Every year in July, the Florida Keys have a unique celebration of author Ernest Hemingway, who lived and left a powerful legacy in the region. Its called “Hemingway Days” and according to the Florida Keys website, “scheduled events include a look-alike contest for stocky white-bearded men resembling Hemingway, readings and book signings, an awards ceremony for the renowned literary competition directed by author and Hemingway granddaughter Lorian Hemingway, a commemoration of the 114th anniversary of Ernest’s July 21 birth, a museum exhibit of rare Hemingway memorabilia, a zany “Running of the Bulls” and a three-day marlin tournament recalling Hemingway’s devotion to the deep-sea sport. During his Key West residence, Ernest Hemingway wrote some of his most enduring works and spent his leisure hours fishing and socializing with local and literary cohorts. Each year, fans of his writing and exuberant lifestyle come together for Hemingway Days.”
Ernest Hemingway’s fiction is biographically inspired, and his writing style is a minimalistic understatement that reflects this same authenticity. For example, The Sun Also Rises was based on Hemingway’s 1925 trip to Spain to see the running of the bulls and the bullfights. Although it received mixed reviews when it was first published, Hemingway’s biographer Jeffrey Meyers states that it is “recognized as Hemingway’s greatest work”, and Hemingway scholar Linda Wagner-Martin calls it his most important novel. In this book, his first real novel following the novella, The Torrents of Spring, he really begins to show his unique and sparing writing style, which came to be known as the “Iceberg Theory” or the “Theory of Omission”.
As another example, A Farewell to Arms, fictionalizes the difficult birth of Hemingway’s son. In the late spring Hemingway and his wife Pauline traveled to Kansas City, where their son Patrick was born on June 28, 1928, from which Pauline endured a painful recovery. Further inspiration drew from Hemingway’s own experiences serving in the Italian campaigns during the First World War. The character Catherine Barkley is based on Agnes von Kurowsky, a real nurse who cared for Hemingway in a hospital in Milan after he had been wounded. He had planned to marry her, but she spurned his love when he returned to America (Nagel, 1996). Inspiration for For Whom the Bell Tolls drew from his friend, the journalist and writer Martha Gellhorn. Hemingway wrote it while traveling in Cuba, Wyoming, and Sun Valley (Meyers, 1985). The novel is also based on his experiences during the Spanish Civil War, with an American protagonist named Robert Jordan who fights with Spanish soldiers for the Republicans.
Criticism also served as a source of inspiration. When Hemingway received criticism of his Across the River and Into the Trees, he wrote the draft of The Old Man and the Sea in eight weeks, saying that it was “the best I can write ever for all of my life” (Desnoyers, 1992). It made Hemingway an international celebrity and won the Pulitzer Prize in May 1952. The Old Man and the Sea served to reinvigorate Hemingway’s literary reputation and prompted a reexamination of his entire body of work. Two years later, Hemingway received the Nobel Prize in Literature. He modestly told the press that Carl Sandburg, Isak Dinesen, and Bernard Berenson deserved the prize, but the prize money, he said, would be welcome (Lynn, 1987).