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Newsweek jumps on Twain bandwagon

By Rachel Gross

America’s irreverent literary sweetheart Mark Twain graced the cover of Newsweek magazine Monday, adding to a flurry of press hype surrounding the publication of his uncensored autobiography this fall.

The Newsweek article, which includes a never-before-published excerpt, is not the first to add to the anticipation of the release. Last month, The New York Times ran an article on Twain’s political pointedness in the manuscript, while the London newspaper The Independent published a steamy piece in June (We wrote about it in May).

The University of California Press will publish the 740-page first volume of the autobiography in November, on the centennial of the author’s death — just as he requested. The effort is part of the Mark Twain Project and Papers, which works with the largest collection of Twain papers worldwide, housed in UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Liberary. The library has owned the documents since 1949.


The manuscript of the first volume went to the printer’s this week for a test run. But although UC Press is saying it will be one of the most important books they’ve published and that they plan to print a record 50,000 copies, even Twain’s editors didn’t expect the kind of attention the release has been getting.

“I had no idea how the marketing campaign would take off,”  said Harriet Smith, principal editor of the volume. “It kind of snowballed. I guess it is a sexy line to say, ‘suppressed for 100 years, uncensored.'”

Smith, who has been working on the autobiography for five years, said Twain can be political, critical and “quite vicious” in it, but also writes poignantly about his family and the death of his eldest daughter, Susy. She added that most of the material has already been made available to the public — only around five percent of the first volume is as-of-yet unpublished.

UC Press will sell the print version for $34.95, though it can be pre-ordered for less at Barnes and Noble and Amazon.com. The volume will be released simultaneously online at the project’s website, for free.