Nashville Hosts A Citywide Celebration of Mark Twain

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Last year, when the Mayor’s Office and the Nashville Public Library encouraged a citywide read of the works of John Irving, I threw myself in to it. I decided to devour A Prayer for Owen Meany over several weeks, and took myself very seriously. Everywhere I went, I carried my beat-up paperback copy of the novel, intent not only on finishing it, but in being in solidarity with my fellow John Irving-reading citizens. I thought I’d run into them in the park, at the cafe and at the picnic bench behind the NPT building. I thought we’d exchange cool winks and nods, like a secret club. But mostly, I felt alone. And never more so than when I decided to read A Prayer for Owen Meany while waiting on a friend for cocktails at Layl’a, the hip, trendy (though now closed) restaurant in midtown. Imagine beautiful, hip people drinking mojitos and eating tapas at the bar, and there’s me, trying to catch whatever light I can so I can read Irving. Hey, check out that guy reading a BOOK!

When I heard about Nashville’s Citywide Celebration of Mark Twain, I immediately spoke to a friend at the Library and made her promise me I wouldn’t be put in the same awkward situation. Fortunately, I think I’m safe. More than a citywide read, it will be a celebration not only of Twain’s works, but of his life. With over a dozen organizations involved, and even more events scheduled, the whole city should be talking Twain. There’ll be plenty of places I’ll be able to go, paperback tucked in my back pocket, and be among fellow Twainsters.

The celebration, from September, 2009 — May, 2010, will officially kick off on Monday, August 31 at 11:00 a.m. at the fountains at the Public Square Park in front of the Metro Courthouse. A boatload of handmade rafts made by children with the help of YMCA artEMBRACE and Nashville artist Kaaren Engle will set sail in the fountains. The free event will include opening remarks from Mayor Karl Dean, live music, and a visit from the closest thing to Mr. Twain himself.

NPT, of course, is thrilled to be a part of the celebration. To make sure you know all you need to know about Twain’s life, we are bringing back filmmaker Ken Burns‘ excellent two-part, four-hour documentary, MARK TWAIN, on September 3 and 10 at 8 p.m. Drawing from 63 hours of material, thousands of archival photographs and nearly 20 interviews with top writers and scholars, the documentary is the story of Twain’s extraordinary life, full of rollicking adventure, stupendous success and crushing defeat, hilarious comedy and almost unbearable tragedy. Told primarily through the words of Twain himself, viewers of all ages will be personally introduced to this compelling yet contradictory genius.

In addition to Nashville Public Library, NPT and YMCA artEMBRACE, other organizations partnering in the events include our friends at Cheekwood Botanical Garden, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Nashville Children’s Theatre, Metro Parks, People’s Branch Theatre, Tennessee Repertory Theatre, TPAC and Vanderbilt University.

For a full list of events, activities, partners, books and more, for the Twain and Twang website at twainandtwang.org. There also a place there to submit Twain-related photos and artwork. How about photos of you reading Twain in trendy bars and restaurants?

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