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Author Reigstad signs books, tells of Twain's connections to Buffalo

By Angelica Rodriguez
On April 17, 2013

 

Buffalo State English professor emeritus and Mark Twain scholar Thomas J. Reigstad held a
signing for the release of his book Scribblin' for a Livin': Mark Twain's Pivotal Period in Buffalo,
Monday at 5 p.m. in the campus bookstore.
 
The book, published in March, covers the classic American author's life in the area, as an editor
for the Buffalo Morning Express.
 
Reigstad first learned of Twain's connection to Buffalo in graduate school at the University of
Missouri. Intrigued, he followed it up throughout the course and longer, over a 30-year period,
and found an interesting trend among the scholastic works he used in his research. It was
enough for him to write several articles and, eventually, his book, which he finished in the
summer of 2012.
 
"I found that most of the literature about Twain in Buffalo - biographies and whatnot - had
dismissed that period of one and a half years as 'insignificant,'" he said. "And as I poked around
reading material on microfilm, and interviewing relatives of Twain's friends in Buffalo, I found
there was a totally different story."
 
In fact, Twain's time in the area was, as the title suggests, a period of change for him. Not only
was his work for the Express "very lively," as Reigstad put it, Twain also compiled a tremendous
social network - and in the centuries before there was anything like the Internet or social media.
 
"He made many friends over [at the Express] that became lifelong friends, long after he moved
from Buffalo - and he also made a lot of social friends, from going to the Presbyterian church,
and people in his neighborhood (the Delaware District), and he kept in touch with Buffalonians
all his life," Reigstad said.
 
More importantly, Twain began to gravitate away from journalism, toward writing literature. He
finished his travel book The Innocents Abroad and also began work on its prequel, Roughing
It, in Buffalo, and quickly realized that he preferred a leisurely life of letters to the grueling full-
time life of a reporter and editor. The choice was made easier when he started receiving book
royalties and his wife received an inheritance from her father after his death.
 
"He made the decision in Buffalo to step away from journalism forever," Reigstad said. "There
was a realization that he didn't want that 9-to-5 grind (as co-editor of the Express)."
 
Twain also inherited waterfront property by what is now Erie Canal Harbor from his wife after
her passing, paying taxes and collecting rent on it for the last six years of his life.
 
"It was property that his ex-father-in-law had bought for his Elmira coal company," Reigstad
said. "The coal would be shipped up the Erie Canal or by train westward, and they dumped the
coal at that property and shipped it to customers across the Great Lakes."
 
Although this information is important to Twain's success as a writer and evolution as a person,
the greater academic world has neglected it, to Reigstad's benefit.
 
"I think Buffalo has suffered from an inferiority complex since 1901, when McKinley was shot
here, that I don't feel is deserved," he said, citing people's perceptions of the weather and
Anderson Cooper's snubbing of Dyngus Day last year as one example of the rest of the country
dismissing the area as second-rate.
 
"It's so typical that pop culture's dismissal of Buffalo has carried over into scholarly dismissal,"
he explained. "Decades of scholars who have written about Twain have only treated (Twain's
connection to Buffalo) superficially... so, to my great fortune, nobody ever seriously probed or
explored that time. So I was able to jump into that hole and pull out some pretty illuminating
stories."
 
Scribblin' for a Livin' is available in the campus bookstore for purchase.
 
Angelica Rodriguez can be reached by email at rodriguez.record@live.com.

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