How Samuel Clemens Got His Pen Name
By Richard Conniff
In the mid-19th century, almost everyone dreamed of going out into the far corners of the world and discovering amazing new species. While working as a printer’s apprentice, one typical young American read an account of Amazonian exploration and became “fired with a longing to ascend” the river. He found a fifty dollar bill in the street and took off for this “romantic land where all the birds and animals were of the museum varieties.” He traveled from Cincinnati down the Ohio River and the Mississippi to New Orleans to embark on a ship to Pará, Brazil, at the mouth of the Amazon. His hopes were dashed, however, when he found that there was no ship leaving for Pará and never had been. He soon went bust in New Orleans and instead turned his attention to the river at hand. The experience, recorded in Life on the Mississippi and other books, would give him his pen name – Mark Twain.
About the author: Richard Conniff is an award-winning magazine writer, a frequent commentator on NPR, and a guest columnist for the New York Times. His writing on the natural world and animals has led to adventures around the globe, often in the footsteps of the original species seekers. His most recent book is Swimming with Piranhas at Feeding Time, and he tells the story of Twain and other adventurers in a new hardcover book, The Species Seekers: Heroes, Fools, and the Mad Pursuit of Life on Earth.