To be certain, the biennial meetings of the Ernest Hemingway Society are always something one looks forward to. The chance to see people you don’t get to see as much as you’d like. Getting the opportunity to discuss and consider an author we all love. Traveling to different locations and gaining a better understanding how these places played a role in Hemingway’s life. It’s something you have marked on your calendar, something that you anticipate months and months before hand.
At the last Hemingway Society conference in Oak Park, Illinois, I wrote about how I sometimes call our conferences “Hemingway Summer Camp.” But you do look forward to it in the same way you’d look forward to going away to camp every summer and seeing your camp friends there. To use another example, it’s a bit like going back to school in the fall and seeing your friends again after they’ve been away for the entire summer.
It’s always an event that I get very excited about and is often the best part of that given summer. Let’s face it, that’s not something that can be said about many things in academia.
But a Hemingway Society conference in Paris? That is something truly special and thus my excitement level about this conference was sky-high. I couldn’t wait to make the journey to that mystical city of Paris and for this 18th International Hemingway Conference to begin.
On July 22nd, the day was finally here. I strolled down the Rue Malar to the American University in Paris’ Combes building, checking in before the opening reception began. Even with that opening reception, you were able to get a sense that this was going to be a slightly different flavor of conference from the ones in previous years.
Given that there was a remarkably-high number of people attending this conference (which isn’t terribly surprising, as who can be surprised that lots of people want to travel to Paris to talk and learn about Hemingway?), the opening reception had to be broken up into two sections, with everyone whose last name starts with A-L coming to the first one and M-Z coming to the second.
You made your way up the stairs from the ground floor of the Combes building to three large interconnected rooms. But even though they were big rooms, just about every bit of available space filled with people. Specifically, people who have formed some kind of special relationship with Hemingway and his writing.
While helping ourselves to hors d'oeuvres and sipping on glasses of wine or water, we talked amongst each other, meeting new people or reconnecting with friends, catching up on one another’s lives and work.
Those conversations came to a halt when one of our site directors, Alice Mikal Craven, came to the microphone. She introduced Hank Kreuzman, the provost of the American University in Paris, who told us a little bit about the university, its history, and some of the defining characteristics of it. From there, the microphone was passed to conference co-director H.R. Stoneback (Stoney to you and me and just about everyone else). Stoney gave some brief opening remarks about Paris and this conference before inviting the conference’s other co-director, Matthew Nickel, to say a few words as well about the conference and what would be happening in the coming days. And after Matthew concluded those brief remarks, we resumed our conversations and light snacking and drinking until it was time for all of us to leave.
When I say “those brief remarks,” I do mean brief because everyone who took the microphone did not spend all that much time at it. Summers in Paris can be hot but today went beyond that and it appears as though it will for the rest of this week. Between the heat of the summer and that which comes from getting hundreds of people together in the same space, it was on the warm side in the Combes Building. Everyone was constantly refilling their glasses, not for wine mind you but with water since everyone was sweating in the heat.
This was particularly true for your humble correspondent, who was wearing a wool blazer, dress shirt, neck tie, and dress pants.
But even with the heat, no one really wanted to leave even after all the official business had wrapped up. It took the polite nudging of the staff at AUP to get all of us to move along. I think that speaks to how different these Hemingway Society conferences are. Even if you’re a little uncomfortable or overheated or what have you, you still really want to stay and catch up with people who are peers but also, and maybe even more so, friends.
So it was a good (if hot) start to the Hemingway Society’s conference in Paris and it has me looking forward to all the events, both academic and social, that will be a part of this conference. Every Hemingway Society conference is a good time, but a Hemingway Society conference in Paris promised to be a very great one.