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Marginalia: Philip & Erin Stead

Nicole Haley

A conversation about a collaboration with Mark Twain.



When his daughters were young, Mark Twain would tell them bedtime stories, making them up as he went along. He must have really liked one such story, because he jotted down 16 pages of handwritten notes, titled Oleomargarine, which began, “Widow, dying, gives seeds to Johnny--got them from old woman once, to whom she had been kind--always believed she was a fairy…” These notes were tucked away in the Mark Twain archive until they were discovered in 2011 when Winthrop University English Professor John Bird, doing research for a Mark Twain cookbook, spotted the file labeled "Oleomargarine."


Fast-forward a couple of years to 2014. That’s when Erin and Philip Stead were contacted by Doubleday Publishing. The Caldecott-winning couple had to decide if they wanted to work on a project, and the only information they were given was that it had to do with Mark Twain.

The author and illustrator said yes and the result is The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine, a three-way collaboration between Erin Stead, Philip Stead, and Twain himself. I spoke with one of the trio, Philip Stead, about the project, his channeling of Mark Twain, and final book. 

Here’s our conversation:

And if you listened to the commentary on-air, this is what you heard:

Philip Stead | Marginalia, the commentary


The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine by Mark Twain and Philip Stead, with illustrations by Erin Stead was published by Doubleday Books for Young Readers.

Marginalia was produced at KMUW Wichita.

Editor: Lu Anne Stephens
Engineer: Jon Cyphers
Producer: Beth Golay