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Hemingway People

Hemingway People

Opening day of fiesta in Pamplona, July, 2011


I am hopelessly, and a bit happily, behind on posting stories and interviews, but that is because I’ve been traveling for most of the summer. Since coming back from Chile in May, I’ve been to Michigan for the Hemingway Conference, to the Oak Park Hemingway House and Museum, and, at the moment, Key West. I plan to write about each of these visits in separate posts, but today, in honor of Hemingway’s birthday, I am posting a bit about The Hemingway Project itself.

Today marks the third year that The Hemingway Project has celebrated the birth of Ernest Hemingway. I can’t even begin to tell you how much fun I’ve had and, best of all, how many wonderful people I am meeting.  Last year on this day, I was in Spain learning about Hemingway’s love affair with the country and bull running and fighting.  I met and interviewed expats who had been shaped by Hemingway’s books and legacy in Spain. And this year I am in Key West, checking out the island where he lived for 10 years and had one of the most productive stretches in his career as a writer. I’ve also been fortunate enough to meet and see some of the “Papa Look-alikes” who convene at one of Hemingway’s favorite bars, Sloppy Joe’s, as well as other Hemingway aficionados.

The interviews are my favorite part of the project – they combine my love of Hemingway, people, and stories. Everyone has one, and as I have said before, what you read surely becomes part of your own biography.

The Hemingway Project is the study of one writer, his life, and his incredible readership. The goal of The Hemingway Project is to collect stories about Hemingway’s enduring influence.  I see The Hemingway Project as a bridge between the academic world and aficionados and an exploration of the fascinating Hemingway subculture that has existed for decades.

Look-alike contestants in Key West, July, 2012

When I stated the Hemingway Project, I worked in a library and had begun to read as many books by and about Hemingway as I could get my hands on.  Seeing my stack of books in the back room, my co-workers teased me that I was taking Hemingway home with me far too much. But there was some truth to that: Between you and me, I think I was becoming a fanatic. The only comfort is that I am apparently in good company –

It follows that a writer as interesting as Ernest Hemingway would have equally interesting readers. I learned is that there is such a thing as “Hemingway people”, and they are as varied, quirky, interesting, opinionated, and often as loveable as Hemingway himself.  You can find them walking blissfully through the streets of Paris for the first time, or at look-alike contests in Key West, in the sunny plazas and bullrings of Spain, in bookstores and libraries around the world, or in their armchairs, traveling with Ernest to places like Africa, Paris, and Cuba – and, of course, Michigan.  There is even an assembly of them recently in Petoskey, (a grouping which needs it’s own name like a pride of lions or a gaggle of geese) When these people find each other, they tend to become instant friends.

Charlotte Ponder as Grace Hemingway, June, 2012

When I started out, I didn’t have a strong opinion about Hemingway: from what I read online and overheard in the library where I worked, Hemingway was either the best writer, and most alluring male who ever lived, or he was neither.  I wanted to find out.

One of my first interviews was with travel writer David Lansing and his interview really took me by surprise. His responses were surprisingly tender; and his feelings toward Hemingway had a depth and an element of intimacy that I didn’t expect.  Hemingway’s influence on his life was profound and it confirmed for me what a great subject Hemingway is.  Since then, I have interviewed professors, writers, Hemingway relatives, Hemingway wannabees both male and female, Hemingway painters, impersonators, actors and more.

I often interview people who know much more about Hemingway than I do, but that’s how I’ve come to learn so much so quickly. If The Hemingway Project were a photograph, Hemingway would certainly be in it, but not at the center.  In the center are you and I, the people who read his books and make him part of our own life story.

My interviews often reveal remarkable insights, which capture the poignant, bizarre and often hilarious ways in which people interact with Hemingway.

I am always amazed at the variety of subjects and personal stories come up when we are talking about Hemingway; stories about absent fathers and Romanian gypsies, for instance. When I interviewed Kiril Sokoloff, about his mother Alice, we talked a bit about the Dali Llama. Someone emailed me after that interview to say that all things must surely lead to Hemingway, even his holiness!

Gradually, a common theme emerged from the interviews.  I realized, that Hemingway helped most of us become the kind of people we wanted to be. Like Hadley, our lives were enriched and expanded by knowing Hemingway, we were given the keys to the world.

The interviews have helped me see Hemingway as doorway to wider experience and a bigger life. As much as I love researching Hemingway himself, gradually, a parallel story on The Hemingway Project, has became the way Hemingway inspires his readers. This idea dawns on almost every person I interview as they reflect on the experiences they treasure most in their lives and how they came to have them.  Hemingway can almost always be traced back as the source.  This was never more poignant than one evening in Spain, when I was interviewing an American man who has lived in Spain for 42 years. He told the story of how he and his brother ran away from home at age 15 and 17. They traveled west and and crossed the border into Tijuana to watch bullfights.  They had both recently read Death In the Afternoon, and they knew they were just going to have to break their mother’s heart and go – you can’t get that kind of excitement in Iowa.  After several hours of conversation on his stone terrace overlooking the Mediterranean, and after more than a few bottles of wine, he reflected on all that had happened in the decades since he left home. How he avoided the draft and took his young wife to Spain, how he traveled to the Amazon to search for gold. How he had built a substantial fortune in real estate and become an expert on the art of bullfighting. Raising his glass in the evening light, he said with tipsy but sincere gratitude, “We are all the sons and daughters of Hemingway!”

I have had a wonderful time creating this blog. For me, Hemingway was someone who saw the potential of his own life and didn’t waste it. Creating The Hemingway Project has given me incredible new friendships and opportunities that I could not have imagined in the beginning. Reading about him, learning about him, traveling and asking questions has made my life larger and more interesting than it would have been if I hadn’t read Hemingway, which is about the best thing you could ever say about a book or a writer.

Here are a few quotes from The Hemingway Project interviews so far.  I look forward to posting some very interesting interviews soon!  Allie

Bob Orlin about the Hemingway look-a-like contest:

“ . . . it’s an addiction; each year you want it more, and there is no twelve step program, no halfway house, and it’s impossible to kick it cold turkey. . . I’ve gone for the Africa look, the Pamplona look, the fishermen look and even the fringe vested look Papa adapted in Ketchum Idaho. I’ve parted my hair on the left, the right, and down the center, trimmed my beard and let it grow longer for the woollier look. The different guises, plus the graying of my hair and beard, have gotten me into the finals six years in a row, but as yet the big prize has eluded me.”

Brian Gordon Sinclair:

“Hemingway is alive and well in Pamplona.”

“Ernest Hemingway gives me a richness of soul that I never fully possessed before. His life, in a sense, is like a guidebook on how to be a man.”

“If you read this life carefully, very carefully, you will note that many mistakes were made but if you are wise enough, you will see much evidence of the development of the compassionate nature. I cannot speak for others but I can say, without equivocation, I am a better person because of my relationship with Ernest Hemingway.”

“I truly wanted to find a noble Hemingway. Anyone, in examining a life so vast, can find anything that satisfies a particular end or interpretation. My end was nobility and I found it. My Hemingway is a hero!”

“Hemingway loved the raunchy parts of life and to present him as otherwise would be to leave out an integral part of his personality.”

David Lansing

“Doing the whole Hemingway thing in Paris when you are 22 is both wonderful and deadly. Wonderful because you find yourself walking in the footsteps of people like Hemingway and Fitzgerald but also deadly because it is very hard to get them out of your head when you are writing. I kept a blue notebook at the time, which I still have, and it is filled with some of the most awful faux-Hemingway writing you can imagine, stuff so bad that on occasion I’ve been tempted to submit it, as is, to the Bad Hemingway contest. The problem is that I didn’t mean for it to intentionally be silly. It just was.”

“I’ve trekked the Hemingway trail for the better part of three decades. It’s a passion I seldom mention because, frankly, Ernest Hemingway has not been in fashion, particularly with women, for about 50 years. It’s bad enough to admit you like his novels (typical reaction: a bemused smirk), let alone admire his life as a work of art. But I am undeterred. Have I lived in a dingy apartment on the Left Bank in Paris, drinking cold Sancerre wine at well-lit places like Closerie des Lilas? Of course. Sent a stream of bitter red wine down my throat from a Spanish wine skin during the running of the bulls in Pamplona? Like a pro. Hiked up to the snows of Kilimanjaro? Before I was 30. I’ve listened to the mad laugh of hyenas while sleeping in a canvas tent in the Serengeti, sipped prosecco at Harry’s Bar in Venice and stood forlornly in a light snowstorm at his grave in Ketchum, Idaho.” (Quoted from Island Magazine)

David Meeker

“I lived in Barcelona in 1970 and 1971 because I thought I’d like to be a writer. I enjoyed writing (but) what I really discovered was not so much that I wanted to be a writer, I wanted to be Hemingway.”

M Denise C

“I could only be drawn to someone who seemed to be a father figure, a take charge kind of person, a teacher. Not having an emotionally close relationship with my own father, of course I am drawn to someone whose friends and relatives all called him “Papa.”

Hannah Miet

“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 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.

Jerome Tuccille

“I would have loved to get in the ring with him. To have knocked him on his ass, or be knocked on my own ass by him, would probably sell a few hundred copies more of my books.”

Joe Haldeman

“People are fascinated by artists and writers; people who make a living with their imaginations. Hemingway had that and also had a marvelously theatrical personality and an unerring instinct for self-promotion. Add a dramatic suicide to work that seems to speak to many ages and cultures, and you have a writer with a legacy “that has legs.”

John Hemingway

“I think that Ernest recognized himself in his son, and by that I mean that his son’s sexual ambiguity was also his own. Greg, with his crossing dressing and his gender bending activities, really was a chip off the old block. After all, no one asked EMH to write The Garden of Eden, or the short stories, A Simple Inquiry, or A Sea Change. Obviously, Ernest was the one who felt the need to express these themes. As the protagonist of Garden says, they were, in their gender experiments, looking for a “more African sensuality, beyond all tribal law”.

“I think that living in places like Key West and Cuba allowed him to be more the person he was and it put him in touch with those Latin and African elements of Caribbean culture that he found tremendously appealing and probably subversive.”

“I admire him tremendously. I think that he was a great writer and a very interesting man, much more complicated than the general public usually gives him credit for being. Understanding him and what motivated him has helped me in turn to understand my father. I think that he was a compassionate person. He had his problems and his issues but for the most part he was a very generous and vulnerable man. He was a poet in the true sense of the word, always pushing himself into unknown territory.” 

John Sanford, (when asked about the nicknames EH and his sister created for each other):

“Both my mother and Ernest loved to play with words but Ernest won the prize with his characterization of himself as “Papa.” It is interesting to note that he never used that nickname in writing to my mother.”

Joseph Grant

“ . . . the whole men “getting in touch with the female side” in the past two decades or so that has made Hemingway the fall guy for society’s shortcomings. Hemingway should be read and read widely but our perception of him should be viewed within his time and not ‘in our time’, so to speak. Hemingway has weathered the literary sea change before and his words are timeless.”

“Even though it is true that he was an expatriate for most of his life, Hemingway is quintessentially American . . . his work dealt with ideals primarily American – the pursuit of happiness and living large.”

Kirk Curnutt

“Every time you hear about some accountant from Rhode Island gored by a bull at the San Fermin in Pamplona, we have Hemingway to blame.”

Mike Curry

“I think Hemingway’s portrayal of Key West is dead on for the period and in some sense to this day. I can’t speak for Spain or Paris but his writing about Key West is as true as it gets in terms of accuracy. In a way he was reporting. I don’t think his writing affected Key West, I think Key West affected his writing.

He did lead a full life and all of his great experiences seem to have a life and death theme to them; very intense and focused. Of course he didn’t invent bull fighting or Parisian Cafes or big game hunting or deep sea fishing. He just had a deep respect for them and the people who made a living doing those things respected him for it.”

Paco Pereda

“Over the last 100 years ago bullfighting has gone from a popular spectacle followed with devotion to something steeped in controversy and unacceptable to about half the population. Bullfighting has always belonged to the rural world, the conservative and the traditional peoples, the upper classes. Today Spanish society is complex, divided, postmodern, and highly urbanized. Its liberal values repudiate the mentality of risking death and bloody struggle which bullfighting is about.”

“The primary enemies of bullfighting aren’t the environmentalists or pro animal rights activists. The primary enemy is the mediocrity and boredom of today’s bullfighters, which result from their lack of imagination and risk. The plazas are emptying because of the shallow commercial vision and bland performances of the bullfighters and the easy bulls they fight.”

To place oneself in dramatic situations is a sure route to self-knowledge, to discovery of what kind of things are important in one’s life. This ties in with bullfighting: the spectator (the public) watches the bullfight and discovers his own unconscious problems. Hemingway, with bullfighting and the Civil War and Spain itself – I think he understood this kind of revelation.”

“Bullfighting has always belonged to the rural world, the conservative and the traditional peoples, the upper classes. Today Spanish society is complex, divided, postmodern, and highly urbanized. Its liberal values repudiate the mentality of risking death and bloody struggle which bullfighting is about. Bullfighting survives today thanks to the traditional sector of society and the tourists. (Hemingway has played a big role in this). Tourists come here in search of a traditional Spain that no longer exists but is prepared for them with nostalgia.”

Paula McLain

“From a distance, Hadley was simply Hemingway’s “Paris wife,” the way Pauline was his “Key West wife”– but beneath the obvious surface, Hadley was fundamental to the rest of his life and career. He couldn’t have “made” the writer we know now without her influence.”

“Hemingway’s letters are fascinating, as you would expect, and his voice is mesmerizing.” …

“Reading his intimate correspondence and seeing handwritten drafts of The Sun Also Rises and The Moveable Feast changed my perception of Hemingway, which had been colored by his late persona. I couldn’t help but feel compassion for him, his complexity and humanity, and that’s when I knew I wanted to include passages in the book from his point of view—so readers can identify with and understand him too, not just Hadley. It’s a more complex and portrayal, I think, and more true.”

“I think he loved Hadley for the rest of his life. In A Moveable Feast, their marriage is rendered with an almost religious tenderness. Part of why she persisted in his heart and consciousness was her strength of character—she remained a kind of ideal woman for him.”