150 Years Later, Uncovering The Work Of A Young Mark Twain
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Now let's hear the voice of a different kind of artist - the writer, Mark Twain. He was such an amazingly productive writer that more than a century after his death, he's still cranking out material. Twain's autobiography was published just a few years ago. And now scholars have found some of his old letters and newspaper columns.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
They offer a portrait of the artist as a young man, when he was single and working for newspapers in San Francisco.
BOB HIRST: He was reluctant to embrace what we see now as his inarguable talent as a writer of humorous literature.
GREENE: Bob Hirst edits the Mark Twain Project at UC Berkeley. He's gathering material for a book. Twain wrote so many letters, Hirst says he and his colleagues find new ones at a rate of up to three per week.
INSKEEP: One letter reveals an important turning point in the author's life. In 1865, Twain was around 30, a newspaper man struggling to find his voice. Straight news reporting was not for him.
HIRST: He writes to his brother and says his strong suit is humor. And it's a statement of his calling and his being willing to, at long last, embrace it.
GREENE: His humor sometimes came through in his newspaper writing. Hirst quotes a takedown of the local police chief.
HIRST: (Reading) I want to compliment Chief Burke - I do, honestly. But I can't find anything to compliment him about. He's always rushing furiously around, like a dog after his own tail and with the same general result, it seems to me.
INSKEEP: That's Bob Hirst of UC Berkeley. Mark Twain, by the way, is credited with a quote for aspiring writers, like he once was. Here it is.
(Reading) Write without pay until someone offers pay. If nobody offers within three years, the candidate may look upon this as a sign that sawing wood is what he was intended for.
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
GREENE: And I'm David Greene.
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