Luncheon club seeks Clemens fans to help fund Twain project

By Kathleen Maclay, Public Affairs

11 April 2001 | The Mark Twain Luncheon Club is seeking 100 “HuckFinnomaniacs” and others with a keen interest in the humor, storytelling, social commentary and life of Mark Twain.

By contributing $1,500 each, members of this exclusive organization will help sustain the Mark Twain Project at the Bancroft Library. This money — $150,000 altogether — would be used to match an annual grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Berkeley has the world’s largest collection of the manuscripts, books, letters, photos and other materials of Samuel Clemens, best known by his pen name, Mark Twain. Twain created this collection for use by his first literary executor and biographer. It was given to Berkeley in the 1960s by Twain’s daughter, Clara Clemens Samossoud.

Six editors at the Mark Twain Project produce authoritative editions of Twain’s works. So far, 25 scholarly books have been printed. They aim to publish about 70 scholarly volumes by 2010, the 100th anniversary of Twain’s death.

Through their financial contributions, Mark Twain Luncheon Club members will further this scholarship. Members will be invited to two luncheons each year that feature programs about Twain, the man known as America’s best and most influential writer.

Robert Hirst, general editor of the Mark Twain Project, said the club should be a natural for what he calls current and potential “Huckfinnomaniacs.” After all, he said, Twain started his own club called Circus, although it was so informal that it never met. Then there was the Juggernaut Club of women, a group of dedicated admirers whom Twain said wrote lively, thoughtful letters to him. Perhaps Twain’s most clever organization was the Modesty Club, of which he was the only member, Hirst said.

More important, said Hirst, the club will take some pressure off the fundraising duties that he has struggled to perform while editing.

“We’ve literally been trying to raise money to match the NEH grant while we work,” said Hirst. “This club would make funding more regular and secure and allow us to maintain a pace of publishing that’s satisfactory to us and the world.”

Hirst added that the Twain luncheon club also is vital because “we don’t know what future funding from the NEH will be. The NEH may not always be there for us, our matching grant may not be long for the future.”

At its first gathering on May 2, the club will hear from Florentine Film’s Dayton Duncan, co-writer and producer of Ken Burns’ next documentary — about the life of Twain — for the Public Broadcasting Service.


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