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Ernest Hemingway Was the Master of Tip-of-Iceberg Writing
Thursday, September 7, 2023



A familiar face will be in the crowd of speakers as The Community Library’s 13th annual Ernest Hemingway seminar gets underway tonight.

Local author, teacher and Hemingway historian Phil Huss has been a mainstay since the conception of the event. 

Huss has lived in the valley for more than two decades, working as an English teacher at the Sun Valley Community School. He holds a BA in English from Amherst University and an MA in English from Boston College.

He is the author of “Hemingway’s Sun Valley: Local Stories behind his Code, Characters, and Crisis,” which offers an in-depth look at Hemingway’s life and ideals. He teaches several courses at the Community School, his favorite among them being his Hemingway course.

Each year the seminar focuses on a specific theme in Hemingway’s life and writing, this year's theme being ‘Fathers and Sons.’

“The most exciting scholar joining us this year is Sherman Alexie,” said Huss. “He’s going to be talking about Hemingway’s portrayal of Native Americans. Mr. Alexie is a Native American himself. He’s written many books, the most popular being ‘The Part-Time Diary of an Indian.’ ” 

Another speaker Huss is excited about is Dr. Mark Seals, who edited the letters of Ernest Hemingway.

“He’s coming in to speak about the many letters Hemingway wrote to his boys over the years. It’s such a rich treasure trove--he wrote letters nearly every day, both to his father and his sons.”

The seminar includes breakout sessions on Friday and Saturday where participants discuss a given topic. This year’s discussions are focusing on a handful of short stories that fit the ‘Fathers and Sons’ theme.

“A lot of people are interested in Hemingway because of his life story, but what I think the event does well is that the focus is always on the texts,” said Huss. “His biography is obviously fascinating. And, of course, I am fascinated by it myself. But we could talk all day long about how problematic and interesting Hemingway was as a person and all the crazy stuff he did. And to me, that gets tiresome. What I’m interested in is ‘Why was he a great writer?’ ”

If you’re curious about why Hemingway is a famous writer, this seminar will flush that out, Huss said.

“He changed writing forever, mostly in the sense that he was the master of the short story. He was the master of tip-of-the-iceberg writing. You can see that in his short stories. He just gives you enough detail to get the surface understanding of what’s going on. But what he’s really getting at, he isn’t going to directly state. It’s implied. He was a master at that. He was trying to do what was going on in poetry at the time, which was all images and ideas and emotions. He carried that to short story writing.”

Father and son is a prevalent theme of Hemingway’s writings.

“Three stories with a great father and son dynamic are ‘Indian Camp,’ ‘The Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife,’ and ‘My Old Man,’ ” said Huss. “There’s a lot of tension between the fathers and sons in those stories. I find that Hemingway tends to bring forth the theme of the son realizing his father isn’t perfect, which is a classic coming-of-age theme. He liked to write about that age of transition where you realize your father is a regular human with flaws like everyone else.”

This year’s participants will also examine Hemingway as a father to his boys.

“He was a tough father to his boys,” Huss said. “He loved his boys, he taught them how to hunt and fish, but his relationship with them was always on his terms.”

 Huss believes it’s important to continue to remember Hemingway’s legacy in Sun Valley and the author as a local legend.

“Sun Valley was Hemingway’s favorite place in the United States. He arrived in 1939 and wrote sections of what I consider to be his best novel—'For Whom the Bell Tolls’--in the Sun Valley Lodge. He loved to get up early in the morning in the cool air and write,” he said.

“But what he loved most was that the people he associated with here weren’t interested in Ernest Hemingway, the celebrity,” he continued. “He was obviously very famous by the time he came here--that was a part of the point, to use his image in Sun Valley publication materials. But the people he hung out with, like Bud Purdy, Lloyd Arnold, and Taylor Williams--all hunting guides, they were only interested in him because he was a great shot. They weren’t interested in his books, and he loved that. They appreciated him for the man that he was.”

 Huss said the legacy of Hemingway’s time in Sun Valley that he particularly admires is the positive relationship between Ernest and son Jack.

“Ernest taught Jack how to fly fish and influenced him with a love for the natural world,” he said. “Jack ended up becoming the Idaho Fish and Game Commissioner. The work he did with the Nature Conservancy to preserve Silver Creek was crucial. Whenever you’re walking the banks of Silver Creek and it looks as beautiful as it does, you can thank Jack Hemingway and his work with the conservancy for that.”

The 2023 Ernest Hemingway Seminar is being held tonight through Saturday, Sept. 9, kicking off with an opening evening reception and presentation by author Sherman Alexie. The seminar can be attended either in person or virtually.  In-person attendance costs 95$ and virtual attendance, $30.

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