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Long after his death, Ernest Hemingway still casts a long shadow

Ernest Hemingway remains popular with writing instructors who according one academic “prize Hemingway’s work for whit can teach students about

Ernest Hemingway remains popular with writing instructors who, according to one academic, “prize Hemingway’s work for what it can teach students about the craft of fiction.”

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Updated: October 29, 2011 12:34AM

Oak Park native son Ernest Hemingway has been called many things.

Dull isn’t one of them.

The Nobel- and Pulitzer Prize-winning author died 50 years ago this weekend, killing himself (on July 2, 1961) with a gunshot — a violent end to what can only be described as a turbulent, hard-driving and over-the-top life. Four wives, seven novels, six short-story collections and enough booze to float his beloved boat, Pilar. Throw in a few bullfights for good measure.

The second of six children born to Dr. Clarence Hemingway and Grace Hall Hemingway, the author grew up in the west suburb. According to the Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park, his mother took him to the opera and to museums in Chicago when he was young.

His father taught him how to observe nature and hike, camp, fish and hunt. As a teen he wrote for the Trapeze, the student newspaper at Oak Park and River Forest High School. After graduating, he moved to Kansas City to take a job as a newspaper reporter. He would later would later refer to the suburb as a place of “wide lawns and narrow minds.”

He committed suicide in Idaho just short of his 62nd birthday.

In a many ways, though, he lives on.

This summer he’s “co-starring” in a hit movie, Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris’’; plays a major role in a best-selling novel, The Paris Wife by Paula McLain; and is the subject a number of other new books, including Hemingway’s Boat, which follows the writer’s life on his 38-foot motor yacht, out in September. There’s even a laugh-out-loud parody, just published, called The Heming Way.

“I think Hemingway still captures people’s imaginations for different reasons,” says Corey Stoll, who plays the writer in “Midnight in Paris.”

Three, to be exact.

“On the level of style, it seems like he’s pretty much unequaled in his influence on 20th-century American writing. In terms of speaking to our celebrity culture, he was a master of shaping and spreading the larger-than-life image he projected,” Stoll said. “And in terms of masculinity, I think some men are nostalgic for his apologetically macho stance. And some women, even ones smart enough to know better, find that attractive.”

His first novel, The Sun Also Rises, published in 1926, became an instant classic. It was followed by A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Old Man and the Sea and, posthumously, A Moveable Feast, the tale of his life in 1920s Paris among what Gertrude Stein called “The Lost Generation.”

Paul Hendrickson, author of Hemingway’s Boat: Everything He Loved in Life, and Lost, 1934-1961, out this fall, says the writer remains misunderstood. “Under all that bravado was a very tortured writer, and that makes him far more compelling. Things were not necessarily as they seemed,” he said.

Craig Warren, president of the College English Association, says that Hemingway remains popular in writing classes. “Creative writing instructors still prize Hemingway’s work for what it can teach students about the craft of fiction,” says Warren. “Hemingway showed that sparse prose can convey a great depth of emotion and meaning beneath the surface of the page.”

And he’s still selling. In 2010, Hemingway’s publisher, Scribner, sold more than 350,000 copies of his works in North America alone.

Susan Wrynn, curator of the Hemingway Collection at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, says both John McCain and President Barack Obama cited Hemingway as their favorite writer during the last presidential campaign. They even agreed on the book: For Whom the Bell Tolls.

The Soviets named a minor planet after him. There are a number of Hemingway restaurants, plus a proliferation of bars called “Harry’s,” homage to the bar in Across the River and Into the Trees.

There is also a line of Hemingway furniture, safari clothes, vests, hats and eyeglasses. There are even Hemingway fountain pens, from Mont Blanc

There are no events scheduled by the Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park to mark his passing. However, on July 21, a lecture will be presented by Steve Paul, a Hemingway researcher.

Gannett News Service with Sun-Times staff contributing

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