‘Twainiacs’ have a weekend to relish
June 11, 2010
He’s been dead 100 years, but Mark Twain’s popularity is on the rise.
Twain’s final work – his autobiography – is expected to be published in November, the site where he started a fire at Lake Tahoe may soon be dubbed a federal landmark, a book about his relationship with a secretary was published this spring and a two-day celebration in Zephyr Cove, Mark Twain’s Wild West Weekend, is Saturday and Sunday.
Why is Twain, whose birth name was Samuel Clemens, still so popular?
“He’s extremely funny – that’s news, isn’t it?” said Robert Hirst, the general editor of the Mark Twain Project and curator of the Mark Twain Papers. “People overlook it, especially academics. His humor is not just good. It lasts.
“I speak a lot and I use things that he said just to keep the audience happy and not have to listen to me too much. I’m always amazed that I could do these quotations and it’s like being a standup comic with 100-year-old jokes. They simply endure. Why do they endure? Because he had a deep insight into human nature and he really is joking about things that are not going away.”
Tahoe resident McAvoy Layne, a self-described “Twainiac” who has made a career out of impersonating the author, next month will open the Mark Twain Cultural Center at Incline Village.
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“His humor is eternal,” Layne said, agreeing with Hirst who is overseeing seven editors compiling the autobiography.
“He really captured the American West with “Roughing It” and then the satire of Huckleberry Finn, which will last forever,” Layne said.
“Then he slid off into old age and indignation and sarcasm, which makes me a little nervous about the rest of the autobiography that’s coming out. I’m a little bit afraid it might have a little too much of the dark side.”
The biography, which will be published in three volumes, comes from 5,000 pages Twain left, requesting it not be published until he had been dead 100 years.
“This is a guy who knew how to sell a book,” Hirst said. “Here’s 10 percent of it and you can’t see the rest for 100 years. Are you going to buy that book? I guess you will.”
Twain’s daughter, Clara Clemens Samossoud, gave the manuscript to the University of California, Berkeley, when she died in 1962. It is in the Bancroft Library, which includes nearly everything Twain wrote, including 50 notebooks the author kept between 1855 and 1910 and about 11,000 letters written by him or by his immediate family, according to the Berkeley Independent.
“I’m going to pitch a pup tent on the lawn of the Bancroft so I can get my nose on the window the day they release it,” Layne said.