More than 100 years after his death in 1910, Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, still intrigues literary scholars, who continue to mine details from his life and work. The latest offering is Mark Twain’s Literary Resources: A Reconstruction of His Library and Reading by Alan Gribben, a professor at Alabama’s Auburn University. Mark Twain’s Literary Resources will be divided into three volumes and will feature a bibliography of the works that Twain cited in interviews and in his writings (including poems and essays) and of the 3,500 titles that he owned in his personal library.
The first volume in the planned trilogy will be released in April by NewSouth Books with a 3,000-copy initial print run and a $45 list price. The entire trilogy is a project 45 years in the making. Gribben, 77, said he first started researching Twain’s reading life while he was a graduate student in the English department at the University of California, Berkeley during the late 1960s and early ’70s.
“Nobody else has attempted such an audacious reconstruction of a man’s reading life—not even for Shakespeare,” noted NewSouth publisher Suzanne La Rosa. Though the first volume will include 25 essays about Twain, his readings, and his personal library, the second and third volumes will be, La Rosa said, more specialized: “a full-blown catalogue and all the annotations.” She added, “They’re spectacular, but not for the reading public. Whereas people who would enjoy reading a Twain biography will enjoy the first volume.”
The second volume is scheduled for release in 2020, and the third is set for 2021.
“I hope I’ll be known for this,” Gribben said, although he might be best known for his editing of Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer to tweak language that modern readers might find offensive, such as replacing uses of the racial slur nigger throughout the text with the word slave.
When NewSouth, which is based in Montgomery, Ala., published Gribben’s alternative editions of the two novels in 2011, a firestorm erupted: many purists did not think that Twain’s text should be modified, no matter how offensive certain words are to modern sensibilities. Though she declined to disclose sales figures, La Rosa said that sales of the modified NewSouth editions initially were modest but have picked up in recent years as, in response primarily to complaints about Twain’s use of the slur, more and more high schools have placed orders for the modified editions rather than the unaltered editions that NewSouth also published in 2011.
“It’s behaved differently from every other book we’ve published,” La Rosa said. “It gives us peace of mind and validates what we’re doing.”
Gribben said that when he teaches either novel to his classes, 100% of the African-American students currently elect to read the new edition, as do 60%–70% of white and Asian students.
Gribben initially immersed himself in Twain’s literary life while working as a research editor on the Mark Twain Project in the late ’60s. Clemens’s daughter, Clara Clemens Samossoud, donated the author’s private papers to UC Berkeley in 1962; the project is an ongoing editorial and publishing program linked to that archive.
“I hadn’t read much Mark Twain before that,” Gribben admitted, recalling that, in 1969, he was casting about for a dissertation topic and asked scholars visiting the archive what they recommended. “So many of them told me, ‘I wish someone could figure out what Mark Twain read.’ This was the big unsolved question.”
Gribben’s 1974 dissertation was “the longest dissertation at the time ever filed at UC Berkeley,” he said with a laugh. In 1980, G.K. Hall published Gribben’s expansion of his doctoral work, entitled Mark Twain’s Library: A Reconstruction, which clocked in at 958 pages in two volumes. Mark Twain’s Literary Resources will include materials that have been discovered since 1980, including books that now belong to New York’s Elmira College that once had been housed at Twain’s summer retreat, and books that Twain’s housekeeper had been given after his death.
“The story here is how much Mark Twain was into books,” Gribben said. He added that for him, Mark Twain’s Literary Resources was about perseverance. “When I start something, I finish it.”