Ernest Hemingway took two trips to Africa in his life. In the early 1930s, he went on safari and hunted big game. This venture inspired two of his most iconic short stories and a book of nonfiction.
The second excursion in 1954 was a disaster. He survived two plane crashes in the span of a few days. Sustaining serious injury, he was never quite the same. He died just five years later.
These represent two different, yet fascinating points for the provocative character. Ketchum’s Community Library will host a conference this week, Sept. 9-11, examining this section of the writer’s life. Focusing on his short stories “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” speakers will visit to host public discussions. In-person tickets for this event have sold out; however, tickets to attends the event virtually are still available. Tickets are $25 each and available on the library's website, comlib.org.
Hemingway first published the “Snows of Kilimanjaro” in 1936 in Esquire Magazine. Set in Africa, it tells of a writer dying of gangrene. He and his wife go back and forth about their relationship and moments he’s had in the past. He laments all the things he’s never done and all the stories he’s never written.
“The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” also published in 1936, came out in Cosmopolitan Magazine. It describes a man and woman who go on an African safari in an attempt to save their marriage. The man tries to prove his masculinity by shooting a lion, but only ends up wounding it. The woman mocks him and ends up sleeping with the safari guide out of spite. The next day, the husband does better on the hunt. Just as he is about to finish off a buffalo, his wife shoots him. In typical Hemingway ambiguity, it’s never quite clear whether she does it on purpose.
For one of the programs, Dr. Stacey Guill will host a mock “Trial of Margaret Macomber” (the fictional wife), with members of the conference acting as the characters. Guill, who wrote her dissertation on “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” looked at 83 years of criticism by different scholars who have weighed in on Margaret’s guilt or innocence.
“I find by studying [Hemingway], no matter what topic, you can always dig deeper,” Guill said. “He read so much and he knew so much about politics and history and science, every time he writes something there’s at least three or four pages you can go read behind that that backs up what he said. That’s fascinating to me, because then I feel like a Sherlock Holmes.”
The audience will then be asked to deliberate as a jury and come up with a verdict. “Sometimes at conferences you just go to one speaker after another,” Guill said. “This one is so much more geared toward the participants being able to voice their opinions, their thoughts, expertise.”
Guill and fellow presenter Clyde Moneyhun, who teaches at Boise State University and the University of Alicante in Spain, disagree on which story is a stronger story.
“I think ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro’ is a better story,” Moneyhun said. “Many of Hemingway’s anxieties about writing and living in general are exposed there in a fictional form, since like so much of his writing, it is autobiographical. The flashback scenes in which the dying writer relives moments of his life are, I think, among the best passages in all of Hemingway’s work.”
Guill believes that “Macomber” is one of the best short stories Hemingway ever wrote. But, she acknowledges that “both stories are really well known and wonderfully well done.”
Moneyhun and Guill will team up on BSU’s panel speaking on “Hemingway’s Safari Women,” looking at the women in his life during the time he travelled to Africa. Whether they were his wives or the inspiration from Osa Johnson, these women were are indelibly intertwined with his work.
“There were so many things in Africa that just fascinated him,” Guill said. “The landscape reminded him of Spain, which is one of his favorite places.”
The conference will also present illustrations based on the animals in his nonfiction book “The Green Hills of Africa.” Hemingway’s descriptions will be put next to artwork of hyenas, cape buffalo and antelopes.
“He will describe an animal in the most succinct way,” Guill said. “In two or three lines, he literally captures the looks of the animal, the way the animal moves.”
Other presenters include the first woman safari guide at Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique, Gabriela Curtiz; executive director of The Community Library, Jenny Emery Davidson; editor of The Hemingway Review, Suzanne del Gizzo; author of “Hemingway’s Brain,” Andrew Farah; fiction writer Judith Freeman; Phil Huss, author of “Hemingway’s Sun Valley: Local Stories Behind his Code, Characters and Crisis”; Carla Murillo, the library’s 2021 Hemingway in Idaho Research Fellow; Boise State University professor Mac Test; founding editor of the award-winning Idaho Review, Mitch Wieland; and Robert Wilson, a teacher of biology and literature at Rowland Hall School in Salt Lake City, Utah.
“In his lifetime, there was probably too much focus on his larger-than-life personality,” Moneyhun said. “He was an international rock star, one of the most recognized men on the planet, with the Papa Hemingway persona, the trophy hunting and fishing, the wives, the drinking. I hope that the symposium reminds people to go back to the writing itself and to appreciate the artistry of his writing at its best. He wanted to be counted among the greatest writers. In the best of his writing, he is.”