Mark Twain was born Samuel L. Clemens in Florida, Missouri on November 30, 1835. He worked as a printer for a time, and then became a steamboat pilot. He traveled in the West, writing humorous sketches for newspapers. In 1865, he wrote the short story, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, which was very well received. He then began a career as a humorous travel writer and lecturer, publishing The Innocents Abroad in 1869, Roughing It in 1872, and, co-authored with Charles Dudley Warner, Gilded Age in 1873. His best-known works are The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), Mississippi Writing: Life on the Mississippi (1883), and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884). He died of a heart attack on April 21, 1910.
Shelley Fisher Fishkin received her B.A. from Yale College. She earned her M.A. and Ph.D. at Yale University. She taught American Studies and English at the University of Texas from 1985 to 2003, and was Chair of the Department of American Studies. Since 2003 she has been a professor at the English Department of Stanford University. She has been awarded an American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship, was a Fulbright Distinguished Lecturer in Japan and was the winner of a Harry H. Ransom Teaching Excellence Award at the University of Texas. Much of her work is focused on Mark Twain but she has also published works on writers such as Frederick Douglass and Theodore Dreiser. Her research interests have lead her to focus on the influence of African American voices on American literature. Dr. Fishkin is the author, editor or co-editor of over forty books and has published over eighty articles and reviews. Her book Was Huck Black? Mark Twain and African-American Voices was selected as an "Outstanding Academic Book" by Choice in 1993.
Poet and novelist Ismael Reed was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on February 22, 1938 and grew up in Buffalo, New York. After attending the State University of New York at Buffalo, he moved to New York City, where he became a co-founder of the East Village Other, a journal of experimental writing. From New York, he moved to Berkeley, California, and started the Yardbird Publishing Company. Reed's fiction draws upon myth, magic, and ritual to produce a literature that attempts to be larger than life. He has been called an ironist, whose explorations of United States history in general and African American history in particular reveal deep scars in the culture that no amount of technology can heal. Reed tries to incorporate multimedia and nonlinear techniques into his writing style. He has defended his eclectic techniques with spirit, however: "Many people call my fiction muddled, crazy, incoherent because I've attempted in fiction the techniques and forms painters, dancers, film makers, musicians in the West have taken for granted for at least 50 years, and the artists of many other cultures, for thousands of years." His other published books include: six collections of poetry, including: New and Collected Poems, 1964-2007; eight collections of essays, most recently Barack Obama and the Jim Crow Media: The Return of the Nigger Breakers (2010); Gethsemane Park; The Reed Reader (2000); Blues City: A Walk in Oakland (2003); and six plays, collected by Dalkey Archive Press as Ishmael Reed, The Plays (2009).