Fuck Yeah, Hemingway! An Interview with Hannah Miet
I am delighted to introduce you to Hanah Miet, whose interview has been in works for almost a year. As you know, I have been collecting stories and interviews of how Hemingway has influenced his readers. I have learned that the ways in which Hemingway endures are as varied as the people who hold his books in their hands. What fascinates me is how Hemingway’s work belongs to each us in a different way. No matter how many books are published that tell us who Hemingway was or what he intended to say in a particular paragraph, in the end we will take with us part of what we bring to it: our own story, our own dilemmas, entwined with the work and the record of a man who completely understood the potential of his own life.
One of the reasons that I am so pleased to hear from Hannah is that she is a young woman, entirely engaged in the concerns of her own era, which is not the usual profile for someone obsessed with Hemingway. Her website, Fuck yeah, Hemingway reflects her wit and intelligence, and has helped to introduce younger people to Hemingway in a way that is contemporary and refreshingly original. I know you will enjoy her interview.
In the coming weeks I will be posting my thoughts on my first bullfight, along with interviews from Spain and more Hadley audio. It’s great to be back!
Hannah Miet is a freelance journalist and master’s candidate at the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism. She started Fuck Yeah, Hemingway (http://fuckyeahhemingway.tumblr.com), which is open to submissions. (Please submit!)
AB: How did you become interested in Hemingway?
HM: I liked Hemingway when I read him in high school, but the obsession kicked in when I read A Moveable Feast while studying abroad in Paris. I was taking an expat literature course called “Paris Through the Eyes of Travelers.”
It was an intimate way to experience Hemingway, and in such a sensual city. I heard the echoes of another time period.
When I came back to New York, I re-read all the Hemingway books I owned and bought what I didn’t already own. I fell in love with the perfection of his sentences. I’d trace over the good ones before turning the page, memorizing their structure.
AB: You live a very different life than Hemingway did, who was born in 1899 and used a typewriter as his writing instrument, and yet I am sure there are many points of connection. What are they for you?
HM: Hemingway believed in hard work and was also incredibly hard on himself. The former was the key to his success and the latter was the key to his downfall. We have both of these things in common. I see Hemingway’s death as a reminder to hold myself to reasonable standards. I’m just getting started, and good writing takes time.
AB: Why did you start “Fuck yeah, Hemingway” and please explain what Tumblr is!?
HM: Fuck Yeah, Hemingway was fuel for my obsession — an excuse to carry around Hemingway’s books on the subway, re-reading and underlining my favorite passages in order to re-type them later. I also hoped it would reach both Hemingway fans and people who may not have read many of his books, who might find a connection to his sentences.
AB: I love how you bring Charles Bukowski and Notorious B.I.G onto the same page as Hemingway. What do you know of Bukowski’s interest in Hemingway? And how do your readers make the association with Hemingway and these other figures?
HM: I get the sense that Bukowski greatly admired Hemingway and also found himself inadequate by comparison. This is most prominent in “Hemingway Never Did This”:
I read that he lost a suitcase full of manuscripts on a
train and that they never were recovered.
I can’t match the agony of this
but the other night I wrote a 3-page poem
upon this computer
and through my lack of diligence and
and by playing around with commands
on the menu
I somehow managed to erase the poem
believe me, such a thing is difficult to do
even for a novice
but I somehow managed to do
now I don’t think this 3-pager was immortal
but there were some crazy wild lines,
now gone forever.
it bothers more than a touch, it’s some-
thing like knocking over a good bottle of
and writing about it hardly makes a good
still, I thought somehow you’d like to
if not, at least you’ve read this far
and there could be better work
down the line.
let’s hope so, for your sake
As for Biggie and the other memes and mashups I post on FYH, Hemingway is part of pop culture. I think modern remixes and transformations of his work are interesting and it seems like FYH’s followers do too.
AB: What do you think your reader demographic is for “Fuck yeah, Hemingway” and why?
HM: A lot of teenagers follow FYH, but so do many older literary nerds. (I think. It’s hard to determine age on Tumblr.) Hemingway writes very simply and that’s why he gets across to young people. He’s not pretentious. At the same time, the simplicity is only in presentation and there’s depth underneath, which is why there are Hemingway scholars.
AB: There are so many images of Hemingway – as a writer, a sportsman, a traveler, a bully, an artist. His persona extends from kitsch to academic – how do you see Hemingway and what has influenced you to see him that way? What is real?
HM: I don’t buy into Hemingway’s personas. Personas are crafted. They’re never real.
The Hemingway I hold on a pedestal is the writer of great sentences.
In his personal life, he was kind of an asshole.
AB: What is your favorite Hemingway era? Paris, Key West, Spain, Cuba?
HM: Paris. Hands down.
AB: Does Hemingway ever disappoint you?
HM: Frequently. I tried to get through The Dangerous Summer. I couldn’t. Not all of Hemingway’s work is good work.
I also can’t abide Hemingway’s portrayal of women. They are nothing more than vehicles for his male protagonists, for their lust, their love, their unfulfillment. They are not three-dimensional.
A possible exception is Catherine in Garden of Eden, which is Hemingway’s most provocative novel when it comes to gender. Catherine’s and her boo, Peter, switch gender roles throughout the novel. She calls him, “my girl, Catherine” as she mounts him.
But while it’s Hemingway’s best stab at an empowered female character, it still isn’t feminism. Catherine needs to assume the role of a man in order to have dominance. In becoming Catherine’s “girl,” Peter becomes submissive. It admirably stretches, but still reflects, the hetero-normative stereotypes of his time.
AB: How can a woman be like Hemingway?
HM: A woman can be like Hemingway the same way that a man can – by working really hard.
Writing is a science. When I think of female writers who are “like” Hemingway, I think of those who embrace the science of sentences. When Joan Didion was fifteen, she wanted to see how Hemingway’s sentences worked so she began typing them out, feeling their rhythms on her fingertips. “There was just something magnetic to me in the arrangement of those sentences,” she said in the first “Art of Nonfiction” interview in the Paris Review. “Because they were so simple—or rather they appeared to be so simple, but they weren’t.”
Joan Didion also has the “shock-proof shit detector” that Hemingway said every writer needs. She’s meticulous and detailed, but she travels light. There’s no excess, no persona. I think that many young writers confuse having a writerly persona with being a writer. They want to be like Hemingway by drinking lots of whiskey, hunting or traveling. And while emulating Hemingway’s machismo is a fast track to becoming a semi-worldly drunk, it doesn’t make you a writer. Hemingway’s comic book persona, the one he intentionally crafted for us on his African safaris and his boxing bouts and his fishing trips, the one that is parodied in Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris,” will teach you nothing about writing. The lessons are in his sentences.
A woman can be like Hemingway by dedicating her life to the craft of writing sentences and working hard to be better. Extra hard, because we still are not seen as equals despite how far we’ve come. We need to be relentless.
AB: If you could meet Hemingway at any point in his life when would it be and what would you like to do?
HM: I have no desire to meet Hemingway. I don’t think we’d get along.