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MAKE YOUR MARK BY DRAWING YOUR OWN TWAIN CONCLUSION

Ready to step into the shoes of Mark Twain?

Then pick up your pencil or fire up your computer.

The contest to finish an unpublished short story Twain wrote 125 years ago has begun -- and it's already bringing international attention to Buffalo's Samuel Clemens connection.

"It's just amazing how word of this is traveling," said Diane J. Chrisman, director of the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library. The library has already fielded inquiries about the contest from as far away as England.

The library is sponsoring the writing contest, which will challenge aspiring writers to come up with an ending to Twain's unpublished 1876 short story "A Murder, a Mystery and a Marriage."

Library officials, local politicians and representatives of Atlantic Monthly magazine and book publisher W.W. Norton & Co. are in town to kick off the contest, which begins today and will end June 1. The library recently sold publication rights to the short story to the Atlantic and Norton. Sale prices have not been disclosed.

The way the contest works is simple:

Those who wish to enter -- or perhaps just read Twain's story -- can go to the library's Web site (www.buffalolib.org) or request a copy by mail by calling the library's Office of Community Relations at 858-7181. There is a $5 shipping charge for mailing.

On the Internet or by mail, entrants will be provided with the first half of Twain's short story. There will also be a contest application and a set of contest rules and regulations.

The challenge?

Write an ending for Twain's story, based on the first half of the text -- the part that is being unveiled.

Be as creative, as witty, as Twainesque as possible.

But remember what Twain said about writing in a 1868 letter: "To get the right word in the right place is a rare achievement."

After the contest ends June 1, Twain's full story -- with the original ending he wrote -- will be published in Atlantic Monthly on June 15 and as a hardcover book by Norton this fall.

Prizes will be announced and a gala celebration will be held in Buffalo in October, library officials said.

The contest includes categories for writers at different levels -- from school-age writers to international entrants -- and will offer cash prizes in each category, library officials said.

A panel including "City of Light" author Lauren Belfer and author and Western New York native Joyce Carol Oates will judge some categories.

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