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Pilgrimage, Poetry, and Song: An Interview with H. R Stoneback

Pilgrimage, Poetry, and Song: An Interview with H. R Stoneback

Dear Readers,

It is my pleasure to finally publish this interview with H. R Stoneback. Stoney is a Distinguished Professor of English at the State University of New York.  He has published several scholarly books on Hemingway and Paris, most notably, Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises (Kent State UP) as well as 35 volumes of poetry and literary criticism. For a more in depth look at Stoney’s achievements, please see his full biography at the end of the interview, which includes more information about the books he has written.

Fondly, Allie

Pilgrimage, Poetry, and Song: An Interview with H. R Stoneback

AB: I have not had the chance to sit down and talk with you yet, but I have spent a lot of time with you through your work! One thing that occurs to me is that you have three ways of expressing yourself, three languages really: poetry, song, and prose. Which of these came first, and which of these three is most important to you?


Visiting Lecture Poster–Stoney 2013


HRS:  First let me say this, Allie: you are the kind of reader that writers dream of having–curious and attentive, driven by an engagement that is both precise and passionate. Now, your first question, a good one that requires a long and complicated answer. In one sense, the “three languages” of poetry, song, and prose do seem like different languages, different creative undertakings, yet I don’t think I have ever felt them as completely separate acts of mind and spirit. Let me begin at the beginning.

My parents always told me that from the 2nd grade on I would always say: I am going to be a writer, a poet, a singer, a storyteller. My parents were both literary people. I do not mean in a professional sense–they were amateur in the good old true sense of that much abused word, amateurs who loved and practiced literature as a passion not a profession. Well, my father was a much-published poet who probably made a little money from poetry. He was known as the Poet Laureate of Atlantic City when he was 19 years old. Long before my time. He was also a legendary jazz pianist and he made much more money in nightclubs than at poetry readings or from publishers of poetry. Plus ca change . . . What else is new?  But his poetry and music careers were essentially over before I was born and I knew my father as a man who loved poetry and music and made his living as a factory laborer. Almost everything was lost in the Great Depression, so I grew up in the poorest of poor neighborhoods but we had a house full of books and music, old bookcases that had been in the family for generations full of old (and new) books, a piano that was played for hours every day–everybody in the family played and it was like waiting in a long line to get your turn at the piano. Of course, other instruments, too–especially guitars from age 8 or so on. We read all the time and talked about the books we read. Before any of us were teenagers, my older brother and sister and I wrote/improvised plays based on the classic novels in my father’s library, and we acted out our plays on the street, charging neighborhood kids 5 cents to watch. As a family, we gathered around the radio after dinner and listened to the best radio dramas and afterwards analyzed plot and character, language and style. In short, song and story were passed on to me from infancy, from before I can even remember exactly.

Here’s a question for you Allie–maybe you or your readers can identify this play. There was a play–I suppose it was a children’s play and I don’t remember the name of it or the author–but the central character was named Mr. Tell-Us-A-Story-Man. I played that character in at least two different productions of the play–at school and at Sunday School when I was in the 3rd and 4th grades–so when I was 9 and 10 years old. I wish I could find that play–google-searching has been no help. I can see the text of the play in its published form, printed on cheap already yellowing paper. I remember that I memorized the lines but then improvised and changed lines where I thought the stories that Mr. Tell-Us-A-Story-Man told to his listeners did not ring true or the language was wrong. I also remember convincing the play director that Mr. Tell-Us-A-Story-Man should also sing a song or two. That wasn’t in the script. What’s my point? That I believed from the earliest age that writing and singing, storytelling and song were inseparable things. Not different languages.

By the third grade, then, I was the local go-to-guy for story and song–at school, at church, at summer camp. Some of my most vivid and numinous memories are of summer camp, where, all of us gathered around a bonfire in the woods, I told stories and sang songs. For me, nothing has changed–I still feel that reading and teaching and making poetry, fiction, and song is an act of communion by a community gathered around a sacred fire, a feu de joie. (That’s French for bonfire–sometimes the French do have a way of saying things truly.)

I don’t know if you know this, Allie, but let me put in a plug here for my old friend Jerry Jeff Walker, one of the greatest singer/songwriter storytellers of our time. His two greatest hits are “Bo Jangles” and “Stoney”. He has released many versions of these two songs in his dozens of albums over the last 45 years. Of course, the song called “Stoney” is about me, an evocation of the old days when Jerry Jeff and I were on the road together, hitchhiking kid troubadours in the early 60s. I don’t know which is worse–the long lines for autographs I have to sign if I attend a Jerry Jeff concert or the inane questions about the song sent to me by would-be interviewers. I’ll only say this here: anybody listening to the song for the first time (and some listening to it for the 1000th time) should pay close attention to what the words actually say, the exact nature of one singing storyteller’s salute to another singing storyteller.

Stoney & Sparrow: Riverboat Performance, Hudson River 1987

I take it for what it is, the finest compliment one writer can pay to another writer. (For the long and complicated back-story to the song, readers will have to consult my forthcoming volume, The Stoney and Sparrow Songbook Volume One, which includes 50 of my songs and the stories behind the songs.) Again my point is, in response to your question: no, I do not feel that poetry, song, and prose are three different languages.

Yet, surely there is much about our culture, especially academic culture, that seeks to impose a narrow rigidity and thus a compartmentalization of poetry, song, prose. What do I mean? Examples, please, a voice says. Here’s an easy one. In many perhaps most English Departments, as well as in certain publication circles, there is a separation between the scholar-critics and the creative writers. All writing is, or should be, creative. Maybe we should ban the word creative, along with iconic and relatable–but no, I reckon we’re stuck with the word creative and the fallacious rift it implies regarding different kinds of writing. I’ve always believed that literary criticism and scholarly studies should draw from profoundly creative wellsprings, should be written as well as the best poetry and prose, and should be understood as the hardest kind of writing to do well. I have never had any truck with the parties on either side of the rift–neither the creative writers who dismiss literary criticism and scholarly writing nor the scholar-critics with their disdain for creative writers.

Maybe this rift, this cultural divide is not as bad as it used to be. A little background: I chose to do my PhD at Vanderbilt because I believed it might be the only institution in America where the English faculty valued all kinds of writing and made no false distinctions. Think of the names associated with Vanderbilt–John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, Robert Penn Warren, Cleanth Brooks, Andrew Lytle and many others. Their finest poems are acts of critical intelligence, their lyrical literary criticism sings with the poetry of precision and passion, their fiction is an incarnation of historical and scholarly and poetic precision in service to storytelling. It all sings, and so did they–some of them. Some were,( as far as writing goes), my cherished mentors.

From that ample non-compartmentalized world, I entered the world of the public university where I understood immediately that if I wanted to earn tenure and promotion I must publish scholarly and critical work in the field they had hired me to teach. That was fine with me because I wanted to make my name as a scholar-critic. But I was surprised, after the amplitude of Vanderbilt, by the kind of hermetically sealed compartmentalization and divisive labeling that came with supposedly different kinds of writing. Thus, for example, when I published poetry or fiction I did so under a pseudonym or if under my name I did not mention such publication to colleagues or in my annual faculty report. And singing, forget it, don’t breathe a word of it. As a young Assistant Professor I was very active as a singer-songwriter, but when singing in clubs to supplement my paltry wages I always made sure the clubs were far enough away from my campus and I performed under many different names. It was something like–what’s that scripture about hiding your light under a basket–the Book of Matthew, isn’t it? Under a bushel, I think the King James says and it’s still the best.

I do not think I am exaggerating the compartmentalization that reigned in the academic world of the 1970s. In fact, my university was far better in this regard than many places that I heard about. I do know exactly when the enforced separation of languages and the concealment of different lights ended for me. In 1984 I was appointed by the U.S. Government to a Senior Fulbright position in China, though I felt far too young to be a senior anything. I was further honored by the fact that my appointment was to Peking University, the place that both governments informed me was the elite institution of China. I was sent there as a Faulkner and Hemingway scholar and I was determined to live a quiet scholarly life, teach my Faulkner and Hemingway seminars, and study Chinese literature and language.

But the Chinese had something else in mind. Maybe they were free from the compartmentalization of talents that reigned in American universities. Maybe in that extraordinary year for China, 1984, they were open to and hungry for whatever light could be discerned. In any case, my time in China was anything but the quiet scholarly life I had envisioned. They had a gift for finding out what you did beyond your scholarly specialty, all the hidden talents not mentioned on your CV.

So it wasn’t long before, for example, I would go on a speaking tour to such places as Shanghai or Jinan, give a visiting lecture on Hemingway to a large audience, followed almost immediately by a reading of my poems and, after a dinner break, by a Stoney & Sparrow concert of American country, folk, and gospel songs. Before we left China, my lectures on Hemingway and Faulkner were published in Chinese in various venues, my poems were published in Chinese journals (sometimes translated into Chinese), my songs I had written for China were published (in English and Chinese) in many newspapers and magazines, we had “hit records” and we were regulars on Chinese radio and television. It was an exhilarating year, finally to do everything that you had always loved to do, utterly free from any false division and dissociation, to be a scholar and a poet and a singer and storyteller all in the same day. And the great gift given to me by China was the burial forever of any kind of compartmentalization of the languages of poetry, song, prose, literary criticism and scholarship. For them, all the languages and lights were one, as they have always been for me. One reason this answer had to be so long was that you asked a very good, complicated question. All the lights and languages are one, for me, and since they are one they are equally important. They all came first and I hope they will all last to the end.

AB:  You write that you were teaching Faulkner in Paris in 1974, and at that time, Hemingway was passé.  What was the moment you rediscovered Hemingway for yourself, contrary to popular opinion?


Stoney writing on the balcony of his apartment, Ile Saint-Louis, Paris

HRS: I think you’re quoting my Hemingway’s Paris: Our Paris? Right? Maybe I should say I don’t want to repeat myself and the answer is in that book so all your readers will buy it and support good independent publishers like New Street. But I’ll try to answer in a different way than I might have already written. It sometimes amazes people when, given my identity as a Hemingway scholar and all the things I’ve written on Hemingway, they learn that I never studied Hemingway in any of my many classes on American literature, taken at three different universities for three degrees–BA, MA and PhD. In fact, in a course or two where Hemingway was listed in the syllabus he was omitted for reasons of time–really, probably the politics of the 60s. All my degrees were earned in the 60s and the grievous omission or dismissal of Hemingway seems to me emblematic of that decade. In all the literary circles where I moved then, there was definitely in the air a tone of amused condescension or sometimes disdain even outright hatred of Hemingway. I suppose that was the baggage that came with the macho Papa Myth; maybe also some kind of inevitable reaction against a major writer in the period immediately after his death.

Anyway, it’s true that I never really studied Hemingway as a student, undergraduate or graduate. My great literary passion in the mid-60s was Faulkner and both my MA and PhD studies were centered on Faulkner and other Southern Renascence writers. Also, a good deal of Joyce and the Irish writers. Fresh out of graduate school, I was hired as a specialist who would teach Faulkner & the Southern Renascence, as the territory was called then, as well as Joyce and the Irish Renaissance.

Let me back up a minute, to my teenage years before college. Of course, I had read a good deal of Hemingway in high school and what we called junior high school, even earlier. Hemingway was inescapable, especially for a kid who had announced in the 3rd grade that he was going to be a writer. The word Hemingway was, in the 1950s, the very word, the synonym for writer.In some circles he still is ( check out the Hemingway allusions in a TV series like Law & Order. Or have you seen that recent Mercedes commercial? It shows a picture of the Colosseum in Rome with no identifying tag and underneath the Colosseum is the word: BUILDING; then a picture of Hemingway with no identification and under his famous face the word WRITER; then, of course, a photo of a Mercedes with the word CAR underneath.)

During my 1950s boyhood, I don’t think the deleterious effect of the Papa Myth had invaded literary culture in the 50s anywhere near the extent it did in the 60s. People read his work and admired it. I read his work and admired it. I remember when I first read For Whom the Bell Tolls when I was 13, in the attic of my grandmother’s house on the South Jersey shore; and how the attic smelled with its unpainted wooden wainscoting and the summer ocean breeze coming in the window is still part of what I feel when I reread and teach For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Great books do that–they make where you are when you read them come more alive and the place lives in your memory along with the feeling of your first reading of the book the way the odor of trees and rivers and the aroma of lilacs lives in what might as well be called the soul though we call it memory. My grandmother, an avid reader, was a big Hemingway fan and had many of his books and I must have read more of them in her house but I can’t remember the others, probably because I did not read them in her attic but down in the living room or on the front porch in the rocking chair next to my grandfather where the aroma of his eternal cigar was stronger than prose. My father–the poet and jazz musician you met in my last answer–also admired Hemingway and had many of his books. My father, who was proud of my writing and my school writing awards already by the time I was 10, told me it was Hemingway’s style I should study, the way he made sentences and how he evoked places. I’m trying to answer your question by saying things I don’t think I have written and published elsewhere.

But there are two things I know I’ve published somewhere that I should repeat here, if only the brief version of the stories. First, almost every girlfriend I had between the ages of 11 and 19–and of course they all knew my proud boyish claim to the vocation of writer–gave me a gift of a book by Hemingway, never any other writer and never because I had said I was a Hemingway fan. As in the recent Mercedes commercial so it was in the 50s–Hemingway was the widely recognized visage and image and synonym of and for the word writer.


A young Parisian reading Hemingway on The Metro. photo by AB

My girlfriends’ gift books were inscribed almost always with some slight variation on these words: With all my love and to your future great writing. All through the 50s it was almost always the same book–The Old Man and the Sea–I wish I had those books but I think my mother threw them out. No, she wouldn’t throw out a book–she probably gave them to The Salvation Army when I left home and did not come back for a long time.

The one other story I must mention also centers on The Old Man and the Sea: the story is about when I was hitchhiking, not yet a teenager, and that amazing September issue of Life magazine came out and Hemingway was in everybody’s hands, on everybody’s lips. The story is about a midnight truck-stop waitress named Flossie who read Hemingway to a counter crowded with truck drivers and me; at first, she read softly, then louder, and finally one of the truck drivers went over to the jukebox where Hank Williams was singing and unplugged the jukebox mid-song–a capital offense in that time and place. The story is about knowing for keeps that great writing is or should be for everybody, and Flossie’s reading and affirmation of that core truth or faith is a story I tell at the beginning of every class where I teach Hemingway, as a way of explaining why I am still doing it. Many amazing things happened on that hitchhiking trip and they all flowed from that September issue of Life. I think I’ve told the whole story in print somewhere–don’t be alarmed Allie by what might sound like forgetfulness: it’s just that when you’ve published over 300 essays and about 40 books, it’s hard to remember exactly where you wrote what.  But if you missed that essay I’m sure it will be included in the hefty volume of my Selected Essays on Hemingway that should be out by the end of next year.

A sidelight on that story–you know they used to call Hank Williams The Hillbilly Shakespeare? Right now, there’s a hit record out that celebrates Hank as The Hillbilly Hemingway. Maybe that tells us something important about how Hemingway’s reputation has recovered from its nadir in the 1960s, how he is once again emblematic, even for a country singer, of those magic words: great writer.

 Now that I’ve set the foundation stones, I can answer your question about the moment I rediscovered Hemingway for myself, “contrary to popular opinion.” Yes, it was in 1974. I was a Visiting Professor at the University of Paris and my job was to teach Faulkner. Because I was living in Paris, I finally read A Moveable Feast all the way through and liked it, liked most of it very much in spite of my reservations and suspicions about posthumously published works edited by others. Because I was living on the rue Saint-Jacques, where Jake and Bill take their walk in The Sun Also Rises, I reread that novel for the first time in many years and with the help of a clochard neighbor, a well-educated Parisian wino, I began to see how much I had missed in my first reading of The Sun Also Rises. I’ve told that story in print, in essays and in my book Reading Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises (Kent State UP 2007) and I’m not going to repeat it here.

This I don’t think I’ve told in print: When I returned from Paris to teach in the Fall Semester of 1974, the vague intuitions and hunches that had started in a conversation with a wino in a rue Saint-Jacques cafe suddenly exploded like Bastille Day Fireworks and I reckon I have to say it this way: I had one of the two or three most important literary epiphanies of my life. Here’s what happened: as usual I was teaching my seminars in Faulkner and Joyce. Another very popular course was the single-author Hemingway course for seniors and grad students. In the opening weeks of the semester, our Hemingway specialist had a serious heart attack. As the young untenured Modernist kid on the block I was told–told not asked–that I would take over that Hemingway class for the rest of the term. No extra pay. The reading list was very long, almost all of Hemingway that was available in 1974. I could have faked that course, riding on ancient memories of my teen-aged reading of much of Hemingway, but I never liked phoniness and detecting fakery is one thing that students are very good at. So I read all of Hemingway in two weeks, rereading much of it, reading for the first time works like Torrents of Spring, Death in the Afternoon, Green Hills of Africa, and To Have and Have Not as well as some short stories I’d earlier skipped over. It was a very intense two weeks.

My reaction? I don’t like mirrors and I try to avoid looking in them, but I looked in the mirror deliberately and said “You idiot!”, whacking myself upside the head with my hand. Why did I do that? First, because of the recognition that I, along with almost all of my contemporaries, had missed so much of Hemingway, including much of the iceberg qualities of his way of telling a story. Then, because I saw how Hemingway was–just like my then-much-preferred writers Faulkner and Joyce–one of the very few High Priests of Modernism, in all the best senses of that phrase. I had never been a Hemingway-basher but I had certainly been a Hemingway-ignorer. I’m sure that until that bedazzled two weeks of reading Hemingway and seeing some of what was really there beneath the clean polished surface I had always liked I would have said that Hemingway did not come close to my Modernist Masters, Faulkner and Joyce, and that he only surpassed them in what–mea culpa--I might have called his simplicity. I think I also felt I was guilty of some kind of betrayal of great writing, something that should generally be avoided.

No, I had never bashed Hemingway, trafficked in the Papa Myth or used him as a straw man for all the confused politics and aesthetics of the 60s. But I had been silent when all around me others had done these things ad nauseam. And silence could be a form of complicity. After that intense two weeks, reading all of Hemingway, I then read all the criticism I could get my hands on for the next month and I saw that they too had mostly missed what I now saw in Hemingway and there was plenty of room to do fresh, important work on Hemingway–it would be almost like starting all over again, from the text up. In that first Hemingway course that I was forced to teach, in the fall of 1974, without financial recompense but with reward far beyond mere money, every sentence read and spoken in every class meeting had the feeling of discovering new country, a quality of rebirth, a kind of thunderstorm with tornadic gusts and dazzling lightning that lasted for months.

AB: It is interesting to me that Hemingway is considered one of our greatest American writers even though he spent most of his adult life in other countries. When you taught Hemingway in places like Peking and Paris, how was Hemingway regarded? Is he considered an American writer first, or does his work transcend that? What American qualities does he bring to his work?


Earliest extant photo of Stoney–On the Road 1963. The puppy’s name is Renfro, after the famous Renfro Valley Barn Dance (Kentucky), where Stoney & Sparrow performed in 1962.

HRS: Again, a big, complicated question. Might take a book to answer it. I’m not sure if where you live or reside most of your life has anything much to do with your American-ness or French-ness or anything-ness. Sense of Place, another huge question, is involved here, too. I’ve lived in New York for 46 years now, but I’ve also lived in Kentucky, as a boy and I’ve had a farm in Kentucky for 40 years. I’ve spent more calendar-time in New York than anywhere else, more Deus-Loci-time (Spirit-of-Place-time) in Kentucky, so I feel more like a Kentuckian than a New Yorker. (And I am a Kentucky Colonel and the Governor of New York has not yet written to appoint me a New York Colonel.) Maybe all this is obvious–take the case of Red Warren who lived for many years in Connecticut while he wrote great poems and novels about Kentucky and the South. Maybe it’s an elegant evasion of the real question but Robert Penn Warren summed it up this way: There is no country but the heart.

 I’ve also lived all over France, not just Paris, and it sometimes feels more like home than New York does. The Deus Loci, the Spirit of Place, and how it speaks to us is a mysterious thing. Maybe there are two basic types: the rooted writer (e.g. Faulkner) and the deracinated writer (e.g. Hemingway). See that good Hemingway letter to Faulkner where he acknowledges this and calls himself something like a chickenshit displaced person. I can’t double-check the exact quote because it’s late and I’m about to leave for Paris again–(am I displacing myself or going home? both). See Gertrude Stein: America is my country and Paris is my hometown. I know that many, perhaps most people who really live (I don’t mean travel) abroad come to a deeper understanding (and, for want of a better word, appreciation) of their home-country and their home-language.

In places like France and China I suppose Hemingway is regarded as a quintessentially American writer. But it’s hard for us to say what that means to them if we’re not French or Chinese. Surely, as with any great writer of any country, the best work transcends any questions of mere nationality.

American qualities in H’s work? Treacherous waters to navigate. Name economy of speech or directness of expression as American qualities and you can immediately think of many other places and peoples where the same holds true. Maybe the best thing to say is that Hemingway is always working an almost Jamesian International Theme, comparing and contrasting American and European manners and style. And you can certainly say Hemingway brings many “European qualities” to his work and is far more “European” than Dreiser, Cooper and a very long list of American writers. Maybe, without 300 pages in which to address this question with multiple specific examples, the less said about it the better?  

AB: In your essay, “Pilgrimage Variations: Hemingway Sacred Landscapes,” you come to the conclusion that “The ever-recurring center of Hemingway’s work . . . is the notion of pilgrimage.” You write; “The Sun Also Rises, far from being the chronicle of aimless lost generation that it is often taken for, is Hemingway’s first meditation on the theme of pilgrimage.” This is a new idea for readers who have not read your work. Can you elaborate on this?

Your well-chosen quotations from my work that you cite here actually state the key notions regarding Hemingway and pilgrimage with as much sufficiency as possible in the limited space and time that an interview affords. I send your readers to my work that is out there, much of which will be collected and reprinted in my Selected Essays next year; and to my Kent State UP volume on The Sun Also Rises, where Pilgrimage holds center stage and all the evidence is examined.

Since we now live in an insistently secular culture, where religious concerns are often seen as an embarrassment, it may be useful to state certain things in a straight declarative manner, more directly than I would usually say:  1) Hemingway, raised a Protestant, takes religious questions seriously from the beginning; (and I mean specifically religious questions not vaguely spiritual meanderings);  2) Hemingway, an adult convert to Catholicism, takes his Catholicism seriously; 3) Pilgrimages, specific historical Catholic Pilgrimages, pervade his work in his usual understated and allusive style, and often the deepest and foundational layers of the submerged iceberg of his story and his style are religious and Catholic and Pilgrimage-centered; 4) The Sun Also Rises, for example, has many explicit and implicit references to specifically Catholic Pilgrimage sites–from Sainte Odile to Lourdes to Roncevaux to Santiago de Compostela; 5) When Hemingway the recent formal Catholic convert goes on his honeymoon with his very Catholic bride Pauline to the pilgrimage country of the Camargue, they are pilgrims; you could say they are making a lower-case pilgrimage to the Mediterranean beaches and an upper-case specifically Catholic Pilgrimage to the sacred place of Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer; 6) True pilgrims are never “lost,” certainly never “aimless” for no one is more “aimed” with a fixed, set destination than a pilgrim; Jake Barnes, the Catholic Pilgrim, knows exactly where he is going and why; 7) Pilgrimage is a kind of externalized mysticism staged on long consecrated holy ground and it is as much concerned with the body’s relationship to place as with the soul’s relationship to Fate.

 AB: When and where do you think Hemingway’s Pilgrimage started?

HRS: I suppose pilgrimage, in a lower-case sense, begins at birth. Then, if we’re lucky, we grow into an understanding of specific Pilgrimages to acknowledged sacred places, one of the most ancient and universal activities of humankind. When and where did Hemingway’s Pilgrimage start? Hard to say exactly. Maybe when he first lit candles in a Catholic church in Petoskey; when, after his wounding, he was given Last Rites by a Catholic priest on an Italian battlefield; when he went to the great Cathedral of Chartres and changed the title of his novel from The Lost Generation to The Sun Also Rises; when he started carrying and wearing (as he did much of his life) Catholic religious medals; certainly, by the time of the writing of The Sun Also Rises and his Pilgrimages to Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer and Santiago de Compostela soon after, he is a confirmed Catholic Pilgrim.

AB: Can you explain the idea of pilgrimage through the story arc in The Sun Also Rises and Jake Barnes’ quest for “renewal and redemption”?


HRS: Well, I’ve published many essays and a long book attempting to “explain” all that. Maybe the best place to start would be my long essay (with the very long title that begins “From the rue Saint-Jacques . . .) that appeared in the 60th Anniversary TSAR issue of The Hemingway Review in 1986. Pilgrimage provides the deep form and the surface structure of the novel–where the characters go or, more exactly, where Jake leads them; they move always through a symbolic landscape–maybe a better term for this is the French paysage moralise. It’s a book about love and loss, about a higher sense of Love recovered or learned, about joie de vivre and the Joy of Pilgrimage.  That’s the best way I can put it in a few words.  

AB: You write: “The real focus is on the individualized quest to a place that is sacralized by the journey, the difficult travel through and to a symbolic landscape.” Can you talk about how a place is sacralized, and can any journey become a pilgrimage?

HRS: Time and history, desire and devotion shared and participated in by a community and communion of believers and seekers over a long time and through what we call history, sacralize the landscape of Pilgrimage. T. S. Eliot, in Little Gidding, defined the conditions of Pilgrimage succinctly: “You are not here to verify, / Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity / Or carry report. You are here to kneel / Where prayer has been valid . . .” But one must read all of Little Gidding, one of the great Pilgrimage Poems, and all of Eliot’s Four Quartets, to grasp and illuminate what Pilgrimage is for Hemingway.

You ask: “Can any journey become a pilgrimage?” In some small sense, yes. But the much abused word pilgrimage loses its primal force through loose usage. When my friend says he is making his annual pilgrimage to Yankee Stadium he is lightly using the term in the latter sense. If, on the other hand, he and others reported an apparition of Babe Ruth or Joe DiMaggio in the outfield at Yankee Stadium, and miracles were reported, and the great-great-grandchildren of the original witnesses came in droves, then we would be talking about upper-case Pilgrimage.

AB:  All of Hemingway’s work is grounded in place, in the physical world, no matter what is happening in the story. Most of us are so enchanted by the way Hemingway writes about these places that we want to see and experience them for ourselves. His writing is deceptively simple and yet specific and exact. How does he do this?

HRS: Yes, this is one of the mysteries of Hemingway’s best writing. Maybe it is best addressed by, or understood through, the deleted conclusion of “Big Two-Hearted River.” In a way, that deleted passage gives away Hemingway’s secret about place and country. It matters more than character, more than anything. In a late manuscript, Hemingway’s self-memo marginal annotation nails the secret: Make the emotion with the country.

AB: One of the things I admire about Hemingway is that he was voraciously self-educated and he never stopped learning. How did Hemingway acquire his education, specifically about European religious history and medieval myth and legend?  When and where did he learn the things that went into The Sun Also Rises, for instance?

HRS: Yes, Hemingway was a voracious reader, always learning. Starting in the late 70s, this was one of the things that Mike Reynolds and I always discussed–and Allen Josephs and I discussed it very early on (1975?), though our primary concern was how Hemingway’s reading informed his sense of sacred place, sacred time. Certainly, some of us felt that knowledge of Hemingway’s extensive and intensive reading would provide the best first corrective to the delusions of the Papa Myth.

“How did Hemingway acquire his education, specifically about European religious history . . .?” Well, through the wide reading noted above. But also, as I have stressed in print, Hemingway was an avid reader of the best guidebooks. There is a photograph of Hemingway (in a private collection, not at the JFK Library) standing in front of a small church in the South of France, clearly studying the guidebook in his hand as he looks at the church. The best way to travel with Hemingway is to learn where he actually went and what guidebooks he read, then go to those places with the same guidebook he used (i.e., the same edition of the Baedeker or whatever truly literate guidebook he used when he was in the places where he went.)

AB:  What were Hemingway’s experiences on the road (El Camino de Santiago)?

HRS: Maybe when the magisterial 17-volume edition of Hemingway’s Letters, currently in progress, is complete, we will have much more evidence concerning Hemingway and El Camino de Santiago or the Routes of Saint-Jacques. But then, too, someone will probably write a very bad book about Hemingway’s Inner Camino filled with speculative assertion and confusion about Hemingway’s spirituality and devoid of any knowledge and understanding of Hemingway’s religion.

Physically speaking, Hemingway certainly knew the Routes of Saint-Jacques around Paris, from Paris south to Bayonne and on through Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port and across the Pyrenees to Roncevaux and Pamplona and other stretches of the Camino across Spain to Santiago. I know of no evidence that he ever walked a substantial stretch of any of the Pilgrimage routes. He did cycle a good stretch of one of the Saint-Jacques Pilgrimage roads through Provence, notably around Aigues-Mortes and Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. (It is not one road and, in France, it is not called El Camino. In France The Way of Saint James is called Les Chemins de Saint-Jacques.)

For now maybe the best thing we can do is quote his 1955 letter to Bernard Berenson: “This seems to be getting very solemn for the hour which is 0930 but then I have heard Mass at that hour in Santiago de Campostella [sic] (do you like the Portico de la Gloria?). I stayed there three summers trying to learn when I was working on my education . . .” (Selected Letters 848).  

AB:  Have you walked part of the road (Santiago de Compostella)?

HRS: Yes I have walked stretches of the Saint-Jacques roads around Paris, Vezelay, Bayonne, and the Provencal routes around Saint-Guilhem-le-Desert and Les Saintes-Maries. I once walked, lugging a heavy suitcase uphill in the rain, from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port and over the pass to Roncevaux and on into Pamplona. In Spain, I walked short stretches around Puente la Reina and La Estrella as well as the final miles into Santiago de Compostela. I always intended to do the whole route in one go, from Paris to Santiago, but there was never enough time. I planned to do that when I retired, but then I realized I would never retire and then this wheelchair thing hit me. Now I sometimes think of doing the whole route in a wheelchair–want to join me? We’ll have a whole convoy of wheelchair Pilgrims.

AB: The Sun Also Rises is a book that speaks to many generations of readers, and a surprising number of people seek to recreate Jake’s journey. Why does Jake’s journey matter so much, and how might the post war generation of the 50’s have read the book and how does it differ from the way young people in the 20’s or young people now understand that book for themselves. Does the meaning change as history changes?

HRS: No, the meaning does not change as history changes. Rather, the meaning is lost and comprehension is attenuated as history recedes and cultural literacy declines. My mentor, Robert Penn Warren, always lamented, from the 1960s through the 80s, what he called the “death of history.” All of us who were educated from the 1950s on were victims of that sad declension. My grandmother, minimally educated around 1900, knew and understood more about Roncevaux and Roland than I did after two very good and rigorous graduate degrees. Hemingway studied The Song of Roland – was that in the 9th grade? Clearly, far more of his readers in the 1920s understood his subtexts and symbolic landscapes in the light of history than readers did in the 50s or 90s–and things are even worse now. But if the business of great literature is to communicate feeling that is not readily understood, all is not lost. In over four decades of teaching Hemingway to thousands of students, I have learned that many students feel the emotion (of pilgrimage, etc.) without understanding it. Then, through an act of radical recovery of history, many have understood what they first felt and thus taken full possession of Hemingway’s work and vision. The important things that Hemingway teaches, makes incarnate in his storytelling, are timeless, beyond mere history–things about grace under pressure, about the secret of the unchanging values that we must get to know, about being strong at the broken places.

AB:  You also write in your book Hemingway’s Paris, Our Paris? that “the Lost Generation is a product Hemingway never sold.” Can you explain that statement for our readers?

HRS: That was Gertrude Stein’s product and many lesser salespersons of the Lost Generation cerebral vacuum cleaner–publishers, promoters, movie-makers. Hemingway dismissed it in a hundred ways, starting with the revised title and the epigraph page of The Sun Also Rises. Hemingway always knew that all generations are lost, and some generations try harder to be found.


AB:  Can you tell me how and why the Hemingway Society was started?

HRS: Since I was one of the Founders there in 1980 on Thompson Island in Boston Harbor, across the wide water from the JFK Library, I should be able to give a clear account of this. I see, in memory, many of us sitting on the ground under a big pine tree; the suggestion of creating a Hemingway Society was made, and we all agreed enthusiastically. There are more detailed accounts of this in print, and some of the accounts differ in detail. I think that two key things often get lost in discussions of the founding of the Hemingway Society: 1) Many of us who were there at Thompson Island in 1980 were also at the landmark Hemingway Conference at the University of Alabama in 1976 and it was from that date, from that conference, that the sense of a New Era in Hemingway Studies flowed; 2) the hopeful sense that we could at last understand Hemingway was rooted, in large part, in the increasing availability for study of Hemingway’s manuscripts; some of us had been studying the manuscripts throughout the late 70s; some of us believed that manuscript studies promised deliverance from the Papa Myth, the maturation of Hemingway scholarship and criticism, the confirmation of our deepest gut feelings about Hemingway as the consummate craftsman, alchemist and High Priest of High Modernism.

AB:  I’ve often wondered what Hemingway would think of the Hemingway Society, and the amazing amount of analysis of his work over the years.  Any thoughts on this?

HRS: In public, he would likely be dismissive. In private, he would no doubt be pleased by perspicacious and well-written readings of his work; and appalled by much of what passes as literary criticism. Since we’re talking about it, and I am now serving as President of the Hemingway Foundation & Society, let me add that I hope all your readers will join or renew their membership in our society and come to our conferences, where all the questions not asked or answered here will be asked and answered–Isn’t it pretty to think so?

AB:  Hemingway, and those of his generation, lived through World War I, World War II, and the Spanish Civil War; all of them catastrophic events. Hemingway has a tragic quality to his writing, which obviously resonated with his contemporaries. Do you think he was speaking for his generation (as, say, someone like Camus did) or was this his own view of human experience?

HRS: In some sense, every great writer speaks for his or her generation. The danger is when the writer writes as a spokesperson for a generation. Surely, most writers wish their work to stay utterly alive and fresh and well-read long after their generation is forgotten. And this is the final triumph of great writing. We could name the names of writers who have seemed, briefly, to be spokespersons for a generation and are now forgotten along with their work. No, let’s not name them.

AB:  Throughout his life, Hemingway had friendships with some of the most remarkable people of his time. What relationships do you think were most important for him as a writer and as a person?

As a writer, personally, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Scott Fitzgerald, Sherwood Anderson–maybe in that order. (Throw in Mark Twain, though they never met and, yes, T. S. Eliot.) Add some French and Russian writers, starting with Baudelaire and Dostoevsky. And don’t forget Henry James.

As a person, certain soldiers and priests and counts and fishermen and hunters. Some of them we know about, some we don’t. And I reckon I should say something controversial, so here goes: as a writer and as a person his relationships with his four wives are crucially important–Pauline the most, Martha the least.

Frances Kearney

H. R. Stoneback performing pleasant duty as President of the Hemingway Foundation & Society–presenting awards at the International Hemingway Conference (Venice 2014)

AB: Did Hemingway have a sense of humor?

HRS: Did he ever! I’ve never understood the people who say Hemingway is humorless. Maybe they haven’t read much of his work. Hemingway is funnier than Charlie Chaplin, Milton Berle, any dozen of politicians and everybody on Comedy Central all combined. (Sorry, I exaggerate and I’ve never watched Comedy Central.) Sometimes Hemingway’s humor is poignant and situational (“A Day’s Wait” and “Ten Indians”?), or boyish and rambunctious (“The Three-Day Blow”); sometimes the humor rides on the elegant repartee of double-entendre dialogue–nobody has ever written dialogue better, and funnier. “Che Ti Dice La Patria” is funny all the way. My late friend and colleague Jim Hinkle reminded us all years ago–(in “What’s Funny in The Sun Also Rises“)–that The Sun Also Rises is a very funny novel. “Wine of Wyoming” is a comic masterpiece. Hemingway’s rich humor is almost always perfectly melded with the serious implications of situation or story.

AB: Much of your Hemingway’s writing is interwoven with your own life experience. You understood the Nick Adams stories in a deeper way through your own experiences in the Northern Michigan woods, and you came to a new and much more spiritual interpretation of The Sun Also Rises when you lived in Paris, which you write about in your book Hemingway’s Paris, Our Paris? You have spent years of your life reading Hemingway, teaching him, understanding him, writing about him. Can you tell me how your life is connected to Hemingway and what it is like to be so deeply connected to one writer for so long?

HRS: This is a tough question to answer. How does a master mechanic who has specialized in working on MGs for 40 years feel connected to MGs? Do MGs have any role in his personal life? I don’t want to be glib–let me try to put it directly, honestly. Much of the time I feel no personal connection to Hemingway as a man. There are things about Hemingway the man that I do not like. And all the superficial identity nonsense and everything about the Papa Myth makes me cringe. I cringe when people tell me I would win a Papa Look-Alike Contest. I guess it’s the white beard and the fact that, before the wheelchair, I was usually the tallest person in any room (Hemingway wasn’t really that tall.) This is impossible to talk about. Students sometimes mistakenly think I have modeled my life on Hemingway’s life–that’s a very funny joke to me. I lived and worked in Hemingway’s Northern Michigan when I was 20 and fished the same streams and walked the same streets as Hemingway not because he had been there, a fact I was barely aware of then–it was accidental, it was the best job I could find that summer. I worked, I sang for a living. Hemingway rarely worked at anything except writing and he couldn’t sing. What nonsense this all is–I mean my attempt to talk about it.

I love Paris and France, and so did Hemingway, but my Paris is not Hemingway’s Paris, my France is not his France. I have always loved to travel and so did Hemingway, it would seem, though he sometimes looks to me like a very sedentary unadventurous traveler. I have sometimes traveled to places where Hemingway traveled because he was there but this is a matter of necessary research. Only rarely has it been a matter of congruence in personal taste and style. For example, the Locanda Cipriani on the island of Torcello in the Venetian Lagoon. I agree with Hemingway that it is one of the most perfect country inns in the world. Last year I lived in Hemingway’s suite at the Locanda Cipriani for ten days. I was there because I ran an Imagism Conference on Torcello and then there was the International Hemingway Conference in Venice. Was I there, then, because Hemingway had been there? Probably yes and no, and there are exceptions to everything I’m trying to say here. If I had never heard of Hemingway, would I have gone to Torcello. Very likely, yes, because I have always sought out numinous islands without cars, since I was a hitchhiking kid. If I had no knowledge that Hemingway stayed at the Locanda Cipriani, would I have stayed there? Very likely, yes, since much of my traveling life has been devoted to finding the perfect country inn. OK then, I acknowledge occasional congruence of taste and style. But Hemingway or no-Hemingway anyone who did not recognize Torcello as a numinous place and the Locanda Cipriani as the perfect place to stay would be in my travel-book a fool. In my deepest traveling self, since I have traveled much farther and far longer than Hemingway, I regard Hemingway as a lesser traveler but I acknowledge that he found some good places and I have often enjoyed those places as he did. But I would never stay at the Ritz–I prefer houseboats on the Seine and apartments on the Ile Saint-Louis. Isn’t this personal angle silly?

My real and deep connection to Hemingway is through his work, his extraordinary writing. I knew long ago in 1974 when I rediscovered Hemingway’s writing, for myself, by myself, that he was one of only two writers that I could spend the rest of my life teaching and never grow weary of his work. The other writer was and still is Faulkner. But to be a Faulkner scholar, you had to go every year to Mississippi, and always in July and August. I love Mississippi but I do not love its summer weather. Doing Hemingway, you went to Paris, Provence, Spain, Austria, Venice, Switzerland and other good places and always the weather was different and the sense of place varied. So, yes, I have traveled a good deal with Hemingway, sometimes because of Hemingway (the writer) and sometimes to escape Hemingway (the man).

One last thing about Hemingway the man. In an interview for a recent documentary filming, I heard my voice saying that the thing that was almost always missed about Hemingway the man was his profound shyness. I said he had a solitary, hieratic, farouche quality at the core of his being. I will be in Paris next week and during yet another filmed interview, for the French director Claude Ventura’s Hemingway documentary, I will say again that Hemingway was solitary, hieratic, farouche. If we cannot avoid, no matter how hard we try, reading the man behind the work it is the lonesome, priestly, fiercely shy man that I feel behind all of Hemingway’s best work.

AB: Anyone who was young in the 1950’s grew up with a lot of press coverage of Hemingway, actually, a specific, highly masculine version of Hemingway. His “image” has changed and been distorted many times over the years. Who is Hemingway and why are we still drawn to him?

HRS:  YES. And yes again, especially for the 50s through the 80s. But the good thing now, especially for students today (many of whom do not remember 9/11), is they have never been subjected to the noise and noisome effects of the Papa Myth and thus they bring a clean slate to their reading of Hemingway. And many of them love Hemingway’s work. Soon, very soon now, all college undergraduates will have birth dates in the 21st century and reading Hemingway, for them, will be like reading the classics. As it should be.


Sparrow pre-concert photo South Carolina 197

AB: Voices of Women Singing is a book of poems about singing, and living and teaching in France with your wife Sparrow. It is a memoir with beautiful passages and images that linger. Can you tell me about those years and the music you played?  Can you tell me about Sparrow?

HRS: Thank you for that comment on Voices of Women Singing. The music we played? A mix of folk, classic country, gospel, rockabilly and even old standards–since we were entertainers we tried to give the audience what it needed or wanted. Sometimes it was better to sing “You Are My Sunshine” than your own recent complicated bardic or Dylanesque composition. And when I wasn’t sure what to sing next Sparrow would sing an old ballad like “Bar’bry Allen” that she’d learned from her grandmother in the Kentucky mountains and it always worked. We were entertainers, even if only part-time for most of the 45 years we sang together on stage (1962-2007), from elegant concert halls to ramshackle road-houses all over Asia, Europe and North America, in 49 states and 50 countries, so we usually knew what the audience wanted, and even if they didn’t want it, what they needed.

What else can I tell you about Sparrow? I tried to put it all in Voices of Women Singing. In the book of poems before that–Amazing-Grace-Wheelchair-Jumpshot-Jesus-Love-Poems (now out-of-print and hard to find)–I tried to put it all in, but the grief and loss was still raw then. In The Stones of Strasbourg (Codhill Press 2015), my just-released volume of poetry, Sparrow is a major character, but a character who has entered history. I mean by that the grief has been subsumed by joy, the loss is subsumed by love. What else can I tell you outside of a poem? She was a remarkable woman who gave up everything to follow me to the wilderness of Alabama to build a log cabin and write when I was 21 years old. She was strong and tough and funny. She was a legendary singer. I could wake her in the middle of the night and sing her a song I had just written and half-asleep with her eyes still closed she could sing flawless harmony, fluent and nuanced and haunting, to what I had just written and she was hearing for the first time. On her deathbed, she opened her morphine-drowsy eyes and said “I don’t want you to be alone but please, don’t take up with a white trash girl.” I made a song out of that, just the way she said it. She also said on her deathbed that she would give heavenly consent to being my guardian angel but she couldn’t guard me from everything and wouldn’t even try because I was unguardable and she wouldn’t watch everything I did, just the important things. R.I.P. Sparrow.

AB:  As someone who has traveled quite a bit in the last few years, I enjoyed observations in Voices of Women Singing such as; “the secret of travel is great balconies”. There are lovely details of the people in your Paris neighborhood “living together in the small things” in Hemingway’s Paris, Our Paris?  Please share your explanation of travel as a means of “time dilation”. 

HRS: Thanks again for the good comments on Voices. About “time dilation”–is that your phrase or did I write that somewhere? (Allie: Yes, Stoney, that is your lovely phrase) Surely, if “time dilation” means to make time larger, more expansive, the right kind of travel does that. And the expanded time enlarges space and place, until they both approach infinity, an infinity that remains incarnate and local,  a chthonic eternity. Did I just write that? It must be late and I need another glass of wine. Maybe I should put it in a poem. Or throw it out, delete it from this interview. On second thought, keep it.


Stoney & Sparrow singing on the porch of the legendary Beaumont Inn, Harrodsburg, KY

AB: Looking back on your life, in what ways did Hemingway influence who you are and how you have lived? I don’t mean where you traveled or how many years you taught, I mean how you think and feel.

HRS: I think I answered at least part of this question in response to your question above. But the rest of it is this: Hemingway reaffirmed my reverence for the written word–and reverence for other things; Hemingway confirmed a sense of piety about the moral austerity of sentences, the sacred syntax of paragraphs–and a sense of authentic piety and dignity and humility and true pride about other things. Hemingway hones and gives a sharp edge to the bright particularity of place, to the conjoined necessity–in living as in writing–of precision and passion, exactitude and amplitude.

AB: If you could ask Hemingway one question, what would it be?

HRS: Maybe: “Where shall we eat?” Maybe: “You sure this stream has trout in it?” Maybe: “Isn’t it pretty to drink absinthe?” Maybe: “Are you still praying for Count Greffi?” How about: “What’s the one question you most want to be asked and your answer?”

AB: What are your five all-time-favorite lines of poetry?

HRS: Assuming I’m not allowed to quote my own poems, this is a tough question. Just kidding. But it cannot be limited to five lines and whatever I said today the answer might be different next week. Stevens: “She sang beyond the genius of the sea”; Pound: “What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee . . . Pull down thy vanity”; Yeats: “I must lie down where all the ladders start / In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart”; Auden: “In the deserts of the heart / Let the healing fountains start”; Eliot: “These fragments I have shored against my ruins”; Frost: “Here are your waters and your watering place. / Drink and be whole again beyond confusion.”—oops that’s six, isn’t it? I’m doing this well after midnight and I refuse to look at any book for a prompt or a text-check–that wouldn’t be fair and favorite would it?

Ask me tomorrow and I might say: Villon: “Mais ou sont les neiges d’antan”; Baudelaire: “La plus belle des ruses du diable est de vous persuader qu’il n’existe pas”; Saint-John Perse: “Je vous salue, ma fille, sous le plus grand des arbres de l’annee”; Rimbaud: “A l’aurore, armes d’une ardente—” but no I’d better stop before I mess up the French if I haven’t already and it’s not pleasant to be typing on this keyboard sans accent marks. Ask me on a day when I’ve been playing guitar and I might say–Eliot: “Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.”; Unknown: “Sh-boom, sh-boom . . . Life could be a dream”; Pound: “The apparition of these faces in the crowd; /Petals on a wet, black bough”; Frost: “The land was ours before we were the land’s”; Hopkins: “I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-/dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon—” No, that’s even harder to get right than the French. Ask me next month when I’m back to writing on my novel set in the 50s when at age 13 my older sister brought her Romanticism anthology home from college and I devoured it and I would give you 5 or 50 quotes equally divided among Byron, Coleridge, Keats, Shelley and Wordsworth. Ask me on any bright clear morning over coffee and I would surely give you some of Red Warren’s long lines, maybe some Ransom and Tate; but now to say goodnight at 3 AM all I can give you is this. Warren: “The recognition of complicity is the beginning of innocence. /The recognition of necessity is the beginning of freedom./ . . . And the death of the self is the beginning of selfhood. /All else is surrogate of hope and destitution of spirit.” And last, just this and everything that comes with it–Eliot: “We shall not cease from exploration . . .”

You see, Allie, just five lines is not possible. Thanks for the good interview questions. Hope to see you and all your readers at the next Hemingway Conference. Bonne Nuit—Stoney

AB: Thank you Stoney

H. R. Stoneback (PhD Vanderbilt 1970) is Distinguished Professor of English of the State University of New York, where he has taught at SUNY-New Paltz since 1969. He has also been a Visiting Professor at the University of Paris, a Senior Fulbright Professor at Peking University (Beijing, China) and the Saint-John Perse Fellow of the French-American Foundation in Aix-en-Provence. An internationally renowned poet and literary critic, he is the author of around 300 essays on such authors as Lawrence Durrell, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Elizabeth Madox Roberts, Robert Penn Warren and numerous other poets and writers. He has published (as author or editor) 37 books, roughly half literary criticism, and half books of his poetry. His book, Reading Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises—the inaugural volume in the Kent State University Press Reading Hemingway Series—was nominated for several prestigious awards (the Brooks-Warren Award, the SAMLA critical studies award, etc) and is widely used in university courses in the U.S. and abroad.

His award-winning poetry has been published in scores of journals in the U.S. and abroad and translated into Chinese, French, Irish, Italian, Provençal and other languages. Recent volumes of poetry include The Stones of Strasbourg (Codhill Press 2015), Why Athletes Prefer Cheerleaders & Other Poems, Voices of Women Singing, and Amazing-Grace-Wheelchair-Jumpshot-Jesus-Love-Poems. Forthcoming books include several volumes of poetry, My Boardwalk Empire, Mystics on the Wissahickon, and The Language of Blackberries; forthcoming critical volumes include Hemingway’s Provence: Our Provence?, Passions, Places, Pilgrimages: Selected Essays on Hemingway 1976-2014, and Composition of Place: Selected Essays on Elizabeth Madox Roberts: 1969-2014 (a collection of his work on Roberts covering six decades); other works-in-progress include The Stoney & Sparrow Songbook; Volume One, a collection of his songs with commentary on the songs and his worldwide concert performances and albums recorded with his late wife Sparrow; and volumes of memoir and fiction.

He has served as an officer of numerous literary and cultural organizations in the U.S. and France. From 2011-2013 he served on the executive board and as Vice-President of the South Atlantic Modern Language Association. After presenting papers, primarily on Hemingway, at SAMLA meetings for four decades, in 2008 he was the Annual Critical Plenary Speaker (an address featuring Hemingway) at the Louisville convention; at the same meeting, an “Honoring H. R. Stoneback” session featured tributes to his work by 17 scholars and writers (later published in Knowledge Carried to the Heart: A Festschrift for H. R. Stoneback). At the 2015 SAMLA conference, he will speak on Hemingway again, as well as on Poetry & Folksong, and he has been nominated to receive the Honorary Lifetime Member Award. He was a long-time director of the John Burroughs Association, one of the very first American societies devoted to conservation and nature study; and director and first President of the Gomez Foundation, an organization based in New York concerned with historic landmark preservation. He is also a founder and Vice-President of the International Aldington/Imagisme Society (based in France); and a founder and Honorary President of the Elizabeth Madox Roberts Society. In 2014 he was elected to serve (2014-2017) as President of the Hemingway Foundation & Society, one of the world’s largest literary societies. He has been the organizer and director of more than 30 literary conferences in the U.S. and abroad. Among his numerous honors and awards, he cites only his 2013 gubernatorial commission as a Kentucky Colonel—and wonders what benefits (such as certain legendary products of Kentucky) accompany his colonel’s commission.

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