Remembering Ernest Hemingway Hardcover,
Reminiscent of Denis Brian's The True
Gen, James Plath and Frank Simons have put together a lively and entertaining book of
full-length interviews of those who knew Hemingway best. You'll find interviews with
Hemingway's close Key West friends, Charles and Lorine Thompson; two of Hemingway's sons,
Gregory and Patrick; Valerie Danby-Smith, Hemingway's secretary during the last years of
his life, and many more. All of the interviews have an immediacy to them that you
won't find in many other Hemingway related books. Great stuff, and an important book
for Hemingway fans and scholars!
Resource Center>Exclusives>Interviews> James Plath & Frank
Remembering Ernest Hemingway
published in the summer of 1999 to coincide with Hemingway's 100th birthday celebration.
The authors, James Plath and Frank Simons, have graciously agreed to answer a few
questions for our visitors. Be sure to visit their website for excerpts
from the book. You can order the book by clicking the links at left.
Resource Center: Who, besides Hemingway, would
you like to have interviewed for your book, and what would have been
the first question you asked them?
James Plath: Fidel Castro.
I had my plane ticket and an interview was almost
guaranteed by my contacts at the Museo Ernest Hemingway and the Ministry of
Culture, but then American Airlines lost my travel visa that was overnight mailed
me by the Cuban Embassy, and I wasn't allowed to board the flight without it.
I would have loved to have asked President Castro about that infamous fishing
tournament named after Hemingway, which Castro won, and about the trout
fishing up-country that they supposedly did afterwards. Hemingway was also
an outspoken supporter of Castro in the early years, and I would have
asked him about that as well. And, of course, anyone interested in
Hemingway would have loved to sit down and have a drink with F. Scott
Fitzgerald and get his version of his first meeting with Ernest at the
Dingo bar in Paris. All we have is Hemingway's rather smug version of it
which was published in A Moveable Feast.
Frank Simons: Agnes von
Kurowsky: I've always been fascinated by
the fact that Agnes actually lived in Key West for a number of years during the
1950's. She was a widow and known by her married name, Mrs. Stanfield, and few
islanders were aware of who she was, or that she'd known Hemingway. I would liked to
have asked her if Key West was simply a wonderful place to live, or were there
other factors, perhaps a proximity to Hemingway who lived in Cuba at the time, that
influenced her decision to move there.
F. Scott Fitzgerald: After having read The Sun Also Rises, and as a
Hemingway's, does it concern you that Hemingway's "fictional" characters are
often recognizable acquaintances?
Mike Strater and Archie MacLeish: If I were able to talk to Mike Strater
and Archie MacLeish, I'd ask them why they backed out on an all-expense-paid African
safari with Hemingway.
HRC: You met each other in an interesting
way...tell us how your joint project
Frank Simons: I'd completed the
Thompson and Bruce interviews in 1973,
developed the photos and shared the listening of the tapes with a friend. Then
I simply packed them away in a trunk. Although I was always conscious of the
possibility of publication, I never transcribed them until the spring of 1998.
The Hemingway centennial was approaching and so I searched the internet for
some kind of connection or interest. I contacted a number of Hemingway
societies and university professors. There was considerable interest, but
James Plath was the most encouraging, so I emailed a portion of the
existing interviews and he got back to me, "Would you like to co-author a
book?" So we used email over the next 15 months or so until the book's
publication this past May and our first meeting at the publication party in Key
West last August. Jim's a great guy, very knowledgeable, and I'm pleased,
obviously, that we've worked so well together, and have been able to share this
HRC: What first attracted you to Hemingway as
a subject, his writing or his
James Plath: With Papa, it's
always a package deal. Just as Salvador
Dali was this century's biggest self-promoter in the art world, I think
that Hemingway was the biggest self-promoter among writers. He cultivated
that Papa persona, though it began to weigh him down toward the end. In
truth, I came to Hemingway studies through the back door. I published a
non-profit journal of the arts, "Clockwatch Review," for which I was
interviewing Jimmy Buffett in Key West. While I was down there I saw signs
advertising the Hemingway Days Festival, and asked then-director Michael
Whalton if he'd like me to put out a special festival issue of
"Clockwatch." He agreed, but invited me to help him develop the literary
side of a festival which was most famous for the lookalike contest. For
ten years I directed the Hemingway Days Writers' Workshop & Conference in
Key West, and learned what I could about Hemingway and his work just to be
able to answer all the questions that were put to me by attendees. But I
began by saying I didn't think you could separate the lifestyle from the
style of writing, and I believe that. His innovative style gave rise to
the first legion of imitators in colleges across the country, and I have
to admit that running with the bulls, when I was in Pamplona, was just a
given. It was something I had to do, in order to better appreciate what
the gang in The Sun Also Rises went through.
Frank Simons: I read a lot of
books when I was a kid. My favorites were
adventure novels. But I also grew up in the Midwest and loved to fish, and to
hunt, particularly wing shooting, pheasants, ducks and geese. But a guy like
Hemingway did it all! He not only read books, he wrote them, and he hunted and
fished all over the world. It was a natural attraction.
HRC: You are both teachers...what is the
first reaction students have when
reading Hemingway for the first time?
James Plath: My experience with
college students is that Hemingway doesn't
hold up well with the MTV generation. The pacing is too slow, I think,
and the famous "iceberg" technique (which became
known, in the hands of such later practitioners as Raymond Carver, as
"minimalism") isn't quick enough, isn't complex enough on the surface
level for students. And many of them can't get past what they see as
racist or sexist elements. But if you read our interviews, you'll see that
he's defended on both counts by friends who knew him well.
Frank Simons: My students
are first surprised by the
simplicity of style and the absence of "ten dollar" words, and by the fact that
this straight forward narrative of Hemingway's could win a Nobel Prize.
HRC: Do they see a relevance in Hemingway's
work to their lives?
James Plath: For most of the
college students I've taught, I don't think so.
Frank Simons: The universality
of Hemingway fiction is generally
identified by most of my students. There is a particular empathy, for example,
for Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea.
HRC: What did you think of True At
First Light, Hemingway's "fictional
James Plath: Honestly, I'm not very
impressed. Green Hills of Africa and
"The Snows of Kilimanjaro" and "The Short Happy Life of Francis
are all superior--but then again, True at First Light was maintained as
journal entries intended, eventually, to be fleshed out into short stories.
HRC: Do you think it was appropriate to
publish it so long after his
James Plath: I
don't think the issue is how long it's been since Hemingway's
birth. I think the real issue is one of misrepresentation. Would any one
of us want our journal entries to be cobbled together into a "fictional
memoir"? Or would we prefer, if scholars have to pick our bones (and I
plead guilty, here, as anyone else), to have our work published for what
it was: unedited notes. I would think the latter. Lorian Hemingway, who
wrote the introduction to our book, brought up another point: she really
hates to think that a generation who hasn't grown up reading Hemingway
might run to the bookstore and buy a copy of True at First Light and think
that this is representative of the Nobel Prize winning author's best work.
It's not, and to that end it's also not fair to publish it as a "fictional
memoir." I do, however, think it was a brilliant stroke to have son
Patrick edit the material, because one of the biggest criticisms Scribners
got when they came out with The Garden of Eden was that Tom Jenks wasn't
qualified to do the editing--he was too young, he wasn't a Hemingway
scholar, he wasn't this, he wasn't that. At least with Patrick you have
someone who was a white hunter himself for many, many years, and who was
not only close to his father but, as the interview we published in our
book indicates, knew exactly what his father was doing, fictionally, and
what he was contributing to the Modernist movement.
Frank Simons: The publication of True
at First Light is inappropriate for a number of
reasons, but most important is that Hemingway himself found it unpublishable.
And after having read it, I agree with him.
HRC: What is your favorite Hemingway
novel? Your favorite story?
James Plath: I'm a sucker for the
simplicity of The Old Man and the Sea. I like the mythic undertones. It's so
deceptively simple, and yet it has so much power
attached to it. The whole comparison to Joe DiMaggio was a stroke of
genius, I think--whether it was a realistic detail or not. Incidentally, I
had interviewed Gregorio Fuentes in Cuba, and he told me that Hemingway
often listened to "the baseball" on the radio aboard the Pilar. But
because, at his advanced age, Fuentes was getting so many things wrong in
retelling his time with Ernest, I decided it was kinder and more accurate
for readers if I left that interview out of the book. As to my favorite
short story, for some reason I've always been drawn to one of Hemingway's
little-read, seldom-anthologized, and least-often criticized short stories
of the Spanish Civil War, "The Butterfly and the Tank."
Frank Simons: The Sun Also
Rises. "Big Two-Hearted River"
and "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber."
HRC: Any more Hemingway projects in the
James Plath: As I answer
these questions I'm taking time out from a paper I'm writing on "The Butterfly and
the Tank" and the echoes of Fitzgerald that the story appears to contain.
HRC: What writer writing today, if any,
do you think has a chance of being
read 75 years from now?
James Plath: Several. Toni
Morrison, John Updike, and Raymond
Carver will all be read 100 years from now. Their work zeroes in, as
Hemingway's did, on the things that make us fragile as humans. And that's
what writing for the ages is all about.
Frank Simons: John
Updike, Joyce Carol Oates, Robert Stone