Ernest Hemingway might not have known he was writing a 20th century classic while working on “The Sun Also Rises,” but he realized it was something special.
We know that, among many other things, thanks to the efforts of Penn State professor Sandra Spanier, editor of the Hemingway Letters Project. She will read selections from Hemingway’s correspondence, “The Letters of Ernest Hemingway, 1923-1925,” during his Paris expatriate years as part of the Hemingway Foundation’s celebration of the author’s 115th birthday July 19 in Oak Park’s Scoville Square.
“He wrote a series of letters in 1925 while working on that novel showing his excitement that he’s onto something good,” said Spanier. “One was to Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas talking about not being able to sleep and getting up at 4:30 in the morning to write. Another was to Ernest Walsh, editor of the literary magazine This Quarter, describing it as ‘A swell novel It will be suppressed the day they publish it, but it’s a damn good one.’
“It’s fascinating because they give you a sense of literary history in the making, unfolding in real time.”
In honor of that second volume of Hemingway’s lifetime correspondence, the Ernest Hemingway Foundation will transform Scoville Square into a 1920s Paris metro station.
In addition to Spanier’s lecture and reading, the Foundation plans a Parisian-themed cocktail party, live music and a pop-up exhibit of artifacts from Hemingway’s childhood home. Among those will be gowns worn by his mother Grace and his sister Marcelline, Marcelline’s husband’s World War I dress uniform and paintings by Grace.
The Foundation has also planned another day of events July 20 including a children’s run with the bulls, a short-short story-writing contest and late-afternoon jazz and lemonade on the Hemingway porch.
There’s also a month-long Love Lock Bridge event emulating the Parisian habit of commemorating a romance by attaching a padlock to a bridge on the Seine and throwing the key into the river.
Hemingway’s letters, though, should provide the most personal commemoration of his life and times. Spanier said the Letters Project worked several years to track down roughly 6,000 of his letters in 70 libraries around the world and more than 120 individual collections. The epic output is expected to eventually fill 17 annotated volumes.
Hemingway wrote to almost 1900 recipients. He had long correspondences with celebrities such as Ezra Pound and F. Scott Fitzgerald and penned hundreds of individual letters to the likes of a Mayo Clinic cleaning lady he met during treatment there in 1958 whose maiden name was Hemingway.
“He wasn’t writing for posterity,” said Spanier, noting that Hemingway directed his estate not to publish his letters. His widow Mary overrode that directive with a one-volume collection in 1981 — before his son Patrick approved her project with the provision that all letters would be published without editing or omission. “His letter writing was very informal and off the cuff,with a tone of voice that can be surprisingly different depending on who he was writing to and what he was writing about. He expressed every conceivable human emotion in letters.”
That depth of feeling goes a long way toward explaining why Hemingway continues to be extraordinarily popular more than 50 years after his death, with a worldwide following and fans who travel internationally each year for his Oak Park birthday celebration.
Before her visit to Oak Park, in fact, Spanier took part, with hundreds of others, in the international Hemingway Society’s 16th biennial conference in Venice.
“The worldwide interest in him is phenomenal,” she said. “That may be because he was a celebrity during his lifetime as much as he was a celebrated writer. He’s probably the most recognizable American writer in history with the possible exception of Mark Twain. And he was a hero to men of the World War II generation.
“It was that mix, I think, that’s made him so lastingly popular: the man of action who’s also a thoughtful, literate, accomplished and important author.”Tags: Ernest Hemingway
A Night in Paris: 2014 Hemingway Birthday Celebration
Where: Scoville Square Building, 137 N. Oak Park Ave., Oak Park
When: 7 to 10 p.m. July 19
Cost: Tickets are $25
Contact: (708) 524-5383 or visit www.ehfop.org
Ticket includes weekend admission to the Hemingway Birthplace and Museum for tours, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, July 20, and 1-5 p.m. Sunday, July 20
More Hemingway activities:
For kids: Run with the Bulls and try their hand at writing six-word stories in the Hemingway style, noon-5 p.m. Sunday, July 20, at Scoville Park, Oak Park Ave. and Lake St., Oak Park, (708) 848-2222
Jazz and juice: Post-festivities lemonade and live jazz 1-5 p.m. Sunday on the porch of the Hemingway home, 339 N. Oak Park Ave., Oak Park
Lock Up Your Love: In Paris, lovers attach symbolic padlocks to bridges on the Seine and throw the key in the river. Oak Park’s local Love Lock option is available through the month of July on a chain-link fence under the Oak Park Avenue viaduct. Lock pics can be tagged on Instagram at #ehfop