Back in 1991, as a teaching assistant at Western Kentucky University, Ned Johnson discovered his talent for portraying Mark Twain. "It was during a graduate seminar on Twain I was taking. My professor had said we wouldn't have to take an exam if I did an imitation in front of the class. I'll never forget the 11 pairs of eyes looking at me. I knew I had no choice but to do it,'' said Johnson, who is now a professor at St. Petersburg College in Tarpon Springs. He will no doubt be including Twain, who was born 174 years ago Nov. 30, in his syllabus next spring when he teaches American Literature II: 1865 to Present.
What is on your nightstand?
I always keep Tales From Margaritaville on my nightstand. Whenever I need a good laugh I can find a couple in Jimmy Buffett, and you can see a Twain influence, along with Hemingway, of course, in his writing. And, I also always have Maya Angelou nearby. Her poetry and her memoirs are some of the best writing since cavemen drew on the walls. She shows that you can overcome anything with the proper mind-set.
And we need to take advantage of your expertise. What Twain do you recommend?
The Mysterious Stranger and The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg are two great stories, and I also need to mention The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. Twain was able to show true humanity like nobody else has been able to do.
Piper Castillo, Times staff writer, firstname.lastname@example.org