Thursday, May 21, 2009

May 21: Hemingway Day

Today is the birthday of Ernest Hemingway, born in Illinois in 1899.

He began his writing career as a journalist when he was 17, working as a cub reporter for the Kansas City Star. When America entered World War I, he tried to enlist but was rejected on the basis of a medical condition. He traveled to Europe anyway and became an ambulance driver for the Italian Army. He later wrote one his best known novels A Farewell to Arms (1929) based on his experiences in the war.

After World War I, he returned to the states, but soon was back in Europe as a journalist for the Toronto Star. Living in Paris, he met other expatriate American writers such as Ezra Pound and F. Scott Fitzgerald who encouraged him to write fiction. He took their advice, writing about his experiences as an American living in Europe in The Sun Also Rises (1926). He traveled to Spain to cover the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s; this was the setting of his novel For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940). He won the Pulitzer Prize for his short novel The Old Man and the Sea in 1953, and the next year he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. Hemingway committed suicide on July 2, 1961.

Hemingway's characters reflected his own experiences and personality. War, adventure, drinking, bull-fights, big game hunting and fishing were his favorite topics, and, when he wasn't writing, these were his own favorite activities.

Hemingway's writing style is known for its clarity, simplicity, and terseness. His characters' dialogue is straightforward and honest, except for the occasional understatement. In talking about writing, Hemingway said: "All you have to do is write one true sentence, a true simple declarative sentence" (1, 2)

Today's Challenge: Hemingway On Writing

Reading quotes by Hemingway is like attending a master course on writing. Read the 8 quotes below about writing. Notice not just what Hemingway says, but also how he says it. Is he practicing what he preaches? What do you notice about his word choice and the structure of his sentences? Finally, which quote do you like the best and why?

1. Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don't know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.

2. All good books have one thing in common - they are truer than if they had really happened.

3. Try and write straight English; never using slang except in dialogue and then only when unavoidable. Because all slang goes sour in a short time. I only use swear words, for example, that have lasted at least a thousand years . . . .

3. The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in shock-proof shit-detector.

4. It wasn't by accident that the Gettysburg Address was so short. The laws of prose writing are as immutable as those of flight, of mathematics, of physics.

5. All my life I've looked at words as though I were seeing them for the first time.

6. I learned never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.

7. If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water.

8. All our words from loose using have lost their edge.

Quote of the Day: All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn. --Ernest Hemingway

1 - "Ernest Hemingway." The Nobel Prize in Literature 1954.

2 - Adler, Mortimer. "Biographical Note on Ernest Hemingway" from Great Books of the Western World. Edition 60: Imaginative Literature: Selections from the Twentieth Century. Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1996.

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