Publication of the first of Mark Twain’s long-awaited, three-volume autobiography was celebrated with gusto Wednesday night (Nov. 17) at a campus gala marked by reverence, irreverence and fun, as well as by heart-wrenching and guffaw-producing recitals of his work.
“The Autobiography of Mark Twain” was published on Monday, 100 years after his death, according to his specifications and The Bancroft Library’s Mark Twain Papers and Project editing team. Although already busy with the next volume of the autobiography, most of the editors were on hand for the event, modestly accepting congratulations and talking Twain, Twain and more Twain.
At The Bancroft, a crowd of 200-plus, which included a few celebrities and famous authors, investigated displays of Twain manuscripts and handwritten musings and watched a short, black-and-white video clip of actor Val Kilmer transformed into Twain, the pen name of Samuel Clemens.
The group then ambled over to the nearby Heyns Reading Room to listen to readings of select Twain writings by actress Rita Moreno; authors Michael Chabon, Eric Karpeles, Mary Roach and Ayelet Waldman; UC Berkeley professor-authors Robert Hass and Maxine Hong Kingston; film editor Walter Murch; library advisory board member Bob Haas and UC Berkeley Chancellor Emeritus I. Michael Heyman. Kilmer contributed via an audio recording.
Chabon reprised Twain’s observations about his 70th birthday and Thanksgiving Day, the extermination of early settlers’ neighbors, and the setting aside of a day every year to wipe clean the national conscience, while Hass recalled Twain’s conclusion that people go to heaven for the weather and to hell for the company.
Throughout the evening, a photo team snapped more than 100 shots of individuals, pairs and groups posing on a special Class of 1959 memorial bench, with its whimsical sculpture of a seated Twain stretching an arm along the back.
At the end of the evening, celebrants lined up for a free and increasingly hard-to-get-your-hands-on copy of the autobiography. UC Press is already on its sixth printing and reports that, despite a large number of back orders, stock should be available by mid-December.