These are the portrait lockets that Samuel Clemens and his bride-to-be, Olivia Langdon, gave each other on their engagement. We felt honored just to see what was inside the blue velvet cases. But then Robert popped open the Twain locket, to show us a handwritten note to Olivia underneath.

No one even knows if Olivia ever saw it, or if it was simply Twain's secret message to her. It was discovered when the portraits were taken out of the cases to photograph.

Mark Twain: Novelist, Essayist and Humorist

“Experience is an author's most valuable asset; experience is the thing that puts the muscle and the breath and the warm blood into the book he writes. ”

Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorn Clemens) 1835 - 1910.

Below are some of the books in the vault.

We are thankful to have had this rare opportunity, and we are proud to say that yes, we learned much—as we hope you will as well from this unique interview.  


Berkeley, California

Run time:



Fiction, Nonfiction



Hannibal, MO

Youthful influence:

Newspapers, apprenticeships

Influential writers:

Western humorists

Literary Habit:

Multiple projects going at once; often 2,000 words a day; worked breakfast to 4 p.m.

As a surprise to almost everyone, a century after his death, per his own instructions, the first volume of his three-volume autobiography was published and became an international best-seller. We knew that The Authors Road’s claim to want … “to learn from America’s writers” could not be attained without knowing more about this author and the story of his long and significant career.

On a crisp autumn day in November we visited with Robert H. Hirst in the Twain vault on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley. Robert is the General Editor of the Mark Twain Papers & Project, and he’s devoted a significant part of his life to the study and understanding of this complex, prolific and ever-surprising writer.

Robert Hirst, General Editor, The Mark Twain Papers & Project, and Mark Twain expert

“Mark Twain,” the shout of a boatman measuring a river’s depth, happens to also be the chosen nom de plume of the writer who has, for a century and a half, measured the depths of the American soul. Journalist, travel writer, chronicler of the Wild West, humorist, wit, iconoclast and internationally loved speaker, Twain is one America’s best known, beloved and controversial icons.

Interview Movie
(Embedded version below)

MP3 Audio File
(Note: To download the podcast,
right click on the link if you are on a PC,
control click if you are on a Mac. )

Books (partial)
The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today (1873)
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
The Prince and the Pauper
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
The American Claimant
Tom Sawyer Abroad
Pudd'nhead Wilson
Tom Sawyer, Detective
Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc
A Double Barrelled Detective Story
A Horse's Tale
The Mysterious Stranger (1916, posthumous)

The Innocents Abroad
Roughing It
A Tramp Abroad
Old Times on the Mississippi
Life on the Mississippi (1883)
Following the Equator
Is Shakespeare Dead?
Queen Victoria's Jubilee
Autobiography of Mark Twain
- (1924, Ed. Paine; 1940 Ed. DeVoto; 1959 Ed. Neider; 2010 critical edition Vol. I, Ed. Smith et al.*)

Short Story Collections
The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County
Mark Twain's (Burlesque) Autobiography and First Romance
Sketches New and Old
Merry Tales
The £1,000,000 Bank Note and Other New Stories
The $30,000 Bequest and Other Stories
Letters from the Earth (1962, posthumous)

. . . and numerous other short stories, a play,
poems, essays, articles, and letters.

*The new Autobiography of Mark Twain in three volumes, which could not be published until 100 years after his death. Volume I was issued by University of California at Berkeley Press in 2010, Volume II is expected in early 2013.

Note: The Kennedy Center established the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in 1998. The center's website states that "As a social commentator, satirist and creator of characters, Samuel Clemens was a fearless observer of society, who startled many while delighting and informing many more with his uncompromising perspective of social injustice and personal folly. He revealed the great truth of humor when he said 'against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.' "

The Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley, which houses the Mark Twain Papers & Project.

With special thanks to Randy Heyman of UC Berkley Press and Joni Heyman of Willamette Writers
for helping us connect for this interview, and to Greg Pliska for his excellent music.