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100 Years After His Death, Mark Twain Continues an International Legacy

MU professors say that Mark Twain was the people’s author who transformed American literature and still has a stronghold on popular culture

March 2nd, 2010

Story Contact: Kelsey Jackson, (573) 882-8353, JacksonKN@missouri.edu
The original pen and ink drawing by Thomas Hart Benton from a series used to illustrate Mark Twain's Adventures of Tom Sawyer. The illustration refers to the famous scenes where Tom convinces other boys to whitewash the fence. The copyright is held by Limited Editions Club, Inc.

The original pen and ink drawing by Thomas Hart Benton from a series used to illustrate Mark Twain's Adventures of Tom Sawyer. The illustration refers to the famous scenes where Tom convinces other boys to whitewash the fence. The copyright is held by Limited Editions Club, Inc.

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, left a worldwide legacy that has continued since his death 100 years ago.  His books, including the famous Huckleberry Finn, have been translated into more than 75 languages with more than 6,500 editions. As cities across the country are celebrating Twain this year, professors and Twain experts at the University of Missouri explain how he shaped American literature and culture and why his legacy continues.

“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.”

During his lifetime, Twain published several books and numerous short stories with a relatable prose and dislike for aristocracy that made him the people’s author of the time, Quirk said. He was very well known during his lifetime and lectured in dozens of locations across the country. In addition to his literary works, his personality is widely studied. He was sometimes generous, volatile and very multi-faceted, Quirk said. He was also one of the first major figures of the time to embrace new technology – he was one of the first authors to use a typewriter and he was friends with inventor Thomas Edison.

“Mark Twain’s birthplace has become an American icon,” said Keith Eggener, associate professor of American art and architecture at MU who has written about the childhood homes of famous Missourians. “An ordinary two-room, log cabin has become a shrine that represents American frontier roots and innocence.”

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.

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

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