Traveling with Twain

In Search of America's Identity

Washington, D.C.

Mark Twain, an 18-year-old Philadelphia printer, vacationed for about four days in February 1854 in Washington, D.C. He was not impressed by the weather, a snowstorm, or the seat of government. In a letter to the Hannibal Journal, he skewered the out-of-place buildings (“like so many palaces in a Hottentot village”) and lackluster Senate (“Its halls no longer echo the words of a Clay, or Webster, or Calhoun…the void is felt”). He returned to Washington in 1867 as private secretary to Nevada’s Senator W. M. Stewart and later made capital politics the target of “My late Senatorial Secretaryship,” “The Facts in the Case of the Great Beef Contract” and other satirical pieces. He sat for a striking Matthew Brady photo in Washington in July 1870. Later he testified before Congress on copyright reform and lobbied repeatedly against the cruel treatment and mass murder of Congo citizens (the Congo government felt it had to respond with a pamphlet, An Answer to Mark Twain).

October 29-November 1

Posts from Washington, D.C.

Mexican-American Washington Post videographer connects with “others”

Evelio Contreras, a Washington Post videographer, grew up in Eagle Pass, Texas, across the Rio Grande from Piedras Negras, Mexico, “with a divided understanding” of himself. He was a first-generation Mexican American with, he said, a … Read more >>

Joanna Hernandez, president of Unity, tackles challenge of diversity in newsrooms

Joanna Hernandez, multiplatform editor of The Washington Post, grew up in the projects of New York, then moved to Hell’s Kitchen, once a gritty midtown Manhattan neighborhood of walk-ups that “West Side Story” made famous. Her … Read more >>

Trevor Thomas of Media Matters on representing the small-town gay

We met Trevor Thomas in a futuristic office on Massachusetts Avenue. Blue neon lights cast a ghastly hue on the employees at Media Matters, a Web-based progressive research and information center. The employees’ eyes were focused … Read more >>

Maitre d’ bans us from dining room for wearing jeans

Before our interview of William A. Davis, Jr., president of Davis Property Ventures, Inc., he kindly invited the three of us to his club, the University Club of Washington, D.C., for breakfast. Upon entering the Taft … Read more >>

Juan Williams: A political analyst whose writing provokes a “ludicrous” charge

The writings and remarks of Juan Williams, Fox News political analyst and provocateur, have a habit of generating controversy. He titled his recent tribute on The Root to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, after 20 years … Read more >>