SINCLAIR LEWIS, the first American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, was a mentor to many aspiring writers during his career. This conference, held in Lewis’ hometown of Sauk Centre, is a tribute to a writer who took the time to help other writers hone their craft. Based on the enthusiastic response following 25 years of writers’ conferences, we will continue our mission of encouraging and inspiring Minnesota writers.
“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug.” This bit of writing wisdom was presented by former WCCO TV news anchor Don Shelby in his portrayal of Mark Twain at the 25th Anniversary Sinclair Lewis Writer’s Conference on the evening of October 10, 2015.
In an interview before his performance, 68-year-old Shelby said he wrote his Twain monologue especially for the event with an emphasis on Twain’s thoughts about writing. Shelby has been working on his Twain impersonation for 25 years, reading everything Twain wrote and sharing ideas with his friend and Twain impersonator Hal Holbrook. Material also came from Twain’s 7,000 lectures, many preserved by newspaper reporters using shorthand. During the monologue, Shelby relayed Twain’s words of wisdom and encouragement for the Writers’ Conference participants. He said, “There are some books that refuse to be written. They stand their ground year after year and will not be persuaded. It isn’t because the book is not there and not worth being written — it is only because the right form of the story does not present itself. There is only one right form for a story and if you fail to find that form the story will not tell itself.” He also advised, “Write without pay until someone offers pay. If nobody offers within three years, the candidate may look upon this as a sign that sawing wood is what he was intended for.”
Twain admitted he had been a writer for 40 years and an ass for 72 years. Perhaps as a demonstration of trait, he went on to talk about the books of Jane Austin. Twain said, “I haven’t any right to criticize books, and I don’t do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticize Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can’t conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Every time I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.” He encouraged the audience to “Read, read, read. Everyone should read good books. Those that don’t, aren’t any better than those that can’t read.” Shelby got a standing ovation for his portrayal of Mark Twain at the Sauk Centre High School Auditorium.
To top off the evening, Bart and Ross Sutter, presented a combination of poetry readings and European folk music. The Sutter Brothers, performed their lively mix of poetry and music along with songs and stories.