Sat 11/9 @ 1PM
After releasing two books in as many years — Lost Cleveland and Cleveland Then and Now — local author and Plain Dealer reporter Laura DeMarco is back with her latest effort, Mark Twain’s America Then and Now.
The book uses nearly 200 pictures to trace Twain’s journey through 69 locations, including Cleveland and Cincinnati. In fact, noting the great American writer’s connection to Northeast Ohio, DeMarco is launching her book release with an intimate conversation and book signing event Sat 11/9 at the Louis Stokes Wing of the Cleveland Public Library.
It turns out that’s the same location Twain launched his famous “The Vandal Abroad Tour” on November 17 1968 at Cleveland’s Case Hall.
CoolCleveland talked to DeMarco about the iconic author’s travels and his deep connection to Cleveland.
CoolCleveland: After two books about Cleveland, you shifted gears into exploring Mark Twain’s travels. How did the new project come together?
Laura DeMarco: I’ve always been a big Mark Twain fan, especially of his nonfiction writing. It turned out my publisher was a huge Mark Twain fan as well. This company has published some books about Civil War monuments and battlefield. He had this idea to take a “then and now” approach with Mark Twain and just sort of retell his biography through the geography of his life.
CC: What’s unique for you is the book includes a Cleveland slant, but it’s not Northeast Ohio-centric.
LD: No, not at all. The idea for this was just to take a look at this great American writer and all of the places that formed him. So, of course, the first things that come to mind are Missouri, the Mississippi River, the Wild West, Hartford, New York City and Europe where he traveled.
CC: That said, what did you learn about Twain’s history in Cleveland?
LD: Even I as a Cleveland historian was surprised as I did the research as to how strong his Cleveland connections were. A lot of Mark Twain fans, or fans of American literature, will know that his first really prominent work was called The Innocents Abroad. It was a nonfiction book about how he went on this boat cruise to the Middle East with very wealthy American Protestants. One of the people on tour was a Cleveland society matron named Mary Mason Fairbanks. They really bonded. She too was a journalist and they became fast friends. Not too long after they came home from the cruise, he ends up coming to Cleveland to visit her because her husband, Abel Fairbanks, was very wealthy in town. He owned the Cleveland Herald newspaper. So Twain comes to Cleveland, hangs out with them and gets this idea he’s going to buy this newspaper. For several reasons this didn’t work out, but I just think it’s pretty amazing that Mark Twain, instead of becoming this great American writer, might have ended up a Cleveland newspaper owner.
CC: Finally, what is it about Mark Twain that keeps him relevant nearly 110 years after his death?
LD: So many of his insights about human nature, social justice, government and society are still so relevant today. Huckleberry Finn is really a story about social justice and a man’s evolution from being this kind of racist small-town southern boy to realizing how terrible slavery was, but it was more than that. If you read Mark Twain’s writing, he’s so critical of government corruption and politicians, but he does it all with such wit and empathy that he’s always entertaining to read too. He had such insight into human nature. When you read that, you realize human nature really hasn’t changed very much.