At Last, the Twain Shall Meet

I've always been particularly proud of my family ties with Mark Twain. He was my great-grandmother's cousin and this reverence was passed down to me through a short line of women with a literary bent, namely my grandmother and my mother.

The first novel I ever read was The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I was eight years old and sitting on the front porch of our first house in Solvang when my mother put it into my hand, telling me that it was expected of me to always have a book in progress from that day on, and I was to start with one by our august relative. I did not disappoint. Even today I usually have no fewer than three books going at once...

Fortunately, I not only inherited this love of reading, I also inherited a love of telling a good story, and I became a writer. It didn't matter how many symphonies or chamber works I composed (music having come from my father's side of the family) my mother deemed my writing as vastly more important.

It was a strange game of tug-of-war my families played with me, pulling me from music to writing and back again. I guess writing about music is the perfect compromise; I've always thought of myself as both a musician and a writer. It just feels right for me.

Anyway, when my cousin died, he left some 5,000 unedited pages of memoirs, with strict instructions that they were not to be published until exactly 100 years had passed. Well, that time has come and in November the University of California at Berkeley, where the manuscript is kept in a vault, will release the first volume of Mark Twain's official autobiography.

"The eventual trilogy will run to half a million words, and shed new light on the quintessentially American novelist." (Guy Adams)

I can't wait to get my hands on this treasure. I've of course read a number of biographies and "in his own words" compilations, but this will be unexpurgated Twain who has nothing to lose by telling us what he really thinks and feels. No prudish editors, no ladies' feelings to hurt, no delicate morality to offend, no reputation to uphold.

"He had doubts about God, and in the autobiography, he questions the imperial mission of the US in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. He's also critical of [Theodore] Roosevelt, and takes the view that patriotism was the last refuge of the scoundrel. Twain also disliked sending Christian missionaries to Africa. He said they had enough business to be getting on with at home: with lynching going on in the South, he thought they should try to convert the heathens down there." (Michael Sheldon)

He has, in fact, everything to gain: a definite place in the 21st century.

It's easy for me to imagine my deist, abolitionist, reincarnationist, feminist, freemason cousin taking a long drag on his cigar and giggling right about now, and I'm glad to be alive to find out why.