Bill: Many mistakenly believe that Hemingway truly was such an insensitive macho man. He did have a lot to do with that kind of commercial branding, but in reality he was much more sensitive, more deeply intellectual than that public image. A lot of harm has come out of that: people, who haven’t even read him, know him but as an icon rather than as a man.
The best way to understand Hemingway is to read all of him—not just “The Old Man and the Sea” (1952). Stay away from the biographies until you have read him first. Then, read Michael Reynolds and Carlos Baker both. Also, we are in the process of publishing the complete letters collections; read them as they come out as well.
DP: Hemingway remains a larger than life figure. Why do you think people remain fascinated by him?
Bill: Largely because he wrote so keenly about how modernity was so changing life and traditions and human spiritually so rapidly. Hemingway on many occasions tried to re-authenticate some of those lost special occasions in life, such as the fiesta of Saint Fermin in
DP: What three Hemingway novels are your favorites and why?
Bill: “In Our Time” (1925) was a remarkable accomplishment for a writer of any age, but Hemingway was only 25 when it was published. It’s a novel about war, but the war remains off-stage. Instead we learn about war from its effects. And it’s about a different kind of war, one where the winners were also the losers. As one reads “In Our Time” within its historical context, one can feel the ground shifting: modernity has taken over and human culture will never be as it once was. That the book arrives at its truths episodically, in a series of inter-related but loosely woven strands distinguishes as a new way of story-telling, one that reflects modern art and imagination.
In “A Farewell to Arms” (1929) lies the tragedy of modernity. Frederick, the story’s protagonist, learns the ugly nature of war. As the book ends and he’s lost everything, we realize that modern man can turn only to an inner fortitude to light his way through an ever-darkening modern world.
“The Sun Also Rises” (1926). There is a no more poignant depiction of seeking the unobtainable. Jake’s unspeakable war injury has destroyed his future in ways both metaphoric and real. Still, he moves on, with unfathomable courage.
DP: Hemingway was a prolific short story writer. What story do think best encompasses his work and why?
Bill: As good as Hemingway was as a novelist, he was that much better as a short story writer. In fact, he may be the best in the English language. His greatest work is his collected short fiction. My favorite short story is the “Short and Happy Life of Francis Macomber.” In it Hemingway distills the complexity of gender, masculinity, femininity, love, lust, and violence, and creates a penetrating analysis of the human condition. His second best work may be the nonfiction, “A Moveable Feast” (1964), which offers great insight into his life.
DP: What is the Hemingway Society and what are its primary goals?
Bill: We are actually The Hemingway Foundation and Society. We wear two hats. The foundation was established in 1964 by Mary W. Hemingway, his fourth and last wife, and we are chartered to promote Hemingway and modern fiction. As such, we present the Hemingway Foundation/PEN award annually at the John F. Kennedy Library. As a society, we promote Hemingway scholarship. For one thing, we meet biennially at a global location that meant something to Hemingway and his work. For example, we are going to