With many XVII Biennial International Hemingway Society Conference events this month, it made sense for this former foreign correspondent and former board member of the Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park, to share snapshots and thoughtshots. Here goes:
My first stop was at the Oak Park Art League, July 11, where Executive Director Julie Carpenter announced “Grace Hall Hemingway’s paintings are up and a talk on her son’s A Moveable Feast, the most recent edition with Oak Park Public Library executive director David Seleb.” Cordial conversation amid wine and cheese centered on whether or not this book was a memoir or a fictional account of Hemingway’s Paris period with his ex-pats. Fiction wins.
My second stop, July 17, was also at the Oak Park Art League where Don Evans of the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame explained to local writers a quickie Hemingway-themed, collective story. His assignment was clear. “In an hour, write a paragraph that connects Oak Park, Hemingway and bridges the previous text using one of the artistic offerings displayed here, including Margot McMahon’s sculpture.” I was inspired by Gregory Phillips’ “Finca Vigia” painting of Hemingway’s Havana home. While reporters are discouraged to become part of the story, as the observer-participant scribe you’ve come to love, I had to put in my two cents.
My third stop was listening to author-journalist Lesley Blume discuss her Everybody Behaves Badly: The True Story Behind Ernest Hemingway’s Masterpiece ‘The Sun Also Rises’ at the Oak Park Public Library’s Veterans Room, July 18. Among the many things impressive about Blume is that she’s one of the few women to write extensively about this misogynistic man. She examines the early ’20s period in Paris with Hemingway, his first wife, and other ex-pats who visited Fiesta de San Fermin in Pamplona for the running of the bulls. She said her “objective approach was that of a reporter as opposed to the more interpretive approach by a scholar.”
My fourth stop was July 19, An Evening with Tim O’Brien at Dominican University’s Lund Auditorium called “Timmy and Tad and Papa and I,” sponsored by the Hemingway Society in partnership with the Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park and Dominican. Most famous for his award-winning The Things They Carried, which is a fictional account of his year in Viet Nam, O’Brien, like Hemingway, tapped into “the horrors of war, its raw truths” in an hour-long essay on being a dad, a soldier, a son and a writer “in a world that doesn’t seem to give a damn.”
My fifth stop was a July 21 Hemingway-themed lecture lunch at Dominican. It was his 117th birthday. Hemingway Foundation founder Virginia “Ginnie” Cassin proposed the bubbly toast. Valerie Hemingway delivered a lovely granddaughter lecture about the author’s mom’s family history.
Afro-Cuban educator Raul Villarreal discussed Hemingway’s complexity on racial issues. “While we decry his gratuitous use of the ‘N-word’ — presumably to paint certain characters in a negative way — I can say that my father told me that in 1947 when he was the manager of Finca Vigia, Hemingway cursed out whites who didn’t want to meet African American baseball great Jackie Robinson when he came to Havana. My dad also said Hemingway treated him well.”
And my final stop was a fun fundraising reception, July 23, at Oak Park Public Library, followed by an invitation-only soiree at the Hemingway Boyhood Home on North Kenilworth. Here wine, words and worries flowed as Hemingway family, friends and foes found common ground. In sum, hopefully, this tale tolls for thee.
(Photos courtesy of Dominican University and the Oak Park Public Library)