A Hemingway for All Worlds

Thomas Bevilacqua

Though one might think the life at a Hemingway Society conference is all glamorous, fun and games, times spent socializing while sipping adult beverages in picturesque locales, there is scholarly work to be done as well. The bulk of my Monday, along with the Monday of most of my other fellow conference attendees, was spent performing that work, attending (or perhaps presenting on) panels covering a wide variety of topics. I started my day, bright and early (a bit too bright and early for me after a fun evening spent having dinner and drinks with friends), at a panel thinking about that distinctive Hemingway style seen in his fiction. I won’t get into a full re-hashing of all three of the papers, but needless to say they were quite interesting and thoughtful, focusing on Hemingway and what we can understand about his writing through data and digital analysis, on Hemingway’s stylistic connections to certain styles and modes of Japanese poetry, and the syntax and style of Hemingway’s depiction of action and its effect on more contemporary forms of thriller writing. What struck me about these papers, and set the tone for my first day at the conference, was the way in which these papers reflected how Hemingway connects to so many different facets of the world and how those connections continue into the present.

There was also the first set of plenary talks on the conference’s first full day. That first round of presentations occurred in the early afternoon—given by Paul Hendrickson, a senior lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of Hemingway’s Boat, and Liesl Olson, from the Newberry Library and author of the forthcoming book Chicago Renaissance: The Midwest and Modernism—felt a part of this undercurrent I’d been picking up on as well. Each gave talks that reflected their current research interests (Hendrickson on Frank Lloyd Wright and Olson on the authors of the Chicago Literary Renaissance) but that reflected a connection, either literal or more metaphorical, to Hemingway. Both talks also did a great job balancing the scholarly with the more conversational, crafting something that spoke to the expert and novice alike (particularly to someone like me who wasn’t well versed in Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture or the Chicago Renaissance).

Not that I really needed a lot of reminding (nor did any of the conference attendees, I’m sure) that Hemingway is an influential author, but nevertheless I was still struck as I confronted just how pervasive Hemingway’s influence is. I certainly know Hemingway is an important writer and thus his place in the annals of twentieth-century literature, American literature… hell just literature in general, is secure and established. But the afterlife of Hemingway goes beyond that and his influence and presence go beyond the literary realm. I hate to use an idiom like this, but the idea of not being able to see the forest for the trees certainly applies. I can see the “trees” of Hemingway’s greatness as a writer and literary figure and know how he affects that world I live in, but I thus end up forgetting just how many different worlds he ends up affecting through who he was and what he wrote. The conversation we’re all having at this conference, by having this conference, isn’t one that is small and isolated but big and reaching out in many different directions and the panels and talks I attended that first day reminded me of that.

Then, later in the day, there was the PEN/Hemingway fundraising dinner on the Odyssey cruising around Lake Michigan where we fêted the former editor of the Hemingway Review, Susan Beegel, but I will be writing about that a little bit later. Until then…

Thomas Bevilacqua 07/20/2016

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