He's been called the Mark Twain of our generation, a born story-teller whose tales from the heartland of America have been embraced by sophisticates on both coasts. So there's a special treat in today's "Writer's Almanac"
in the form of Keillor's mini-biography of Twain, whose birthday it is today:
It's the birthday of Mark Twain, born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, in Florida, Missouri (1835). He wrote Life on the Mississippi (1883), The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), and his own favorite, The Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (1891). He was cynical and irreverent, but he had a tender spot for cats. There were always kittens in the house, and he gave them names like "Sin" and "Sour Mash." "Mamma has morals," said his daughter Suzy, "and Papa has cats." Twain swore constantly and without shame. His streams of profanity alarmed his wife. One day he cut himself shaving, and she heard a string of oaths from the bathroom. She resolved to move him to repentance, and she repeated back to him all the bad words he had just said. He smiled at her and shook his head. "You have the words, Livy," he said, "but you'll never learn the tune."
After Twain published The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, he had a great deal of cash on his hands, which he invested in a typesetting machine that was very complicated and demanded more and more investment. In the end, it didn't work. He had to declare bankruptcy, and he decided to go on a worldwide lecture tour, the proceeds of which he would use to pay back all of his creditors. His visits to Africa and Asia convinced him that a God who allowed Christians to believe that they were better than savages was a God he wanted no part of.
Mark Twain said, "It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt." And he said, "Good friends, good books and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life."