Today marks Samuel Clemens 175th birthday. It's getting close to the end of a year of celebrations and honors for Missouri's most legendary author and although he's been gone a hundred years now, he's nevertheless gotten his wish. Now that he's been gone a hundred years, his autobiography has been published, just as he requested. It's in the top five non-fiction books on the New York Times Bestsellers List. Not bad for a guy from a little river town smack dab in the middle of the country.
Although Hannibal isn't my hometown, it's pretty close to it. I grew up on the Illinois side of the Mississippi, but every Friday night I got in my parents' '57 Chevy to go grocery shopping in Hannibal. We'd stop at the Mark Twain Dinette for maid-rites and Frostop root beer---curb service, of course---before crossing the bridge to head home. We lived close enough to the river levee that I was in junior high before I realized sandbags lining the driveway every spring were not a part of my mother's landscaping plan.
Like every kid I grew up with, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was the first book I read after I'd finished all the Dr. Seuss books. My first newspaper after the University of Missouri was the Hannibal Courier-Post.
I was visiting my family in Quincy last summer, passing through Hannibal on my way back to St. Louis. Cindy Lovell, executive director of the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum, had already agreed to be a speaker at the 2011 Missouri Writers' Guild Just Write! Conference, but we'd never actually met except through our email exchanges, so I took advantage of the opportunity for a face-to-face meeting.
I found Cindy in her office, working on a multitude of projects, one of which was the CD telling Clemens life story being launched later this evening at a celebration in Hannibal. As she was telling me how the unique project came about, I was impressed by Cindy's enthusiasm and creativity. She was lining up talent like Brad Paisley, Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris, she said. Then there was producer Carl Jackson and maybe even Jimmy Buffett! You can find out more about the project by visiting the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum website.
To say Cindy knows Twain is a classic understatement. She can quote him so well I believe she may actually be a reincarnation of the Old Man himself. Nevertheless, three hours sped by like Halley's comet, and as I drove back to St. Louis, I knew Clemens would be pleased to have his legacy in Cindy's very capable hands.
In October, the Museum won the Governor's 2010 Humanities Award for Exemplary Community Achievement, recognized for programs that include the young authors' workshops, teacher workshops, "night at the museum" sleepovers, and the soon-to-be released CD.
As I've mentioned, Cindy will be a speaker at Just Write! next April, presenting a breakout based on the Twain quote "Get your facts first....and then you can distort them as much as you please." She'll also be on-hand for a presentation granting Samuel Clemens posthumous honorary membership in the Missouri Writers' Guild.