Key West Archives - Eva Varga

July 13, 20149

When discussing American literature, the name that comes to mind most prominently is Ernest Hemingway. His writing style has greatly influenced 20th-century literature as much as his life of adventure has inspired later generations.

In anticipation for our holiday in Florida earlier this year, the kids and I enjoyed listening to The Old Man and the Sea on audio. We had planned a fishing excursion in the Gulf of Mexico and I knew his short story would captivate our imaginations.  To my surprise, it provided us with so much more.


While listening to the book, my mom had reminded me that it was possible to visit his home in Key West. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Though I think the kids were most excited to meet the polydactyl cats that Hemingway was so fond of and whom my mother had shared stories.

We arrived just as they opened and joined in on the first tour. Our docent was very knowledgeable and sprinkled quotes and references from his books throughout the tour. As we learned more about his life and many adventures, the kids were increasingly interested in knowing more.  “He went on a safari in Africa?”  “He was at the Normandy landings?”

While browsing titles in the book store, I came across  Write Like Hemingway: Writing Lessons You Can Learn from the Master. I showed it to my daughter and her immediate reaction was, “Can I study Hemingway like we study Shakespeare?”

“Yes. Certainly. We can do a full year of American Literature,” I responded. Thus, my planning and preparation have begun.


ErnestHemingwayBorn and raised in a suburb of Chicago, Ernest Miller Hemingway (July 21, 1899 – July 2, 1961) was an American author and journalist.  His family owned a summer home in Michigan where he learned to hunt, fish, and camp in the woods and along the lake shore. His early experiences in nature instilled a passion for outdoor adventure and living in remote or isolated areas.

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”

During World War I, Hemingway volunteered to serve with the American Red Cross and signed on to become an ambulance driver in Italy. It was July 8, 1918, when young Hemingway experienced his most significant life-changing moment. While on his late-night rounds for a military canteen, delivering cigarettes and chocolates to Italian soldiers near the Piave River, a trench mortar shell exploded, killing one infantryman and throwing metal fragments and shards into Hemingway’s body.

“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.”

Hemingway produced most of his work between the mid-1920s and the mid-1950s, and won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954. Many of his works are considered classics of American literature.

His recovery, in a hospital in Milan, helped to forge the passion and the imagination that led to numerous works, including several short stories; his first great novel, The Sun Also Rises; and his landmark war (or anti-war) novel, A Farewell to Arms.

Shortly after the publication of The Old Man and the Sea (1952), while on safari in Africa, he was almost killed in two successive plane crashes that left him in pain or ill health for much of his remaining lifetime. Hemingway maintained permanent residences in Key West, Florida (1930s) and Cuba (1940s and 1950s), and in 1959, he bought a house in Ketchum, Idaho, where he took his own life.

HemingwayHomeBring it Home

I am excited that my kids have enjoyed learning about him and have asked to learn more. I have only begun to scratch the surface on the possibilities for activities and lessons with which we can explore Hemingway’s literary works. Here are a few ideas to help you get started as well:

  • Join or start a book club and read one or more of Ernest Hemingway’s novels.
  • Listen to the audio version of The Old Man and the Sea read by Donald Sutherland.
  • Research the historical setting of one of his novels and learn more about the time period. How did the current events at the time of his writing influence his work?
  • Write a literary analysis of a collection of his short stories.
  • Explore his writing style using Write Like Hemingway: Writing Lessons You Can Learn from the Master as a guide.
  • Take a virtual tour of his home in Key West, Florida.
  • Read a biography of Hemingway and prepare a living history presentation.
  • Compare / contrast Hemingway’s work with one of his contemporaries: John Steinbeck, F. Scott Fitzgerald, amongst others.

“There is no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly; sometimes it’s like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.”

How about you?

What is your favorite Hemingway title? Did you study Hemingway when you were in school?  What do you remember most? How have you explored his work with your students?