It's one of the most fascinating places to visit in downtown Buffalo. The Mark Twain Room in the Buffalo & Erie County Central Library contains the handwritten work of the former Buffalo resident who gave the world Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer -- Samuel Clemens, a k a Mark Twain, America's greatest humorist.
These literary jewels were provided in part through the efforts of local lawyer Patrick Martin. The library's Mark Twain Room houses the original, handwritten "Huckleberry Finn" manuscript, as well as other writings and memorabilia.
"Twain is the most democratic of writers, and of course the library cuts across every economic and racial boundary," said Martin.
Martin -- who studied under area Twain experts such as Leslie Fiedler -- negotiated the library's rights to the "Huckleberry Finn" manuscript. For the recent Mark Twain writing competition, Martin arranged for judging by authors such as area natives Joyce Carol Oates, Fiedler, Lauren Belfer and Connie Porter -- as well as the Atlantic Monthly's Roy Blount, Ken Burns' collaborator Dayton Duncan and radio humorist Garrison Keillor.
"Pat Martin's passion for literature is putting Buffalo on the map of places Twain enthusiasts and scholars will recognize and access as a reference," said Kathleen Rooney, who publicized the writing contest. "He's a lawyer more interested in a book than a buck and a great example of how following your dreams can lead to success."
The culmination of Martin's passion will occur Oct. 13 during a daylong Twain celebration in the Central Library starting at 1:30 p.m. The day will conclude at 7:30 with announcement of the competition winners.
Martin's perseverance brought more than 10,000 aspiring writers to the library's Web site to learn about and participate in the Mark Twain Writing Competition. It has been 125 years since Twain wrote "A Murder, a Mystery and a Marriage," but his vision of holding a competition with writers completing their own version of the story finally took place.
And Martin carried on Twain's competitive concept. He discovered Twain's unpublished story while negotiating the return of the "Huckleberry Finn" manuscript and was determined to start the contest. Wanting to further establish the local library as a center for Twain studies, he saw the contest as an opportunity to build awareness of the library's Twain collection and to position the organization as an Internet innovator.
"Twain held on to this idea for decades," Martin said. "I thought it would be wonderful to realize his idea."
For the past year and a half, this Twain enthusiast has devoted his time to organizing the competition, obtaining the publishing rights from the Twain Foundation, working with Atlantic Monthly to publish Twain's original version, as well as negotiating with Norton Books to publish an illustrated, hard-cover edition and with the e-book publisher. There also have been several production companies interested in the film rights.
"I've had calls from around the world. They want to know about Buffalo, N.Y.," Martin said.
Drafted to play major-league baseball in high school, Martin instead took an athletic scholarship to study English and American literature at Duke University. A shoulder injury put an end to dreams about professional sports, and instead he took a job in educational television in Hartford, Conn. another city of residence for Twain -- and became further entranced with Twain's work. Martin enrolled in the University at Buffalo for graduate school, where he studied under two nationally known Twain scholars, Victor Doyno and Fiedler.
Though English was his passion, Martin was also drawn to the legal profession. He was admitted to UB's School of Law and worked on both Love Canal and the City of Buffalo school desegregation cases. This ultimately motivated him to join a firm whose focus was on educational and not-for-profit law.
"When I talk to publishers, 90 percent of it is about literature and 10 percent is about law. It requires someone with my interests to do this," Martin said.
"It's wonderful. I enjoy what I'm doing tremendously."