If Literary Legends Were on Social Media — the Modernists

The Lost Generation would have killed it on social media.

21st century publishing would remove the obstacles that kept many now classic authors from wide readership in their lifetimes. Platforms like Twitter and Medium would play to the strengths of different schools within modernism (Twitter for minimalism, Medium for stream of consciousness.)

Here’s where I think you’d find the major figures of modernism online.

Continue reading on Medium 


Hemingway Collection at the JFK Library

Ernest Hemingway didn’t travel light. His baggage included a modern art collection, books, drinking accessories, an impressive gun collection, and the heads and pelts of his hunting kills. Always on the move, he schlepped it all through three wars, four marriages, two plane crashes, and many homes. His writing style itself left a tremendous paper-trail as everything he wrote went through dozens of drafts. The last page of A Farewell to Arms was rewritten 49 times. Fortunately for future generations, Hemingway never threw anything away.

“Courage is grace under pressure.” President Kennedy used Hemingway’s definition of courage as the epigraph to his own book Profiles in Courage.

The final home for much of Hemingway’s stuff and 90% of his papers is the JFK Presidential Library in Boston Massachusetts. Some of the collection is on display (at least until December 31st, 2016) in an exhibit, Hemingway Between Two Wars, while the rest is in the Hemingway Collection, a wing of the Library archives.

Last month, I was lucky enough to visit both.

 Check out my visit to the JFK Library’s Hemingway Collection on Medium. 

Hemingway, Refugees, and Writing with Emotion

In 1922, Hemingway was in Greece reporting for the Toronto Star on the evacuation of Thrace and the refugee crisis that followed. He used some of his memories and notes from the trip as material for In Our Time, his first collection of short stories.


Hemingway’s war reporting appears in italics between his stories. These vignettes put his journalistic roots  on display, they show his early attempts to paint with words (he was a big Cezanne guy),  and they remind the reader that his fiction is drawn from life.  


For a writer, these scenes give a great example of how to craft emotionally charged prose without heavy, emotional language. Take a look:


Minarets stuck up in the rain out of Adrianople across the mud flats. The carts were jammed for thirty miles along the Karagatch road. Water buffalo and cattle were hauling carts through the mud. There was no end and no beginning. Just carts loaded with everything they owned. The old men and women, soaked through, walked along keeping the cattle mov­ing. The Maritza was running yellow almost up to the bridge. Carts were jammed solid on the bridge with camels bobbing along through them. Greek cavalry herded along the procession. The women and children were in the carts, crouched with mattresses, mirrors, sewing machines, bun­dles. There was a woman having a baby with a young girl holding a blanket over her and cry­ing. Scared sick looking at it. It rained all through the evacuation.


There’s not an adverb to in sight, and it would be hard to find a word that doesn’t pull its weight here.  He lets the images speak for themselves rather than muting them with emotional redundancy. He doesn’t have to tell us that these  people are hopeless or miserable, he shows us “carts loaded with everything they owned” and “old men and women soaked through. He reminds us of the scale of the tragedy which has “no beginning and no end.”   Instead of saying the  scene was scary or sickening, he gives us the jotted fragment “scared sick looking at it.”


That last line–“It rained all through the evacuation”– comes last for a reason. Suppose he had lead with the weather “It was raining as…” or mentioned it in passing “Just carts loaded with everything they owned out in the rain,” it just wouldn’t have the same power. Besides, we kind of already know it’s raining or has been raining: the river is almost up to the bridge, it’s muddy, and the old people are soaked through. By saving this detail for last, he gives it the power to devastate. On top of all the hardship and suffering he describes, as if these people haven’t suffered enough: It’s raining.

Write Like Hemingway, the App

Hemingway App is a text editor designed to keep your writing tight like Papa’s. Hemingway checks your text for areas that could be simplified or cut entirely.

The app highlights hard to read sentences, and suggests simpler alternatives to words like ‘utilize’ (use) and ‘individual’ (person.) It counts your adverbs, and highlights passive voice. All this is color coded so you can see problem areas at a glance. Your work is given a reading level as well. Lower is better.

So, what does Hemingway think of Hemingway? you might ask. The New Yorker tested the app with passages of his. According to Hemingway App, the first sentence of ‘A Clean Well Lighted Place’ should have been cut. The opening paragraph of that story reads at a grade 15 level, which I guess means college. The app defines clear writing as grade 10 or lower.

His dialogue does better. This passage from ‘The End of Something’ is written at a 4th grade level

“I don’t feel like eating,” said Nick.
“Come on and eat, Nick.”
“All right.”
They ate without talking, and watched the two rods and the fire-light in the water.

The New Yorker goes on to give a gorgeously adverb laden passage from The Sun Also Rises as an example of why it pays to break the rules sometimes.

If there’s one thing that polarizes the writing world more than the creep of tech into our craft, it is the bearded, rhino-chasing, alpha male of American letters. Many of us don’t want to write like Hemingway and don’t want a piece of code to take our adverbs away. There are some scathing reviews of the app out there. One blogger  shows us how it would have butchered the closing paragraph of Joyce’s ‘the Dead.’ Fair enough, but this app isn’t for James Joyce. It’s not really even for writers, (though I can think of a few who need it.) Hemingway is ideal for amateurs who don’t know the rules of good writing or how to break them. It’s a face-saver on important emails and practically a public service to anyone CCd on them.

For editors and content managers, Hemingway helps idiot-proof the writing that comes out of your organization. It saves time and red ink.

Here’s what Hemingway thinks of my review of Hemingway (click to enlarge.)

I had one personal issue with the app–it thinks ‘Daly’ is adverb.