Hemingway the Author
In this virtual event series, filmmakers and special guests explore the writer’s art and legacy. Conversations on Hemingway: Hemingway the Author was presented by GBH and The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. It features Ken Burns, Lynn Novick, Tobias Wolff, Abraham Verghese and Alan Price.
- [Male narrator] I hate the myth of Hemingway.
It obscures the man.
- His talent is stunning.
- He went against the grain.
- [Male narrator] It's hard to imagine a writer
who hasn't been influenced by him.
- [Edna] In order to have something new to write,
he had to have something new to live.
[Edna] And he fell in love quite a few times.
- [Abraham] He's complex and deeply flawed, but there he is.
- [Male narrator] Hemingway, the man,
is much more interesting than the myth.
- [Announcer] Hemingway starts Monday, April 5th
at 8/7 central, only on PBS.
- Good evening and welcome.
I'm John Abbott, President and CEO of GBH here in Boston.
We're proud to co present tonight's event,
"Hemingway The Author," along with
the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum,
home of the Ernest Hemingway Papers,
and with our good friends, acclaimed filmmakers,
Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.
GBH is the leading multi-platform creator
for public media in America,
the home of "Masterpiece," "Frontline,"
"Nova," "Antiques Roadshow,"
and "American Experience," as well as World Channel.
This event is part of the PBS
"Conversations on Hemingway" series of virtual events
with leading writers and scholars,
The events cover themes related to Hemingway's work and life
in anticipation of the broadcast premier
of Ken Burns and Lynn Novick's three part,
six hour documentary series, "Hemingway."
The series premieres on April 5th, 6th, and 7th at 8 PM
on GBH and PBS stations across the country,
and streams on the PBS video app and pbs.org.
The series reveals the brilliant, ambitious, charismatic,
but deeply complicated and ultimately tragic man
behind the myth.
We'll begin with the introduction to the film,
and then Alan Price, Director of
the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum,
will be joined by Ken Burns, Lynn Novick,
and acclaimed authors, Abraham Verghese and Tobias Wolf,
who appear in the film.
We hope you enjoy tonight's conversation.
"This is Hemingway."
(light instrumental music)
- [Michael] Hemingway was a writer who happened to be
but his palette was incredibly wide, and delicious,
and violent, and brutal, and ugly.
All of those things.
It's something every culture can basically understand.
Every culture can understand
falling in love with someone,
[Michael] the loss of that person,
of how great a meal tastes,
how extraordinary this journey is.
That is not nationalistic, it's human.
And I think with all of his flaunts,
with all the difficulties, his personal life, whatever,
he seemed to understand human beings.
- [Male narrator] You see I'm trying in all my stories
to get the feeling of the actual life across,
not to just depict life or criticize it,
but to actually make it alive
so that when you've read something by me,
you actually experience the thing.
You can't do this without putting in the bad
and the ugly as well as what is beautiful.
Because if it is all beautiful, you can't believe in it.
Things aren't that way.
It is only by showing both sides, three dimensions,
and if possible, four,
that you can write the way I want to.
- [Male Narrator] Ernest Hemingway remade
He paired storytelling to its essentials,
Changed the way characters speak,
expanded the worlds a writer could legitimately explore,
and left an indelible record of how men and women
lived during his lifetime.
Generations of writers would find their work
measured against his.
Some followed the path he'd blazed.
Others rebelled against it.
None could escape it.
He made himself the most celebrated American writer
since Mark Twain,
read and revered around the world.
- [Tobias] It's hard to imagine a writer today
who hasn't been in some way influenced by him.
It's like he changed all the furniture in the room, right?
and we all have to sit in it to some, you know
we can kind of sit on the edge of the arm chair
on the arm or do this.
But you know, he, he, he changed the furniture, in the room.
[Tobias] the value of the American declarative sounds,
The way you build a house brick by brick, out of those
within a few sentences of reading a Hemingway story
you are not in any confusion as to who had written it.
- [Amanda] I can't imagine how it's possible
that any one writer could have so changed the language.
People have been copying him for nearly a hundred years
and they haven't succeeded in equaling what he did.
- [Abraham] If you're a writer or you can't escape,
Hemingway, he's so
damn popular that you can't begin to write
till you try and kill his ghost in you or embrace it.
And I think, identify that most about Hemingway's
that he was always questing.
The perfect line had not happened yet.
It was always a struggle trying to get it right.
And you never will.
- [Male Narrator] For three decades
people who had not read a word he'd written thought
they knew him, wounded veteran
and battlefield correspondent, big game Hunter
and deep sea fishermen, bullfight officiant nado, brawler
and lover, and man about town.
But behind the public figure was a troubled
and conflicted man who belonged
to a troubled and conflicted family
with its own drama and darkness and closely held secrets.
The world saw him as a man's man, but all his life
he would privately be intrigued
by the blurred lines between male and female, men and women.
There were so many sides to him.
The first of his four wives remembered
that he defied geometry.
- [Edna] He was open to life. He was open to tragedy.
He was open to feeling.
I liked that he fell in love
and he fell in love quite a few times.
He always had the next woman
before he left the existing woman.
- [Male Narrator] He was often kind and generous to those
in need of help and sometimes just as cruel
and vengeful to those who had helped him.
- [Michael] I have I always had the illusion.
It was more important or
as important to be a good man as to be a great writer.
I may turn out to be neither, but would like to be both.
- [Male Narrator] Hemingway's story is a tale older, even
than the written word of a young man whose ambition
and imagination, energy and enormous gifts
bring him wealth and fame beyond imagining.
- Who destroys himself, trying to remain true to the
character he has invented.
- [Edna] One of his weakness.
I was going to say failures, and it was a great pity.
It's a great pity for any writer.
He loved an audience.
He loved an audience and in front of an audience
he lost the best part
of himself by trying to impress the audience.
- [Michael] I hate the myth of Hemingway
and the reason I hate the myth of Hemingway it obscures
the man and the man is much more interesting than the myth.
I think he was a terrific father.
Sometimes. I think that he was a loving husband.
Sometimes I think he was like so many people
except this enormous talent.
Hemingway is complicated.
He's very complicated.
The great thing is to last and get your
work done and see, and hear, and learn and understand.
And write when there is something that you know
and not before, and not too damned much after.
- Okay, we're waiting for one other video to start
but I'm going to begin the introductions.
I'm Alan Price, director
of the John F. Kennedy presidential library and museum.
And I'm just so excited to be
in this conversation this evening.
On behalf of all of my library and foundation colleagues
I'm delighted to welcome Ken Burns and Lynn Novick directors
of this new Hemingway documentary and the writers
Abraham Verghese and Tobias Wolf.
I believe that there are over 5,000 people registered
for this evening's conversation.
And whether you are here
because you were a fan of Ernest Hemingway
or a fan of our distinguished panelists or a fan
of the John F. Kennedy presidential Library and Museum
we are just so delighted to have you with us this evening.
I'd like to acknowledge the generous support
of our underwriters of the Kennedy Library Forums
lead sponsors, Bank of America, The Lowell Institute, and
at T and T and our media sponsors the Boston Globe and WBUR.
Additionally, we would like to acknowledge the generous
supporters who helped sustain the Hemingway collection
in our collections and its programs.
That is the Hemingway limited and the Hemingway family
and our friends of the Hemingway collection members.
And we're very pleased to be collaborating with WGBH
in this conversation.
This conversation is the seventh of nine conversations
as the prelude to the release of the documentary on PBS
on April 5th, sixth, and seventh, it will take place
three consecutive evenings at 8:00 PM Eastern time.
And we look forward to taking a few questions from you
our virtual audience members during this program
please submit your questions via the chat function.
And thank you for joining us this evening.
I'm going to start with an easy question, but then
put a little spin on it for our panelists.
I'm sure you've all had the question.
What's your favorite Hemingway work.
I'm going to put a spin
on it because every so often people come into
our collections and they will admit
that they have never read Hemingway full grown adults
never read Hemingway and they ask what
where should I begin?
What should I start with?
So whether it is from your own perspective, why
where did you start?
What was your gateway drug into more Hemingway stories
or whether you have a particular reason why
you would recommend an adult readers start with X, Y, or Z.
I'd like to hear from you?
How do you recommend people begin?
I'll start with Lynn.
- Oh, wow.
Okay. Well, before I answer the question
I just want to say a huge
thank you on behalf of the project to the JFK library
to you and your incredible team there
for giving us the access to make this film
and also to the Hemingway family.
I think some of whom are listening tonight, just to say
thank you for giving us and me and our team
the opportunity to tell this incredible story.
So as you were speaking, I think I'm very happy to say
that a great way to start to get introduced
to Hemingway is to pick
up the latest publication that Scribner's has put out
which is called the Hemingway stories, which is a collection
of short stories from Hemingway selected by Tobias Wolf
with a beautiful introduction by him.
And it's, it's just a curated collection of stories.
Many of which are featured
in the film and include some commentary
from people in the film, but other stories too
and the short stories are just a great way to get started.
So for me personally, it was actually, "The sun also rises"
but I'm not sure that's the best place to start.
- Are you good?
I'll bounce over to Ken.
What do you recommend?
- I agree with Lynn, I started as a
as a teenager reading the killers and it
it rearranged my molecules.
Of course, I was forced to read, you know
"Old man in the sea."
And I would probably say, if you need to do one novel
it would be, you know, "A farewell to arms"
which might be the way to the gateway drug for Hemingway.
But to me, what's on the foot of my bed, where my books are
are stored on a trunk, are they're collected short stories
and that's that there are so many masterpieces in there.
So many extraordinary works of art of great
great literature that will endure
beyond the fads of fiction.
That, that, that are so wonderful.
And in 10 or 15 or 20 minutes
they can be digested gobbled up.
And you just sit and shake your heads
as so many of the people here tonight have done about
about the power of his prose.
So like Lynn's short stories.
- Marvelous, Abraham
- Thank you.
Well, first let me say how, how wonderful it is to be part
of this and special thanks to Lynn and Ken
and my distinguished colleague
Tobias Wolfe here with me from Stanford, truly a treat.
I think I first encountered "The snows of Kilimanjaro"
as a school boy, and that is really what got me hooked.
But if you're asking for a recommendation
I think I would go with "A moveable feast."
Now that's a special bias on my part, but I think it
portrays Hemingway in his formative years before
he became the persona that he became, even
though he's writing as a very distinguished persona
looking back, nevertheless, there's something quite charming
about, you know, about the poverty that struggled in Paris
trying to learn from the likes of Gertrude Stein and
as a pound, I found that at the most compelling book
and I still go back to it and I hope readers
might also find it a nice gateway to Hemingway's work.
- I, I love the short stories.
It was the first book I read was "The old man in the sea".
And I, and I, and I did love it
but discovering the stories being read through them
by my older brother, actually, who was a great, a great
a great lover of Hemingway's, Hemingway and his stories.
And I've never lost my, a particular attachment
to those stories and just rereading them for this anthology
thinking about them again.
When, when I knew that I was going to be part
of this wonderful documentary, incidentally
I've seen it all.
It is a gorgeous piece of work so complex anyway.
So I, I, they, they are perfect.
They are perfect examples
of the four meant something even more than perfect.
They're they're, they, they, changed the game really.
They, they certainly made me want to
to try to write short stories
in the beginning when I was young to write stories like his
and then as I got older, write stories
of that quality out of my own treasury
of experience or, or, or vision, but boy, do I love them.
And also "A farewell to arms" is a great favorite of mine
but I'm gonna just start.
I better stop.
- I can see from the comments that many
of our viewers had similar starting points with Hemingway
I will also say for myself, it was the short stories
the Nick Adams stories in particular
then "Snows of Kilimanjaro", "Then old man in the sea"
and I was completely hooked.
And, and, and so thank you
for making those recommendations to people.
Let me bounce over
to Lynn and Ken as documentary filmmakers.
- Do you feel sort of kinship with Hemingway in the sense
that you're both taking facts and making art from it?
- I think I feel a variety of things.
There's a kind of danger to him.
There's a toxicity to the story that we're engaging.
There is this compelling art that we've been talking about.
I don't know anything better
than 'Snows of Kilimanjaro' as a, as a, as a work of art.
It's, it's great.
There's a great deal of compassion
for the tragedy inherent in this.
This is a man in full Gallop at the end of his life
trying to escape a hoard of Banshees on his tail.
And any one of them would be enough to do any
of us in and which one got him?
I don't know, but it's, it's one
of the most compelling stories that we've ever gotten in.
I think in a way, and I don't want this to be misunderstood.
I think it's the most adult film that we've made.
And I don't mean that it in a sexual way
although we deal with very
very complex sexual things in it, I think it's just adult
because it's the only way to get at it
to get at this literature
which is so spare and is mostly like an iceberg
what's not said what's not seen it's the music of that.
The inner Von all literature is about the intervals
between the words and not necessarily the words themselves.
There's the power of that.
And then there is this, this danger, this kind of, you know
something about this life, which is the arc of it is
is so compelling and yet so tragic and so interesting.
And you can't look away and you want to look away and it's
it's difficult to digest.
So, so I think at the end
I'm always surprised when I've talked
to people and they say, "well, I liked him in episode one
but I didn't like him in episode two".
So that was it.
And I'm going, you know
but all of us are all of these things.
And I kind of in very grateful
to these larger than life figures that we have
because they essentially magnified
in our own very small things
and make them large to see you can, you know
most of us don't have to worry about becoming your own PR.
And, and yet we also know what it's like
even on a small town that I live in, in New Hampshire
what it's like to be an egotist in that midst.
And, you know, there's, there's
there's ways in which the art in spirits, me
but there's also ways in which the biography as cautionary
as it is, is also extraordinarily instructive.
- Marvelous Lynn, what's your perspective?
- I mean,
- You've created something here.
- I, you know, there's a scene
at the beginning of the third episode, which
the episode is called "the blank page"
and it's really about the terror
of the blank page and the loss of creativity
and what that would mean in the life of a creative person.
And I really find that so devastating.
So it sort of helped me as a way into
so like what Ken was talking about the end of his life
the difficulties that he faced, but in a more sort
of larger scale sense, I hadn't thought about this question
of having kinship with him and why per se
but any subject we pick, we sort of fall in love with
and then we sort of are horrified by
and then we kind of come to understand the real person.
So there's a whole journey you go on.
And I keep coming back to kind of the dedication to craft
which Toby talks about in the film, you know
how seriously he took it.
And I think thanks to the library
we were able to show even the scene we showed
before the working and reworking and just the process
how much he really cared
about every single word on the page, even from a young age
I think that's what we hope we try to do
in our works as much as we can.
We obsess over. I mean, if you came into our editing room
your hear us arguing over
whether it should be a closeup or a watch shot, or a comma
in the narration that you never see, but you hear
or should it be a semi-colon or a period.
And that kind of focus on the small scale and the big scale.
I, I really, I find
that very inspiring and Hemingway it's a long answer
but that's kind of, that's what.
- Well, no, it's perfect because you segue it exactly
to what I wanted to ask Tobias and Abraham
because you mentioned this dedication to craft
and Hemingway's creative process
and you are both authors and I'm curious, can you
can you comment about your own creative process
and how has Hemingway's process informed yours?
I don't know if you are
on manual typewriters or like Ernest Hemingway or
whether you have your IC Abraham has his storyboard all
around his head there.
Talk about your creative process
and was it at all informed by Hemingway's.
Tobias do you wanna go first?
- Sure. If I could just drop back one stitch though
thinking about Abraham and Lynn's accounts references
to certain works that they particularly loved
and say "A moveable feast", "The snows of Kilimanjaro"
and these are beautiful works.
And each of them contain
within them that difficult complexity of Hemingway
that even in such a great story "The snows of Kilimanjaro."
He can't risk taking a little swipe at a competitor, right?
As even as
as the main character has done poor Scott Fitzgerald
he says, I think you almost went when you read that.
And then that whole business in "A moveable feast"
about Fitzgerald's anxieties about, you know, the size
of his endowment and it's, it's, it's Hemingway to the life.
And that the
the work that surrounds it is is, is, is extraordinary.
But there is the man embedded in there too in escapable.
And part of why we read him his, he, he is
he once said that a writer must come to his work
like a priest to the alter with that kind
of seriousness, faith, I suppose, and dedication.
And it's an ideal that, that every writer I know
tries to honor, and I myself honor too much
in the breach rather than the observance, but I, I
I have always admired Hemingway for the way he worked.
I mean, when, when his back hurt too much to sit
got a desk where he stood and he worked every day.
So, you know, I wish that
that I had that kind of discipline.
It is the discipline a writer ought to have.
- Abraham. Yes.
- Yeah. So I think I took away
especially from "A movable feast", the notion
that this is really hard work and, you know, you can't walk
by the riverside and hope the new speaks to you
or you really have to apply yourself every day.
And, you know, I think that as Toby said
it's something that I aspire to, I try to emulate
but I'm especially taken by a scene in a
in "A moveable feast" where he's looking
over the Paris rooftops and with some despair I imagine
and he says to himself, this mantra, you know
I can write again, I will write again, you know
so something to that effect, you know
that I've done it before I can do it again.
And I think I'm always reminded of that
because there are many, many times when you don't
want to sit your butt in the chair, but I'm convinced
that the muse does not speak unless you do that.
And so, you know, it takes that kind of discipline.
But I also remember a scene where he talked about always
using the excuse of having to file his correspondence as a
as a way to get out of these drinking sessions.
And the intent was to go back and write.
And, you know, it's reminds me of the many excuses
It's easier if you're a neurosurgeon, you can say,
I have a brain to go operate on.
I never had quite that excuse, but I you know
I think we often find ways to, to sort of find a way out
to go right, understanding that
to most people will seem like a real
indulgence and that you're leaving them
at an inopportune time.
But that's what the craft requires.
- Marvelous. Well, we have many more questions to ask
but I think it's a good moment
for Lynn to intro a little clip.
- Well, I guess as it happens
we've been speaking about the short stories on the craft.
And we chose a section from episode one and to highlight one
of Hemingway's early "Nick Adams stories"
and he drew a lot on his biography.
And that's one of the joys of the film is trying to figure
out things that happened in his life that inspired him.
And his father was a doctor who frequently delivered babies
And we think we can see some inspiration from that.
We're about to see which is called "Indian camp"
- [Male Narrator] Half the stories in, in our time feature,
Nick Adams a character who is very
like the young Hemingway in "Indian camp."
He has a little boy who accompanies his physician father
across a Lake to an encampment where a woman has been
in labor for two days.
Pure horror follows as the boy looks on
his father performs an emergency cesarean section
by lamplight using a Jack knife and suturing
the wound with fishing line all without anesthetic.
When Nick asked his father, if he can't do something
about her screams, he answers, they are not important.
Afterwards. The father of the child
apparently unable to endure his helplessness during
his wife's ordeal is found to have slit his own throat.
- [Male Narrator] Do ladies always have such a hard time
having babies Nick asked,
no, that was very, very exceptional.
Why did he kill himself Daddy? I don't know Nick.
He couldn't stand things.
I guess, do many men killed themselves daddy,
not very many Nick,
do many women hardly ever don't they ever
Oh yes they do sometimes is dying hard daddy?
No, I think it's pretty easy, Nick.
It all depends.
They were seated in the boat, making the stern
his father rowing the sun was coming up over the hills.
Abas jumped, making a circle in the water.
Nick trailed his hand in the water.
It felt warm in the sharp chill of the morning.
In the early morning on the Lake sitting
in the stern of the boat with his father rowing
he felt quite sure that he would never die.
- [Tobias] "Indian camp" that's that's one of my favorite
stories in the world when he was baby, when he wrote it.
But it is complete is a work of great sophistication.
And it handles very sensational material
in an absolutely unsensational way.
- And what it all comes down to is you're gonna die.
He knows he's gonna die. He's seen it.
[Stephen] But there's this feeling being with his father
being outdoors in the dawn that it's possible to hope
or deny or evade that truth for a little while.
- [Alan] Fabulous. Even knowing the story.
There is something I think, extra powerful to
have the visual of the documentary and the telling of it.
I'm just gonna open this up.
When you see that, when you read these words
what does it do for you?
What, what makes Hemingway's writing special?
- Who wants to go first on that?
- I'll jump in, especially
about that particular story "Indian camp"
because I've seen it in so many different ways
as I've grown older, I read it as a school boy
and now I'm reading it as a miniature physician.
And I must say the documentary added yet another level of
of understanding, but I think the most intriguing part
of it for me is the boy's point of view this innocent boy.
And there's something in there
of the young novice medical student being sort of introduced
to the prevalent machismo of our time.
Or at least of my time when I trained a thank God
it's subsided quite a bit, you know, where, you know
the person's pain is irrelevant
to the pathology that you're dealing with.
It was, is the message that the father conveys and
you know, and, and, and by the end of the story
you almost feel the boy has taken on that mantle
of the physician, the sense that things only happen
to other people, you know, I won't die.
I'll never die.
It's an extraordinary conclusion to that story.
So that's what I take away from that particular story.
I keep changing with it and it changes with the seasons too.
- That line is one of the most perfect lines in literature.
The last line of that story, usually I
I tend to bridle it, the word quite as, as an intensifier
in his sentences and kind of English resonance to it.
There, it is just right quite short.
That he will never die.
And that, that line that just comes off the page and the
When, when the, the woman is shrieking in pain and Nick asks
if there isn't something to be done to make it stop.
And he says, that is his father said, that is not important.
That is not important.
And, and, and in the, the situation that they're in
there's a cold truth to that.
But the boy's assurance
of his own immortality is exactly how we are when
we're young and it to be in a situation like that
even maybe excites that in us as way of, of
of defending ourselves against the knowledge of mortality.
And, and yet we know there's a shadow kind of ominous bird
a wing over that, that, that rowing home
it's just so beautifully done.
Hemingway said something about, don't write
about what you think you should have felt
but what you actually did feel.
And that is that's exactly right.
He doesn't pretend that the boy was profoundly
changed forever by this experience with which would be the
the temptation of a writer to doing in that.
But actually to, to, to, to, to, to put himself in such a
a frame of mind that it doesn't affect him forever
though it did, but he doesn't know it.
There's no epiphany, so to speak.
- I think that's exactly right Tobias that when
you were speaking earlier about the gratuitous thing
in both snows and moveable fees about Fitzgerald
and other scores that he felt compelled to do, it, it
it is a very gross revelation
of his fragility and his vulnerability.
The other side of it is something like the dismount
from this story in which it is his age old
lifelong pursuit of that, that understanding
and the fact that most of us spend most
of our time trying to avoid that and understanding too.
And this is where nature and the great threat of war.
of the other experiences that he exposes himself do is
that it puts you forces you to be in the moment
so that it is not the recollection of the past.
It is not the
the anxiety created by the worry about the future.
It is a path a present that nature often, or
or the extreme bond of war ward delivers you to.
And in that moment is a kind
of immortality that it least, however
briefly you can hold that hand in the water next
to your father with the rhythmic conversation
that's just taken place, all the music of, of that dialogue.
Nothing better than that.
- I don't think I can really add very much.
The only thing I was remembering was
that where the story starts, which we don't say in our
in the film, but, you know, at the Lake shore
there was another row boat drawn up
and it just drops you in.
He just has a way of just putting you
in a place and you just have to figure out what's going on.
And if you know, this is an early story
there's something very modern about that.
There's no backstory, there's no explanation.
You just have to kind of put the pieces together
as you're in, as the action is happening.
Who's who, what's, what, why, you know
all those questions are not answered.
And he had originally written a whole backstory
that he jettisoned about Nick
and the cat in the tent being scared.
And the whole other thing that happened
he just didn't need.
And I love the fact that they kind of had to go
through that process to get rid
of it and just drop us into this moment.
And you get on the boat and you go across the Lake
you have no idea what's gonna happen.
And I remember the first time I read it, I mean
it was so shocking.
I just, what, what happened?
So he sort of has you
in the Palm of his hand the entire time.
I think that's what I felt Toby was talking
about is just his mastery of the form.
It's so amazing at that early stage of his career to me.
- Oh, Lynn, if I can just pick up on something you just said
because it's often been said that an essence
of Hemingway's craft is the art of subtraction.
That is what do you, what do you leave out?
I almost think of it like a good radio drama leaves a lot
for the imagination, but it doesn't, it doesn't lose you.
So in the making of the documentary, what is your leave out?
How did you make those decisions?
How did you relate to Hemingway's challenges
as he wrote these things the same way
- We left out a lot?
How many hours of footage do you think?
We, we, we, you know, it's six hours
in the finished film and it's hundreds
of hours of raw material interviews, archival material.
- I, I, I love what Toby says at the beginning about brick
by brick, but I also think his process is subtractive.
You know, we have 40 times as much material that we collect
than we can use.
And it's a subtractive thing.
And when you watch the manuscripts being edited
I mean, Lynn, this is what we've done for 30 years.
And it's the cutting room floor is actually filled Alan
with really good things, that don't fit.
And the idea that it's filled with bad stuff or
that those things in any way, represent something
that could be anything else.
They are the necessary negative space of creation.
What's the, the rubble on a sculpture
studio floor that cannot make a second sculpture
but are necessary to the actual construction.
If that's what it is the subtraction to get to where it is.
It's not additive.
- I will say, though, at the beginning of the project
we have to collect all this stuff
before we can start subtracting.
So at that point, it's like
the world is a booster you can bring in, and then
you have to do the hard work that Ken is talking about.
So it's a very open process, which was, you know
it was always fine and then terrifying in the end to figure
out what's gonna fit.
- Tobias and Abraham
how do you go through this subtractive process?
And is it as painful as others might imagine?
- I think it's, if I can jump in first
I think it's very painful.
And I think part
of the editor's job is to help you, you know
fall out of love with certain sections
or help you with the pain of discarding them.
But just to come back to "Indian camp" for a second
on this rereading recently, I, I realized that the details
of the operation she removed the baby, you know
are dismissed in one sentence essentially.
And I know I would have been tempted to linger
with the glistening membranes and this and that.
And it's an extraordinary lesson to me, you know?
And I think clearly one I haven't learned yet
because my editor complain that I write long and I do
but that's what I took away from that.
- No, certainly I probably keep 50th, I guess
of what I put on the page
I'm constantly trying to find the right way
and the right way is slow in coming.
And you're just fooling around with that all the time.
I checkoff had a beautiful piece
of advice that he wrote to his brother, Nikolai
who had ideas of being a writer and
and I'm quoting pretty exactly from the translation I read.
young writers should frequently do the following tear
out the first few pages
of the notebook because they wrote it
in a notebook and tear off the last few pages.
And there, you will have a story.
And you know
it's funny checkoff story read a little like that.
Joined three people were walking down the road
and discovered oh they are taking this guy to Siberia.
And it goes on from there.
No, as we say, backstory, and it's so powerful that way.
And Hemingway, Hemingway learned that too.
Well, Lynn, if you wouldn't mind setting
up the next film clip as a, another prompt.
- Yeah. So we, so we decided to take a, of what many
of us consider Hemingway's greatest novel.
I will put my chips down and say, that's the case for me
"A farewell to arms", you know
And he, in the film, we talk about how he really
struggled to go from the short story form, which he mastered
to the novel.
And this is his second novel "Britain in the late twenties."
So I think it needs no introduction.
I think we'll just see the "Farewell to arms"
"A farewell to arms."
- [Male Narrator] In the novel Lieutenant Henry desserts
and flees to neutral Switzerland with Catherine Barkley.
They hope to marry and build a life together.
Once the war is over, she is pregnant, but something
goes terribly wrong in the delivery room.
Doctors performances a cesarean.
The baby is still born.
Catherine's life ebbs away, Hemingway agonized
over the ending writing 47 versions of the final pages
before he was satisfied.
- [Male Narrator] I went to the door of the room.
You can't come in.
Now, one of the nurses said, yes, I can.
I said, you can't come in yet.
You get out I say the other one too,
but after I had gotten them out
and shut the door and turned off the light
it wasn't any good.
It was like saying goodbye to a statue.
After a while I went out and left the hospital
and walked back to the hotel in the rain.
- [Edna] Parts of a "Farewell to arms"
could have been written by a woman.
Now I regard that as a compliment, Hemingway
might regard it as an insult, but I don't
because it is the androgyny in a man
or a woman that allows them, even if briefly, not utterly
to be able to put themselves
inside the skin of the opposite team in many ways.
I think it's just greatest novel I do.
It's the truest.
It's also heartbreaking.
I remember crying and crying and crying.
He gets the, all the, the boys stuff, the man stuff
he gets the horror of the War.
But when people put that book down
what do they remember?
They remember a woman dying in childbirth.
- [Male Narrator] If people bring so much courage to this
world the world has to kill them to break them.
So of course it kills them.
The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong
at the broken places, but those that will not break.
It kills it kills the very good
and the very gentle and the very brave impartially.
If you are none of these
you can be sure it will kill you too
but there will be no special hurry.
- Oh, that is so beautiful.
And I was pleased to see that president Biden actually
included a bit of that in his remarks last week.
So good to see his words being used
in high circles everywhere.
- Although it's the embedded positiveness, you know
strong in the broken places
but everything else about that passage is terrifying.
It is, you know, opening a, a closet and there's a guy
in a row with a side.
It's just, it's unrelentingly just exactly right.
But, but you can't hide from that, that paragraph at all.
- No, you cannot. No, you cannot.
Let me ask you this.
And it can be about that passage or more broadly
as you look at well
if somebody were to enter your craft, your profession
they wanted to be a documentary and they wanted
to be a writer and author.
What advice do you give them following your own practices
your own craft, your own tools?
You know, we, we heard a little quote about just tear
out the beginning and the ending and go with them.
What do you recommend to people to, to pursue your craft?
Mine is pretty simple.
And I talked to lots
of people who wanna be filmmakers a lot
of the time and they're platitudes are
they sound like platitudes to the people when I say it
but you have to be true to yourself.
You have to know something
about who you are and what you wanna do.
It's okay to not have anything to say
but it's harder sometimes to realize that that's true
and then perseverance, that's it, it's just hard work.
There are a lot more talented people than me
but we work really hard.
And Lynn and we work really, really hard at what we do.
And that's, that's, that's the, there's the law
that's the thing that finally winnows out, I think.
And if you, the rest
of the stuff falls into place, if you can.
I think, you know, it's not the first one is never mastered
but it's an engagement.
And the second one has to be a continual effort.
- Hello, Toby-
- Lynn how do you answer?
Someone is following your footsteps.
- I hate to give advice
because everyone's journey is so idiosyncratic
So I'm thinking more in a different way
about just what makes a good storyteller
a good filmmaker, or, you know, having something to say.
And I think one of the things we try very hard to is listen
to other people and be present and cheap, you know
don't act like, you know, everything at the beginning.
So being humble and just trying to learn from others
and hear who they are and meet them where they are.
Those are the kinds of like, that takes work actually
because I think we all want to have confidence
and if we know what we're doing, but holding on to
it's not hard for me.
I, I, a lot of them, you know, questioning myself.
So just being humble and just trying to really
understand what it is you're trying to do.
I think that's kind of essential.
And I find also helps when you're working with other people
which is what our work is so collaborative.
It really makes it all worthwhile.
- Pose the question.
I would ask an aspirant who is coming
to me for advice about that.
I guess the first question I would say
are you sure that's what you want to do?
You really want to spend your life alone in a room
putting semicolons in
and taking them out again, cajoling yourself
for days sometimes when things don't come and, and then
if they do, then I would say, well, bless you welcome.
And, and, and I would say that like a young musician
or like someone starting to learn an instrument
and you have to be patient, you have to practice
you're gonna make a, you're gonna hit a lot
of notes that, that are going to make you cringe.
And, but you go back the next day and you practice
And eventually you're going to be able to
play that instrument.
And the more you play it, the better you'll play it.
And that's the only way it gets done.
Just going back to that, to that bench every day.
- My advice to, to aspiring writers might sound facetious
but I'm quite serious on it is get a good day job.
One that you love.
Because, you know, as I, as many
of my writer, friends will tell you real writers
like Toby it's a, it's a hard business to make a living
on your writing and send your kids to college and, you know
do all the normal things that you aspire to do.
So I've always felt blessed to have, you know, a
a vocation that I love
that that allows me the freedom to pursue the writing.
But I think, you know
the other lesson is about God, God is in the details.
I mean, just to turn around the expression
the devil is in the details.
God is in the details.
47 endings to that story.
Hemingway tried before he came up with that one, you know
when I was a very young writer,
I sent my first book "Galley"
to John Irving who had become a mentor and friend.
And he reworked my last sentence about 15 different times.
And this is before email.
This was in a letter and he, and, you know, quite apart
from what he was suggesting, I was just so taken away
by the level of care that he brought to it.
It was like a surgeon worrying
about the last remnants of bleeding in the abdomen
that they just finished doing this big thing
on not wanting to close before then.
And so I think the advice I take away
from that is, you know, every little thing matters
every little detail matters and really respect the reader.
And the time they're giving you to give them only
what they need.
- That's right.
- We have some marvelous questions from the audience
so we will sprinkle them.
We don't have to do four answers
for each one, but popcorn style
if you feel called to answer particular one then it's yours.
Charlene asks the panel this,
if you could ask Hemingway one question today
what would it be?
- Hmm. Oh my God.
- That's a hard one.
- You'd take me fishing on your boat, please?
- I'm not joking.
- Wouldn't that be something?
- That's a good one.
If one, if another one comes to you later, fine.
I'm gonna move to Dave from San Francisco asks.
Do you think Hemingway's skill as a humorist is underrated?
- I do.
I mean, I think partly it's because some of the humor
maybe it doesn't resonate quite as much
with us just usage changes.
And so much of his writing is eternal
but I think some of the jokes
and kind of light humor doesn't play as well for me
because it's just a different time, the way people talked
although he captures how people spoke
but I think humor doesn't translate as well.
And we're also looking for the serious
because he's so much often dealing with so often dealing
with such serious themes that you do, kind of
not notice the humor if you're just reading for that.
So it's a great, it's a great note.
And I think there is a lot of humor, but you do have to
I find you have to look for it.
- Stacy has a question for Tobias, which is your story
"Bullet in the brain" is one of my favorite short stories.
Can you talk
about your decision to reference the killers in your story?
Well, it was a kind of a mage I think the story itself
I hope has a somewhat Hemingway informed in
that it's very limited in time and its cast
of characters even in its length there's but it just seemed
it just seemed the right thing to do when
I was writing the story at that moment.
And, you know
writers really can't say any more than that
about a few things.
Fred asked the panel
do you think Hemingway's creative process was a detriment
or a necessity to his genius?
- Maybe I'll, I'll jump in
and talk about something that is hard to avoid.
And that is his use of alcohol
which I think was actually a major impediment to, you know
what he might've left the world.
Had he, had he been a little more temperate?
You know, you, you really worry that it, as much
as it seemed to aid him at one stage in his life
he claimed it also clearly robbed him
of so much as time went on together with his head injuries
which were probably related, many of them
not all of them and his high blood pressure and so on.
And so I think as much
as I've learned from his creative craft
it always leaves you, you know, being very respectful
of the easy way you can damage yourself
from the anxiety and the stress of this lonely business
of trying to produce something that satisfies your editors
satisfies the world.
- You know we're doing a lot
of promotion and talking to reporters
and Lynn and I were talking to someone today and, and
and in many of them, they come up with
what do you want the audience to take away?
And it's, it's really a meaningless kind
of thing because we're telling a story
and you want the audience to find some purchase
at some place in that story.
And that's all it is.
But I would just say, Hey, you know, don't drink
don't see mental illness as a stigma.
If you have suicidal ideation, please seek help.
That's it, that's it in this story
the rest of it takes care of itself.
The, the literature, you can't really add anything to it.
The life has its own dramatic overdramatic
melodramatic affair, but it does have this, you know
compounding tragedy of, of head injuries and alcoholism
and inherited mental health and depression and dementia
and all sorts of stuff, whatever gets him, gets him.
But that's the cautionary tale right there.
- I'm, I'm really fascinated by the question of genius.
What is genius, which is, you know
and whether where's it come
from and how does it manifest itself.
And, you know, it's, I think there's gotta be
something that's just intuitive in someone
a creativity and an openness to thinking the
way other people don't think.
But then there's a lot of people like that.
It's the discipline and the determination and
the work and the, you know, not doing the things that Ken
and Abraham were just talking about that.
You can realize whatever genius you might have.
So for Hemingway, it's a sort of combination of
he has something really powerful and unique in him
but to get it on the page day after day
and to recognize when it's good and not good
and to edit himself and you know
the process itself when he's really running on
all sanders is so magnificent and it is genius.
It's just, there's no words.
So I think when you see the final product, you think, Oh
that guy's a genius.
He just put that down on paper.
I remember, you know, we had
can I made a film about Frank Lloyd Wright?
And he used to say
I just shake the designs out of my sleeve.
You know, like, no, that's not how it works.
You think about it, you write it down
you meditate on it, you know, but when you're a genius
it seems like it's just realized fully out there
like nothing went into it.
And so Hemingway it's, I don't know.
It just raises a lot of interesting questions
about what is the nature of genius and the pitfalls to.
- I mean, he certainly committed a lot
of self-injury and self-sabotage, but you know
as to the alcohol, I'm thinking, you know, that famous story
of someone complaining to Lincoln about a general grant.
and he said, well, "you find out what he's drinking
and send the case to all my other generals."
- Right. - Yes, he did all that.
But look, look at all these books.
- And he was only 61 when he died.
It's amazing what the, the, the, yeah
he really was a tormented man in many ways.
And, and other people suffered for that too, but
but his victory over his demons
in his art is just one of the most extraordinary.
- It's a triumph.
- Yeah. Well, I feel compelled to ask Diane
from Denver's question, which is
was there a biggest surprise that you discovered
- Oh Alan just froze.
- Some insight you had
into yourself while doing the project?
- Oh my God, it was constant.
I wouldn't know where to begin.
I think the kind of humility that, that Lynn was talking
about that is essential to the way we approach it means
that we've checked our baggage at the very beginning
whatever we thought we knew.
And rather than tell you what you should know
about Hemingway, we share with you a process of discovery.
So every day of working on this many
many years is a revelation of, of unbelievable consequences.
And sometimes it's just a little phrase from here or there.
I mean, a pretty God awful novel " have, and have not."
We quote an unbelievable passage about suicide in it.
I mean, it's a recurring theme in this as is childbirth
and cesarean sections and all of that sort of stuff.
And, and I'm always, I just get amazed
at it or whatever the clip is
that we just heard from "Indian camp" or
or just the two bits of business "From a farewell to arms."
I mean, all of that is a revelation and, and the
and the life and the
the dramatic life is sort of secondary.
We've all got complicated lives and his, his writ large
because he's a boldfaced name
at a time when writers didn't achieve that kind of thing.
But it's in, it's
in everyday the language where you just shook your head
I'm this I'm, what's called the scratch narrator.
That means I had to read before the actual narrator comes
in and I, every time we change a word, not of him, but of
of our writing, I have to go back in and read it again.
And it was a constant revelation
and it was doing that that drove me back to the writing.
Always, always just to the writing.
- Yeah. It, this has been such a rich subject
the life and the work.
And I think many of us were familiar
with his greatest works and getting to reread them and talk
to writers who had so much to share insights about Hemingway
and what he means has been just a gift to us personally
and to the project as well.
One of the greatest revelations
for us was really getting to know him as a person.
Cause we haven't talked about as much today
because we're focusing on Hemingway later
but his letters, he wrote thousands
of letters many a day and he saved carbon copies
of them and they're all being collected and published.
And so it's like you jumping to is like picking up the phone
and eavesdropping on Hemingway talking to his editor
talking to his wife, talking to his son
and you have an insight into kind of the rhythm
of his life and also the many moods of Ernest Hemingway.
So we got to be able to kind of juxtapose that our writer
Goff ward, you know, especially
in kind of mapping out, hearing from his fiction, hearing
from him what he was writing that day and then
kind of putting the pieces together was able, it was
it helped us to sort of see the whole person.
- [Alan] I see.
- And that was really beautiful
- You know, and to have that compassion
that you talk about, Lynn.
- I think for me, for me
the revelation was really watching this extraordinary piece
of work that Lennon Can put together because you know
it was yet another way to understand Hemingway
and to hear from, you know, writers who I greatly admire
all of whom have a slightly different take
on the man and the work, and then I might have had.
And I think it's a reminder that, you know
the writer puts the language out there
but then the world makes of it what it will and the
the variety of opinions
and the variety of ways that deeply effected people.
It's just so hats off to you two
for allowing us yet another insight
into this extra ordinary writer.
- Thank you.
- Indeed. I, the final question is actually for me.
That is Ray in Dorchester ask.
What is the personal connection
between JFK and Ernest Hemingway?
And, and in part, I'll answer this because it is the origin
of this collaboration in so many ways
although president Kennedy and Ernest Hemingway never met
they did have correspondence with each other.
And certainly Hemingway's definition of courage as grace
under pressure is one that Kennedy borrows with permission
as he puts together his book "Profiles in courage."
And, and later though, they are now both a widowed
Mrs. Kennedy and Mary Hemingway connect with each other
as Mary is trying to get Hemingway's possessions
his papers out of Cuba.
And the Kennedy administration helps facilitate that.
And, and Mrs. Kennedy and Mary make that connection.
And later at the Nobel prize dinner
that the white house hosts
Mary Hemingway is invited to go there and they
and they connect there.
And then when it is when Mary Hemingway is faced
with the question of what to do with all these papers,
Mrs. Kennedy offers and says
we'd be honored to have Jack's things with your collection.
So, and so when the library is built and as you
as you may know, the Kennedy's were very much proponents
of the arts and culture spec.
It was designed from the beginning
by architect IFA to have a special collection room
particularly for Hemingway scholars to, to do
to access all these papers.
And so we have in our collection
over 90% of the known papers and 11,000 photographs
from Ernest and Mary's personal collection, and it's
we treasure it as, as archivists.
Our archivists are delighted
that you as scholars and as researchers have
treasured it the way we have treasured it.
And we're delighted that you were taking it
to this larger audience of the world.
And so I want to thank again, Ken Burns, Lynn Novick
Abraham Verghese and Tobias Wolf
for this fascinating discussion
for more information on the upcoming documentary
and to register for upcoming events related to it
visit the website, pbs.org/hemingway.
The documentary will broadcast on your local PBS station
April 5th, sixth, and seventh at 8:00 PM.
You can find the book through your local bookstore
including the Kennedy library bookstore
or your local library.
And thank you again to GBH
for partnering with us on tonight's program
and many thanks to all of you in the audience
for joining in tonight's conversation and to our panelists.
I have loved this conversation.
- Thank you, Alan.
- Thank you so much.
- Abraham thank you again.
- It's a beautiful film.
- Thank you.
- It really is. Thank you.
- Thank you.