Posts Tagged ‘Mark Twain’

Mark This: 100 Years Since Twain's Death

In Entertainment, Uncategorized on May 25, 2010 at 2:12 pm
Mark Twain photo portrait.

Image via Wikipedia

Better late than never.

When Mark Twain died in 1910, he left instructions that his autobiography not be published until 100 years after his death and, as the Independent reports, that milestone has been reached.

“In November the University of California, Berkeley, where the manuscript is in a vault, will release the first volume of Mark Twain’s autobiography,” according to the paper. “The eventual trilogy will run to half a million words, and shed new light on the quintessentially American novelist.”

There have been versions of it released over the years but this promises to be different.

“Robert Hirst, who is leading the team at Berkeley editing the complete text, says that more than half of it has still never appeared in print,” the Independent reported. “Only academics, biographers, and members of the public prepared to travel to the university’s Bancroft research library have previously been able to read it in full.

“‘When people ask me ‘did Mark Twain really mean it to take 100 years for this to come out’, I say ‘he was certainly a man who knew how to make people want to buy a book’,” Dr Hirst said.

Hirst works at Berkeley’s Bancroft Library, home to The Mark Twain Papers & Project, my favorite part of which is an online repository of thousands of his his letters and other papers.

It’s really almost impossible to overstate Twain’s place in American history — if not on the world stage.

He was “the most famous American writer of all time” and “remains the title-holder this morning,” Tom Wolfe wrote last month in The New York Times. “Later American literary stars like Hemingway, Faulkner, Sinclair Lewis and John Steinbeck, Nobel Prize-winners one and all, never had more than a spoonful of the great gouts of fame that Twain…enjoyed everywhere in the world.”

His Huckleberry Finn — a mainstay of high schools — is also a mainstay of banned book lists.

When he died, The New York Times wrote he “was the greatest American humorist of his age. It is certain that his contemporary fame abroad was equal to his fame at home. All Europe recognized his genius, the English people appreciated him at his own worth.

“From The Jumping Frog to the Diary of Adam everything that came from his pen was eagerly read and heartily enjoyed by multitudes.”

In that piece, the Times also pointed out that “posterity will be left to decide his relative position.”

While one really need only look at the excitement — good and bad — that Twain still engenders to see how that question has been answered, you can also look toward the Kennedy Center in Washington DC.

Each year they give out The Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, which this year is going to Tina Fey, former star of Saturday Night Live and current creator and star of 30 Rock. While Googling will give you one of the reasons why I think this is great news, the fact is that, like Twain, Fey is a brilliant satirist unwilling to be boxed in by conventional wisdom.

It’s been 175 years since Twain was born and 100 years since he died.

The prize named for him going to Fey, the long-awaited publication of his autobiography… Twain’s still a big star casting a big shadow.

The Irony of the Internet

In Uncategorized on April 21, 2010 at 12:13 pm

For as long as I can remember, a pen and piece of paper have been the tools of my trade.

Somewhere — a box in my house or maybe my grandfather’s — exists a poem written when I was about five and trust me when I tell you, it was probably the most wonderful poem ever by anybody.


Even now, in this age of computers where emoticons (see above) are now as prevalent as semi-colons (if not more s0) and I sit here writing this post on my MacBook, there’s still something about grabbing a pen and piece of paper and starting to work out my thoughts that way.

Whether it’s been an article for a newspaper, a short story, sometimes even just a letter, I like to put pen to paper before I put fingers to keyboard.

And, I have to say, for a long time, I’ve been a bit of a pen snob. There was a long stretch where it was just Mont Blanc ballpoints and now I alternate between a Waterman and a Cross.

Anyway, what got me thinking about this was the story in the New York Times the other day about Mark Twain as literary critic, which included an interactive feature that allowed you to scroll through pages and examine Twain’s own handwriting.

This wasn’t the first of the Times’s literary postings. Late last year they put on their website the one and only complete handwritten manuscript of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. As the Times pointed out in an accompanying article, looking at the manuscript in Dickens’s handwriting allows you a glimpse into this thoughts, as he crosses out sections only to reinsert them later to draw out the dramatic effect.

The manuscript draws you into the magical world of creation, the  pen strokes, the scribblings that become art. Not to take anything away from anything created on computer, but there’s something about being able to see the work that’s gone into something. It’s not like politics and sausage-making.

And more often, libraries are beginning to recognize the appeal.

The British Library has even developed special software, Turning the Pages, that they say allows you to “leaf through our great books and magnify the details.”

The online gallery they’ve created allows you to read Jane Austen’s handwritten, satirical history of England and Lewis Carroll’s original Alice’s Adventures Under Ground.

One of my personal favorite examples of this is an early draft of what would become the Story of Babar posted by The Morgan Library.

The online exhibitions of handwritten pages come at a time when — and I actually feel a little silly saying this because it seems to obvious — a probable majority of work these days is created on keyboards.

Just look at the announcement from Emory University, which has acquired Salman Rushdie’s archives in the form of his old computers.

The point is that there’s a certain irony in the fact that thanks to the beauty of the digital age, it is now so much easier to appreciate the beauty of the written page, the work that goes into creating art.