Papa

Ernest Hemingway at his home in Cuba, the Finca Vigia, 1954

Ernest Hemingway was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954. He told reporters when it was announced that Carl Sandburg, Isak Dinesen and Bernard Berenson were more worthy.

But the cash award was good and he was going through one of his many bouts of depression and recovering from two consecutive plane crashes that had nearly killed him. But he decided not to go to Sweden for the awards ceremony. (He had John C. Cabot, the U.S. Ambassador to Sweden, to read his Nobel acceptance speech.)

Writing is a solitary life and that is one of the good parts. You can work alone. For many of us, we work best alone.

Of course, Hemingway was a very public figure. It seems that he loved it at times, but I think he knew it was also destroying him. Tough place to be.

In his short speech, he does a good job of saying a lot in a few lines. It is what he did best when he was at his best.

Hemingway recorded the speech at a later date himself and I was very surprised to hear his voice for the first time. Not what I expected as the voice of Ernest Hemingway.

The speech:

“Having no facility for speech-making and no command of oratory nor any domination of rhetoric, I wish to thank the administrators of the generosity of Alfred Nobel for this Prize.

No writer who knows the great writers who did not receive the Prize can accept it other than with humility. There is no need to list these writers. Everyone here may make his own list according to his knowledge and his conscience.

It would be impossible for me to ask the Ambassador of my country to read a speech in which a writer said all of the things which are in his heart. Things may not be immediately discernible in what a man writes, and in this sometimes he is fortunate; but eventually they are quite clear and by these and the degree of alchemy that he possesses he will endure or be forgotten.

Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.

For a true writer each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed.

How simple the writing of literature would be if it were only necessary to write in another way what has been well written. It is because we have had such great writers in the past that a writer is driven far out past where he can go, out to where no one can help him.

I have spoken too long for a writer. A writer should write what he has to say and not speak it. Again I thank you.

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