Appearing on the cover of the July 14th issue of Time magazine is Mark Twain. Several articles explore Twain’s literary legacy and how a century ago he addressed still-familiar issues like race, religion, and war — and why it’s especially fitting to remember his acerbic honesty and deadly wit during an election year.
In a piece titled “The Seriously Funny Man,” Richard Lacayo writes that by the late 19th century Twain was “the first writer to enjoy the kind of fame reserved until then for Presidents, generals and barn-burning preachers.” Lacayo then goes on to explain why today’s political humorists owe a nod to Twain: “Not quite a century after his death, in 1910, we get a lot of our news from people like him — funnymen (and -women) who talk about things that are not otherwise funny at all. This is an election year in which some of the most closely followed commentators are comedians like Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert and the cast of Saturday Night Live. All of them are descended from that man in the white suit.”
The issue also includes a two-page spread highlighting Twain’s success as a travel writer. A map traces his voyages around the world and listed are his travel narratives, which include The Innocents Abroad (his first full-length book and the bestselling of his works during his lifetime), Roughing It (his adventures in the American West and Hawaii), Life on the Mississippi (his tenure as a riverboat pilot, a profession he claimed to love “far better than any I have followed since”), and Following the Equator (a record of the round-the-world lecture tour he undertook to pay off his debts).
Briefly mentioned in the article “Mark Twain: Our Original Superstar” by Roy Blount Jr. is the fact that Twain’s mansion in Hartford, Connecticut, is facing foreclosure due to financial difficulties. It’s shameful that a place where people can go to learn about the life of “our original superstar” might no longer exist. It’s certainly no laughing matter. –Shannon McKenna Schmidt