National Book Awards Acceptance Speeches

Justin Kaplan, Winner of the 1967 ARTS AND LETTERS AWARD for

Mark Twain said he hated the past because it was so "damned humiliating;" hated prying; hated to read over old letters, they "make my flesh creep," he said. His biographer is inevitably his enemy, and there were nights during the writing of this book when punishment from beyond the grave seemed perfectly possible. There were also, when this book was finished and its subject laid to rest once again, weeks of a very powerful emotion which I finally recognized as grief.

The terms that I had to arrive at with Samuel Clemens were these: That the purpose of biography is not to tame a man's wildness but to devise a form of literary narrative in which he seems to be acting out his complexities once again -- the point being that a man's life may not be a work of art, but his biography ought to acknowledge certain strivings in that direction.