The first-ever Mark Twain Motherload Festival was appropriately held in Angels Camp, a Gold-Rush-era town located in the Calaveras County foothills where Twain spent 88 days journaling his observations during the winter of 1864-1865. His visit became famous thanks to Twain’s short story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” which hasn’t been forgotten by folks in this region.
By all measures, the inaugural festival, held October 15-17, was extremely well received by locals and admirers of the writer. “The success of our festival was no surprise in view of the fact that everyone on the program and most in the audience were devoted fans of Mark Twain,” said Ralph Alldredge, one of the event’s planners. “More than any other author, Twain inspires readers to embrace the best attributes of his character: wit, humor, irreverence, and a passion for living life to its fullest.”
The event opened with a symposium on the Autobiography of Mark Twain: Volume 1, which included Mark Twain Project editor Victor Fischer; Ron Powers, New York Times best-selling author of Mark Twain: A Life; Linda Morris, Twain scholar and UC Davis professor emeritus; and Gregg Camfield, professor and Twain scholar at UC Merced. The symposium participants discussed the autobiography’s release as well as Twain’s connection to the area, which is now a destination hub for outdoor recreation and wine tasting.
Pulitzer Prize- and Emmy Award-winning author Ron Powers gave the festival’s keynote address while local political artist Will Durst and very convincing Mark Twain impersonators provided evening entertainment. Will Fleet, president of the California Press Association and publisher of the Fresno Bee, presented the first-ever Mark Twain Award to the writer himself, born Samuel Clemens, for his contributions to journalism and literature in California. The event’s steering committee plans to recognize journalists annually with the Mark Twain Award, but felt it was appropriate for the first honor to be given to the award’s namesake.
Alldredge hopes to bring more Mark Twain festivities in the future. “Our success this year almost guarantees that we will be able to realize our ambition of making the Mark Twain’s Motherlode Festival an annual literary event and expand its reach well beyond Calaveras. Be sure to put it on your calendar for next October.”