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The Big Read • About Mark Twain

"Mark Twain", the call made by riverboat men measuring the shallows at the bow, was one of the pen names chosen by Samuel L. Clemens, renowned American humorist, author, essayist, satirist, travel lecturer, and storyteller. His two most famous titles The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn were based on his experiences as a boy growing up along the Mississippi River in Hannibal, Missouri in the 1830s and 1840s. Both have become classics in American literature.

Before becoming a writer, Twain experimented with many professions and held such jobs as typesetter and steamboat pilot. The latter, of course, influenced his writing greatly. Having traveled west by stagecoach in 1861, Twain also dabbled unsuccessfully at mining and rather successfully in journalism. "The Celebrated Frog of Calaveras County", his first real success and the first to use his pen name, was a result of his experiences in Nevada and Utah. He then moved to San Francisco, where he continued in the newspaper field. There he met well- known authors and began to travel the world writing down his observations. His travelogues went from success in print to a sought after lecture series.

Twain met Olivia Langdon through her brother and became immediately smitten, marrying in 1870 and moving east. It was while living with his growing family in Hartford, Connecticut that he forged most of his best-known works, including, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Life on the Mississippi, The Prince and the Pauper, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. He also continued to travel and to feed his love of science and technology, inventing numerous gadgets. Twain was not much of a businessman and found himself in dire financial straits in the 1890s. He launched a worldwide tour in order to help pay of creditors, returning in 1900.

Mark Twain passed away in 1910, six years after his beloved Olivia. He remains today a much quoted and much loved American icon. His works have endured the years due to their humor, political satire, and adventurous plots. Clemens held a mirror of 19th century America up for the world to drink in and laugh at, filled with satire, humor, and a very good story.

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