"It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world, and moral courage so rare."

Friday, August 29, 2008

Wolfe Compares Thompson to Twain

In an interview with Time this week, popular novelist Tom Wolfe draws a parallel between Twain and another brilliant eccentric of more recent decades, Hunter S. Thompson:

"[Thompson] was the great comic writer of the 20th century. I really do consider Hunter as being in the tradition of Mark Twain. Gonzo journalism, as he called it, is exactly what Twain did in things like The Innocents Abroad. You do some reporting of what's actually there, but you also let your imagination free. You're not deceiving anybody because they know that's what you do."

Wolfe has long cited Thompson as a major influence. To read the entire "10 Questions" interview, go here.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Roughing It Anthologized in True Crime Collection

Harold Schechter's new volume, Murder Ink: A Killer Collection, is a "celebration" of 350 years worth of true-crime writing. It's one of non-fiction's most popular genres, and one that wasn't left untouched by Twain. That is why Schechter has included an excerpt from the author's famous travel tome, Roughing It.

In particular, the editor has selected Twain's description of the frontier violence in the Wild West that he encountered while traveling to Nevada with his brother. Specifically, the young Clemens was taken by the propensity of would-be gold miners to seek retribution with a pistol.

Murder Ink: A Killer Collection is available now from the Library of America.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Archaeologists Excavate Farm of Twain's Uncle

As a child, Sam Clemens spent a lot of time at the farm of his uncle, John A. Quarles. He wrote about it at length in his autobiography, describing for example, how much he loved playing marbles there. Now, according to Hannibal.net, scientists are hard at work excavating the site in Florida, Missouri where the farm once existed. And they've found some of those marbles, among many other things.

Twain called the farm "a heavenly place for a boy," and described irises and day lilies growing there, which the archaeologists have also found, still growing. While the log cabin that served as the main house is long gone, there are many remains to be found--the diggers were even able to determine where the fireplace once stood, based on discoloration in the soil.

The dig is headed up by retired teacher Karen Hunt, who owns the site and has been studying it for over 20 years, digging there for the past two. Her plan is to eventually rebuild the Quarles house on the site, and turn it into a "living history farm."

Monday, August 18, 2008

Library Looks at One of the Most Challenged Novels of All Time

For 125 years now, Mark Twain's most revered and most famous work, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, has been regarded as a cultural powder keg. Through the generations, it has fallen in and out of favor, periodically coming under attack for being racist--despite Twain's explicit efforts to the contrary.

And now, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Fort Worth Public Library will specifically spotlight Huck Finn during its "Banned Books Week", to take place September 27 through October 4. Held annually, Banned Books Week is dedicated to exploring those works which have come under fire throughout American history.

For more info, visit the Fort Worth Public Library website.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Playwright Brings Diaries of Adam & Eve to the Stage

Written toward the end of his life, The Diaries of Adam & Eve is a much darker, more cynical work than much of Twain's canon. And now Harvard theater professor Joann Green Breuer has turned it into a play which is to run at the Martha's Vineyard Playhouse, according to the Martha's Vineyard Times.

Breuer reportedly adapted the work keeping every word of the original text intact, although she has been secretive as to exactly how it will be presented.

The show runs at the Vineyard Playhouse starting next Tuesday, and wraps up on Saturday, September 6.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Sculpture on Loan to Redding's Mark Twain Library

Utah sculptor Gary Lee Price is known for his unique sculptures of historical figures sitting on or standing near real, functional benches. Of particular interest to him is Twain--in fact, we have one of his Twain pieces in the heart of town right here in Fairfield, CT.

According to the Danbury News-Times, one of Price's Twain sculptures is currently on loan by Cavalier Galleries in Greenwich to the Mark Twain Library in Redding, CT (the town in which Twain died, incidentally). The sculpture depicts Twain along with his beloved characters Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher.

The work of art will be at the library until the end of the summer, or possibly even until the end of the year, inviting passersby to sit and take a break (as me and my kids often do in Fairfield). Entitled "Never the Twain Shall Meet", the work is one of 40 cast from the original mold last year. Interested in acquiring it permanently from the Cavalier Gallery? The cost is $48,000.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

College Buddies Re-Enact Huck and Jim's Mississippi Trek

Two intrepid students from the University of Northern Colorado have followed in the "footsteps" of the main characters in Mark Twain's most beloved novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

According to a story in the Colorado Springs Gazette, 20-year-old Nathan Oligmueller came up with the idea after falling in love with Twain and his book in high school. He convinced his friend and fellow Twain fan Dave Brandsma to help him build an elaborate raft out of plywood and steel, using 30 plastic fertilizer barrels for flotation.

"We decided this was something we wanted to do while we were still young: the Huck Finn adventure - an American dream kind of thing," Oligmueller told the Gazette via cell phone from his raft (an amenity Huck and Jim could never have dreamt of).

Oligmueller's father and another college friend initially joined the boys for the 930-mile voyage from Iowa to Louisiana, but bailed out early after encountering Iowa floods.

For a month, Oligmueller and Brandsma made their way down the Mississippi in emulation of Twain's heroes, smoking corn cob pipes and watching the sun set from the roof of their cabins. They stopped every few days for gas and supplies, also managing a brief layover in Clemens' hometown of Hannibal, Missouri. As for food, the adventurers have relied on the help of kind strangers along the way, who were happy to take the boys in just to hear their amazing story. One man even drove them to a hospital to treat Brandsma's swollen foot.

To read more about the journey, check out www.bearnakedrafting.com--a website Oligsmueller actually created while aboard the raft, using a laptop computer plugged into a solar generator! Upon checking the site myself, I discovered that the boys had made it to Louisiana, and are on their way back to Colorado. Once they get there, they plan to write a book about the whole thing.

I applaud these two fine gentlemen for their dedication, ingenuity and sense of adventure. It's one thing to fall in love with Twain and his work--but it's quite another to go out there and live it.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Writers Join Forces to Save the Twain House

In the wake of recent reports of the financial difficulties of the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut, several writers will be holding a reading next month to raise money to keep the landmark in operation, according to The Boston Globe.

The addition of a costly visitors center several years ago have put the Twain House severely in the red, and the threat of closure now looms. But authors such as Jon Clinch--who wrote the Twain-inspired novel Finn--are determined to prevent it. Joining Clinch will be Philip Lopate, Stewart O'Nan and other authors. On September 23, they will be reading at the Twain House, with all benefits going to the non-profit organization that operates the House.

For more info, go to marktwainhouse.org.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Students Bring Tom Sawyer to Life in Summer Stock

The Marlowe Middle School in Huntley, Illinois will be presenting "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" as a summer stock production from tonight through Saturday. With students of all ages filling more than 30 roles, it's a new take on a Twain classic.

Producer Janet Burkhalter has added never-before-seen characters and scenes, as well as a pre-show segment intended to help place the audience in the period in which the story takes place, including candy and treats of the era, as well as a chorus singing popular songs of the day. Former Marlowe PTO official Kathleen Wiedenfeld will take on the persona of Aunt Polly and sell concessions out of Aunt Polly’s store, including lemonade, penny candies and popcorn, as well as period toys and games available for sale.

"The idea was to make it seamless, so people can’t tell where Twain left off and I picked up," Burkhalter told The Midweek News.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

This Year's Mark Twain Awards a Hot Ticket

The untimely passing of comic genius George Carlin has made this November's Twain Awards at the Kennedy Center into the must-attend event for the luminaries of comedy, according to an article today in The Washingtonian.

Carlin had been selected to receive the prestigious Mark Twain humor prize mere days before his death, and since then, it has been decided that the award will be given posthumously, and that the event will be turned into a tribute to the comedian.

In recent weeks, people such as Bill Maher, Will Ferell and previous Twain honorees Whoopi Goldberg and Steve Martin have been requesting tickets and offering to help out.

The 2008 Mark Twain Awards will be held on November 10.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Mark Twain on Trial for Racism

It's the old, tired war-horse of American literary/cultural criticism: Was Mark Twain a racist? From my point of view, anyone who has ever actually gone to the trouble of reading his work and studying his life knows that the answer is a resounding "NO". Yet the issue persists, due mainly to the The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, it's treatment of the character of Jim, and its frequent use of the word "nigger".

Yet the matter will be dealt with in amusing fashion next week at Greeley, Colorado's High Plains Chautaqua festival, in which students will put Mr. Twain (played by popular Twain impersonator McAvoy Lane) on mock trail, on charges of racism.

In writing about "The Trail of Mark Twain" in the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza, Layne postulates a closing argument:

"Today, 'Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ is a problematical text that carries dynamics for trouble into today’s classroom with its emotionally loaded nomenclature. When you first encounter the offensive epithet that appears over 200 times in the novel, it sears the eyeball; makes you want to set the work aside and be done with it. In 1885 this word, which comes from the Dutch word for black, was a kinder word than the word 'slave.' But the word has become the most powerful secular blasphemy in our language today and has several times the preemptive force than it did in the 1880’s.

But if you can get through that word, not around it, but through it, I believe you will discover ‘Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ to be a strong indictment against prejudice and racism, and a central document to 19th-century cultural America.”

Layne's words ring true, as they should for anyone of intelligence. The fact that the argument even still persists is testament to the superficiality and misplaced hyper-sensitivity of our times.