MU celebrates 100 years of Twain

The series of events includes plays, lectures, performances and exhibits.
Peter Smith, Andrew Rea and Ben Friesen read their lines from 'Sam and Laura,' a play about Mark Twain's life, Thursday in Stotler Lounge. Pulitzer Prize winner Ron Power, an MU graduate, wrote the play.

During the month of March, MU is seeking to shine some light on Missouri's native son, Mark Twain. In honor of the 100-year anniversary of Twain's death, MU is presenting a series of events as part of "Marking Twain: A Centennial Celebration of the Life and Legacy of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, 1835-1910."

The author and humorist was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens on Nov. 30, 1835. Clemens did not adopt the pen name of Mark Twain until February 1863, English professor Thomas Quirk said.

Quirk has researched Mark Twain for more than ten years. Works Quirk has written on Twain include, "Coming to Grips with Huckleberry Finn," and, more recently, "Mark Twain and Human Nature" in 2007 for which he received the Curators Award for Scholarly Excellence.

Twain brought Missouri to the forefront of American literature through his classic novels such as "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and "Life on the Mississippi."

"There are other important writers that came from Missouri, but they didn't appropriate Missouri as a literary subject the way Twain did," Quirk said.

A hundred years after his death, Twain is still remembered for the impact he and his literary works had on American culture.

"If Mark Twain had written only ‘Huckleberry Finn’ and nothing else, he would still be a national treasure," Quirk said. "He's a cultural phenomenon."

The State Historical Society of Missouri is holding an exhibition called, "Mark Twain and Tom Benton: Picture, Prose and Song" to commemorate the combined cultural impact Twain and Thomas Hart Benton had in the visual and literary arts.

"They are kindred spirits in their approach to the arts," Art Collections Curator Joan Stack said.

Benton was a front-runner of the regionalist art movement in the early 20th century. A generation before, Mark Twain was beginning regionalism and the common people's narrative in the literary sphere.

"Mark Twain writes about the everyday person," Stack said. "The people he describes are very familiar to us living in Missouri."

The SHS is also displaying historic dress and costumes from Twain's era.

"The clothing is pulling the elements out of the picture and putting it in real life context," said junior Elizabeth Korte, who worked on the project.

Mark Twain appealed to the everyday reader because of his utilization of the 19th century native speech of Missouri, Pulitzer Prize winner Ron Powers said.

"He had a special genius at expressing the vernacular," Powers said in his first of a series of lectures called, "A Century After Sam: The Fate of Truthtelling and the Narrative Style.”

Powers won the first Pulitzer Prize for Television Criticism and is an graduate of the School of Journalism. Powers wrote a biography titled "Mark Twain: A Life" and a play titled "Sam and Laura." The play, centered on an influential romance in Twain's life, was held Thursday night in Memorial Union.

Twain wrote more than 25 books in his lifetime and received three honorary degrees, including an honorary doctoral degree from MU.

Two weeks before Twain's birth, Halley's comet, a phenomenon that only happens every 75 years, was visible in the sky. On April 20, 1910, Halley's comet was once again visible. Twain died the next day.

"Sam Clemens had one of the most gigantic lives imaginable," Powers said. "He sought to be a truth teller of human nature. He sought human nature as it was, not as the moralists would of liked it to be."

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