July 21

This Day in History

Literary

Jul 21, 1899:

Ernest Hemingway is born

On this day in 1899, Ernest Miller Hemingway, author of such novels as “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “The Old Man and the Sea,” is born in Oak Park, Illinois. The influential American literary icon became known for his straightforward prose and use of understatement. Hemingway, who tackled topics such as bullfighting and war in his work, also became famous for his own macho, hard-drinking persona.

As a boy, Hemingway, the second of six children of Clarence Hemingway, a doctor, and Grace Hall Hemingway, a musician, learned to fish and hunt, which would remain lifelong passions. After graduating from Oak Park and River Forest High School in 1917, he worked as a reporter for the Kansas City Star in Missouri. The following year, as a volunteer ambulance driver for the Red Cross in Italy during World War I, he was wounded by mortar fire and spent months recuperating.

During the 1920s, Hemingway lived in Paris, France, and was part of a group of expatriate writers and artists that included F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound. In 1925, Hemingway published his first collection of short stories in the U.S., which was followed by his well-received 1926 debut novel “The Sun Also Rises,” about a group of American and British expatriates in the 1920s who journey from Paris to Pamplona, Spain, to watch bullfighting.

In 1929, Hemingway, who by then had left Europe and moved to Key West, Florida, published “A Farewell to Arms,” about an American ambulance driver on the Italian front during World War I and his love for a beautiful English nurse. In 1932, his non-fiction book “Death in the Afternoon,” about bullfighting in Spain, was released. It was followed in 1935 by another non-fiction work, “Green Hills of Africa,” about a safari Hemingway made to East Africa in the early 1930s. During the late 1930s, Hemingway traveled to Spain to report on that country’s civil war, and also spent time living in Cuba. In 1937, he released “To Have and Have Not,” a novel about a fishing boat captain forced to run contraband between Key West and Cuba.

In 1940, the acclaimed “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” about a young American fighting with a band of guerrillas in the Spanish civil war, made its debut. Hemingway went on to work as a war correspondent in Europe during World War II, and release the 1950 novel “Across the River and into the Trees.”

Hemingway’s last significant work to be published during his lifetime was 1952’s “The Old Man and the Sea,” a novella about an aging Cuban fisherman that was an allegory referring to the writer's own struggles to preserve his art in the face of fame and attention. Hemingway had become a cult figure whose four marriages and adventurous exploits in big-game hunting and fishing were widely covered in the press. But despite his fame, he had not produced a major literary work in the decade before “The Old Man and the Sea” debuted. The book was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1953, and Hemingway won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1954.

After surviving two plane crashes in Africa in 1953, Hemingway became increasingly anxious and depressed. On July 2, 1961, he killed himself with a shotgun at his home in Ketchum, Idaho. (His father had committed suicide in 1928.)

Three novels by Hemingway were released posthumously—“Islands in the Stream” (1970), “The Garden of Eden” (1986) and “True at First Light” (1999)—as was the memoir “A Moveable Feast” (1964), which he penned about his time in Paris in the 1920s.

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