Berkeley - The Mark Twain Luncheon Club at the University of California, Berkeley, 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 UC Berkeley's Bancroft Library. This money - $150,000 altogether - would be used to match an annual grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
UC 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 UC 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 of the 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 Twain luncheon club will hear from Florentine Film's Dayton Duncan, the co-writer and producer of Ken Burns' next documentary film - about the life of Twain - for the Public Broadcasting Service. Duncan will discuss the making of the four-hour, two-episode biography.
Burns, director and producer of the project, will be on hand at the second club meeting late this year or in January 2002, offering a sneak preview of excerpts from the film.
Both Burns and Duncan will field questions after their presentations.
"The Mark Twain Project has been essential and incredibly helpful to us," said Duncan. "We couldn't do the documentary without it."
Documentary makers by necessity seek out information and advice from those most knowledgeable and passionate about the subject they are addressing. To tell the story of Twain's "giant life," Duncan said, meant working closely with the Mark Twain Project.
Of Twain, said Duncan, "He went everywhere, he did everything, he experienced almost everything there was to be experienced ...He had something to say about it, and nobody said it better than he did."
Robert Middlekauff agreed. The UC Berkeley professor emeritus of history and former provost and dean of the College of Letters & Science, is one of the three founding members of the new Twain club. Middlekauff, who spent five years as director of the Huntington Library, is himself busy at the Mark Twain Project researching a biography of Twain. He said Twain remains an irresistible American icon, in part because he was "incapable of writing a dull sentence."
Also, "Huck Finn," written by Twain in 1885, is one of the most important books ever on race relations in this country, according to Middlekauff and others.
"Had Twain not written 'Huck Finn,' we probably would not have made the film," Duncan said, underscoring the importance of what was then an "incredibly subversive" adventure story of a boy named Huck and his companion, a runaway slave named Jim.
The novel also was a breakthrough for a distinctive American style of writing, which Duncan said that, until "Huck Finn," had mimicked the British and European style.
Twain's contributions to contemporary America also can be seen in "The Lack of Money is the Root of All Evil: Mark Twain's Timeless Wisdom on Money and Wealth for Today's Investor," a book by Andrew Leckey, a teaching fellow in business journalism at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism.
Noting that Twain made and lost fortunes, while maintaining a keen eye for speculation, innovation and common sense in investing, Leckey recalled some of Twain's advice: "There are two times in a man's life when he should not speculate: when he can afford it, and when he can't."
Leckey said the Mark Twain Project was crucial for his research, with editors pointing him to specific volumes particularly helpful in getting more quotes about money and providing photos for the book published earlier this year.
"The Twain project's books, letters and photographs, as well as the professional expertise of its staff, make it a necessary part of any Twain research effort," Leckey said. "I'm very proud to be on a campus that houses such an important and valuable resource."
The University of California Press will release a new version of the "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" in late spring. The work painstakingly edited by the team at the Mark Twain Project will be the first edition to rely on the entire original manuscript, including all 174 original illustrations by Edward Windsor Kemble. It restores wording, spelling and punctuation corrupted by typesetters, editors and others, and contains updated maps, glossaries of slang and dialect, as well as additional explanatory notes.