Scott Schwar letter
Ernest Hemingway at his home in Cuba, circa 1953, standing in front of a 1929 portrait of himself by Waldo Pierce. (Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston)

I appreciated your enthusiasm for the Burns-Novick Hemingway series [Getting to know Hemingway, Ken Trainor, Viewpoints, April 14]. Lynn Novick was at the 2017 Hemingway Society Conference in Oak Park/River Forest to talk about the work they were doing on the documentary.

Ernest Hemingway

For many years, I looked forward to a major discussion on Hemingway the Artist and not solely on the man and myth. Hemingway was a hard-working artist who got up early on a daily basis to write and that often gets lost. His short stories and the later novels also explore many themes that are still hot topics today, such as date rape, abortion, sex change, androgyny, and dealing with injuries. Read other novels from that time, and you can see how he changed English language expression. 

I know his history, but seeing again how the concussions, post-traumatic stress, bodily and head injuries (cars, planes and war), family-inherited mental illness and the problems of self-medicating that exasperated alcoholism made me wonder in some appreciation as to how he could even write during his last of decade. Eventually, with the shock treatments and its loss of memory, he couldn’t. 

His son, Patrick, told me that losing his home in Cuba was a major blow since it contained his library of 9,000 books. The Cubans began studying his library and found that roughly 2/3 of the books had marginalia, often research-oriented for his literary work. His final inability to write overcame any promise he made to son Jack who said they agreed to never kill themselves. Without writing and his art, I believe, he ceased to live. 

If people read and appreciate his literary work more due to the series, I believe it will have succeeded.

Scott Schwar, Former executive director of the Hemingway Foundation

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