For over three decades I poked around in the area of Twain’s connection to my hometown, Buffalo, NY.
I spent countless hours in the Grosvenor Room of the Central Library in downtown Buffalo flipping through pages of the over one hundred volumes of the Local History and Local Biographies scrapbooks, taking notes from pasted newspaper clippings that contained relevant information. I read and cross-referenced entries in Buffalo City Directories of the late 1860s and 1870s searching for names and addresses of Twain’s Buffalo Express colleagues, his fellow renters in a boarding house on East Swan Street while he was still a bachelor, various friends and associates that he socialized with, and neighbors in the posh Delaware District community that he moved into once he married Olivia Langdon. A kind and trusting Buffalo History Museum research librarian once even let me borrow an 1869 Buffalo City Directory that had belonged to Millard Fillmore for a weekend so I could study it at home.
I also logged hour after hour hunched over at cumbersome, hand-cranked, dimly-lit microfilm reader machines at public libraries in Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Elmira, at the former Buffalo Courier-Express library, at the Niagara Gazette library, at the Elmira College archives, and at SUNY Buffalo State’s E.H. Butler Library, scrutinizing each issue of the Buffalo Express, the Buffalo Daily Courier and the Buffalo Commercial-Advertiser from 1869 to 1871 for any references to items related to Twain and the Buffalo he resided in, worked at and wrote about.
Finally, I spent much of those thirty-plus years exploring leads gleaned from obituaries, tips from human sources and hunches that led me to identify and contact living descendants of Twain’s Buffalo professional and social circle who generously shared nuggets of family lore about their forbearer’s association with Twain. I was extremely fortunate to have mentors, too, like Vic Doyno, Bill Loos, Charles Brady, and Martin Fried, and countless other librarians, scholars, friends and family members, to nudge me in the right direction. The research was never tedious or boring. Rather, the detective work was gratifying, often exhilarating. Along the way, I published bits of my findings in academic journals, magazines and newspapers, delivered presentations at Twain conferences and gave illustrated lectures to many service organizations.
Next, I embarked on a book-length project intended to comprehensively document Twain’s affiliation with Buffalo. The result was the publication of Scribblin’ for a Livin’—Mark Twain’s Pivotal Period in Buffalo in 2013. In the four years after its release I participated in over sixty book talks and signings. Occasionally, I met people who provided new insights into Twain’s relationship with Buffalo, and on my own I continued to make startling discoveries. Frankly, I was surprised to be stumbling across heretofore unknown facts in the aftermath of what I had hoped would become the “seminal” book about Twain’s Buffalo experience.
I decided that I wanted to add these new revelations and discoveries in a second, revised version of the book. Unfortunately, after the initial print run of 1,500 copies was fully distributed and sold, the original publisher insisted on only filling subsequent orders “on demand.” These print-on-demand (POD) products were inferior—smaller than the original book, with virtually photocopied pages, and with a lower quality cover–in short, an embarrassing-looking book. Furthermore, when I inquired, the publisher was not at all interested in sponsoring a revised edition with new, additional insights into Twain and Buffalo.
So, in January of 2018 I hired an attorney to pursue termination of my contract. Within a few weeks a legal agreement was struck terminating the contract and reverting all rights for the book to me. By springtime, I had lined up a new publisher, NFB Publishing, and by the end of June, a new, expanded version of Scribblin’ for a Livin’, with thirty additional pages of text, a couple of new images, an improved index, and a colorful new cover design, was available.
Around that time I had noticed on NFB Publishing’s website that one of their book titles—a biography of hall of fame 1920s-30s boxer Jimmy Slattery—was accompanied by an entertaining 10-minute documentary about Slattery; the film was meant to tie-in to the new Slattery biography. When I asked if something similar could be done in conjunction with my expanded edition of Scribblin’, the publisher, Mark Pogodzinski, put me in touch with videographer Kevin Heffernan of Rise Collaborative. I invited Amy Pickard, curator of Rare Books for the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library and supervisor of their Mark Twain Room, and Bob Butler, an Emeritus Professor of English at Canisius College, to be interviewed for their thoughts on Twain’s life and times in Buffalo, and I sought permission ffrom various sources to include still images. Kevin Heffernan filmed the interviews with Bob, Amy, and I in late September and early October of 2018 at Canisius and at the Central Library.
In late November, the 10-minute documentary went public, including a sparkling narration by Holly Kirkpatrick, and extra video “bonus commentaries” by Amy and me. The film covers Twain’s Buffalo period and helps to promote the expanded edition of my book. To my knowledge, it represents the first extended documentary ever produced that focuses on Twain in Buffalo.
COMMENTARY: Scribblin’ For a Livin’ – Mark Twain’s Pivotal Period In Buffalo
BONUS COMMENTARY: Mark Twain Used his Bully Pulpit to both Help his Family, Denounce Racism
BONUS COMMENTARY: Buffalo and Erie County Public Library’s Manuscript of Huckleberry Finn