Buffalo & Erie County Public Library Staff Review by Anne Conable:
This brand new book by local publisher Prometheus Books is a must read by anyone interested in Mark Twain and his life in literature, or Buffalo during the booming post-Civil War era. Tom Reigstad, long-time Buffalo State College professor, now retired, is Buffalo’s definitive “Twain expert” and this very readable history of Twain’s time living in Buffalo (1869-71) early in his career is a capstone on Reigstad’s many years of careful research on and clear passion for Twain’s association here.
Reigstad sets out to dispute the longstanding mythology about Twain in Buffalo, that his time here was “nothing but tragedy, terrible weather, no friends.” The portrait his research paints here is one of a vibrant personality writing for and managing one of Buffalo’s newspapers, who during this very pivotal period decides his path is not a journalistic but a literary one, marries the love of his life, becomes a father, and is known by all the leading lights of Buffalo in that day.
The streets he walked, the businesses and buildings of a bustling downtown, and many of the people he knew during this time are revealed in vivid detail – this is a completely different city than we know today! His marital home on Delaware Avenue (provided and lavishly furnished by Twain’s father-in-law who protectively put only the bride’s name on the deed), long demolished, is recreated for us both on the page and in numerous photographs. As we know, the Twain/Clemens family did leave their first home and Buffalo after illness and great sorrow. Reigstad traces not only the personal history thereafter but the new arc of Twain’s career and the influences that linked both his writing and his life to this important foundational time. Here is a very different picture than we think we know of Twain the man, and Reigstad’s exhaustive research bears out his arguments against the mythology in very accessible style.
There are dozens of books written about Mark Twain and his exceedingly important contributions to American literature. This new book is a definitive addition to that scholarship, but should also be read by anyone interested in WNY history beyond living memory.
Author Thomas Reigstad will discuss Scribblin’ for a Livin’ at the downtown Buffalo & Erie County Public Library on Wednesday, April 10 at 12 noon, with copies available afterward for purchase and signing.