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MU to Host Celebration for Famous Missourian Mark Twain

The weeklong event will include a Pulitzer Prize winner, nationally acclaimed Twain scholars and numerous lectures, exhibitions in Twain’s home state

March 08, 2010

Story Contact(s):
Kelsey Jackson, JacksonKN@missouri.edu, (573) 882-8353

Mark Twain

Mark Twain

COLUMBIA, Mo. – As Mark Twain’s boyhood home, the birthplace of Tom and Huck and the inspiration for many of Twain’s most famous literary works, Missouri holds a special claim to the internationally loved author. This March, the University of Missouri is holding a weeklong event, “Marking Twain: A Centennial Celebration of the Life and Legacy of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, 1835-1910,” to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Mark Twain’s death. The event will feature professors from the MU College of Arts and Science, Duke University, the University of Illinois and MU alum Ron Powers, who is a Pulitzer Prize winning author, Mark Twain biographer and co-author of the New York Times best seller, Flags of Our Fathers.

“Why do people still care about Mark Twain? He profoundly shaped American literature, and his persona is somewhat of a mystery,” said Tom Quirk, English professor in the MU College of Arts and Science and one of the most notable American scholars on Mark Twain. “Ernest Hemingway once wrote, ‘All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn.’ The chances Twain took, the quality of his dialect, his adoptive persona and his prose are important literary elements other writers can learn from.”

Twain’s long-lasting cultural influence and why people still care about him is the subject of the celebration’s first roundtable on March 20. Other lectures will discuss the American musical landscape during the time of Twain, Twain’s birthplace and his literary influence. There also will be a Twain art exhibition at the State Historical Society of Missouri and several events at the Daniel Boone Regional Library, including a reading discussion, a presentation by a Mark Twain impersonator and a Twain documentary film showing.

“Marking Twain” also includes the first-ever reading of Powers’ new play “Sam and Laura.” The play chronicles Mark Twain and his childhood friend Laura Hawkins, who is thought to be the inspiration for Huckleberry Finn character Becky Thatcher. Powers also will host three lectures on Mark Twain during the event.

“Although there have been many notable writers from Missouri, such as T.S. Elliot and Kate Chopin, very few of those writers ever wrote about Missouri,” Quirk said. “There are some subjects that Twain practically closed off to other writers after he wrote about them. After Twain, no one could write with any confidence about the Mississippi River. He wrote prose that was beautiful and without ornament that doesn’t call attention to itself. He was the people’s author.”  

For a full schedule and more information about the events, visit coas.missouri.edu/events/markingtwain10.html.

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