The Twain Shall Meet

Like so many people before and after him, Samuel Clemens found himself in the West. But Mark Twain, the character who emerged after Clemens’s almost six-year sojourn along the frontier, was very unlike anyone who’d gone before — or has come after. He remains America’s best-loved, most influential writer…and advanced embellisher. In Lighting Out for the Territory (the title comes from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, in which Huck figures it’s time “to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest” or risk getting “sivilized”), literary biographer Roy Morris Jr. unravels all the yarns that Twain spun about this period of his life, and comes up with the real story — or close enough — of “How Samuel Clemens Headed West and Became Mark Twain.” He details Clemens’s very checkered career — by 25, he’d already been a riverboat pilot — and follows him to the mining towns of Nevada, describing the journey in language as entertaining as his subject might use. “Clemens came back to the cabin one day, grouchy and dispirited, after shoveling dirt down his neck ‘on a little rubbishy claim’” and found a letter offering him a $25-a-week writing job. “‘Eureka!’ he cried. He had struck gold at last, albeit of a very different grade than the kind he had been digging for all these months.”

And Morris has struck gold with this extremely entertaining book, which proves that when it came to his own life, even Mark Twain couldn’t improve on the truth. Morris will be at the Tattered Cover at 2526 East Colfax Avenue tonight at 7:30 p.m. The program is free; for more information, go to www.tatteredcover.com.
Wed., March 24, 7:30 p.m., 2010

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun