racism, hypocrisy, corruption and greed in compelling ways,” Fishkin said. “He tried to help us break out of and question a mindless acceptance of an unjust status quo. That is the Twain that matters most to me.”