2011 Fall/Winter issue Research, Scholarship and Creative Activity at Ohio University
Hemingway wrote The Sun Also Rises, he shot a fist in the face of the false romantic realists and said: ‘you can’t fake about life like that.’ He has most excellently quickened and enlarged my experience of social life.” H olcomb picks up his copy of this memoir and reads from another section. “ernest Hemingway was the most talked-about of young American writers when I arrived in Paris … and I must confess to a vast admiration for ernest Hemingway.” McKay and other black writers of the time responded to Hemingway, Holcomb says, because he wrote with clarity, honesty, and courage that led to important insights into the American scene. McKay and Hemingway met only once, Holcomb adds, introduced through a mutual friend, but no record exists of their conversation. Holcomb stresses that the interchange between Hemingway’s writing and works by black authors is not unilateral—that Hemingway also was influenced by the work of Harlem Renaissance writers. “Hemingway clearly had shared concerns and shared aesthetic approaches with many of the black writers he read,” says Holcomb. “As he was writing his first book, In Our Time, there is evidence that he was familiar with the most famous black novel of the time, Jean Toomer’s Cane, which was published in 1923 and, like Hemingway’s book, challenges the convention of the short story form.” Later, in the 1930s and 1940s, Hemingway’s influence would be “unavoidable” for emerging black writers such as Richard Wright, James baldwin, and Ralph ellison, Scruggs notes in his contribution to Hemingway and the Black Renaissance. Wright is perhaps best known for his novel Native Son (1940) and his semi- autobiographical Black Boy (1945). baldwin’s first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, was published in 1953 and was soon followed by a collection of essays, Notes of a Native Son. Published in 1952, Ralph ellison’s Invisible Man explores the theme of man’s search for his identity and place in society, as seen from the perspective of an unnamed black man in the New york City of the 1930s. This novel won the National book Award in 1953. “Although Wright, baldwin, and ellison would respond to (Hemingway’s) fiction in terms of their various thematic concerns, they all appropriated his existential theme of ‘a man alone,’ which Hemingway established in his novel To Have and Have Not,” Scruggs says. In an interview, Wright, who had numerous Hemingway texts on his bookshelves, had high praise for his contemporary: “I like the work of Hemingwa y and the Black Renaissan ce, co-edited by Gary Holcomb, includes 10 essays on literary connectio ns between Hemingwa y and Claude McKay, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, and others.