‘New’ Mark Twain Story to Be Published

BY Arts Desk  March 12, 2009 at 1:38 PM EST

It’s been a busy week for famous dead writers. On Monday, a nearly 400-year-old portrait of William Shakespeare was uncovered in England. Now comes news that a previously unpublished short story by Mark Twain will come out next week, nearly 99 years after his death.

The Strand Magazine, a quarterly mystery publication, will publish Twain’s short story, “The Undertaker’s Tale.” It’s a story about an orphan taken in by an undertaker and his family, who are struggling to repay a debt to a villainous character.

“It has all the ingredients that make a Twain story great,” said Andrew Gulli, The Strand’s editor. “It’s sentimental, yet there’s that biting wit.”

Samuel Langhorne Clemens, the great American humorist and author who wrote under the pen name of Mark Twain, died in 1910, leaving behind a trove of letters, papers and unpublished work. “The Undertaker’s Tale” was in the possession of the Mark Twain Papers and Project, a working archive at the University of California.

The story came into Gulli’s possession after he learned that HarperStudio, an imprint of HarperCollins, had obtained the rights to publish a book of Twain’s short stories and essays later this year. After some negotiating with HarperStudio, Gulli was granted rights to publish the story ahead of the book.

“As an editor you always hear rumors about unpublished manuscripts from great writers, and many times you don’t take them seriously,” said Gulli. “It’s always been a dream of mine to publish something by a writer like Mark Twain.” Though at least 100 years old, Gulli said “The Undertaker’s Tale” is timeless.

The Strand, which was resurrected in America in 2000 after folding in England in 1950, has published work by John Mortimer, Ray Bradbury and Edward Hoch, among others. In its first life, from 1891 to 1950, the magazine published the first Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, and work by H.G. Wells, Agatha Christie, Rudyard Kipling and others.

HarperStudio’s collection, “Who Is Mark Twain?” will be published April 21.