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The Old Man and the Pulitzer: Hemingway’s Last Book

September 9, 2009

Posted by Rick (originally posted on Writer’s Almanac)

Photo courtesy of the Ernest Hemingway Collection, JFK Library, Boston, MA

Photo courtesy of the Ernest Hemingway Collection, JFK Library, Boston, MA

I know it’s unfashionable for modern writers to like Hemingway, but I do. I include the following because it’s a good lesson in not letting your critics get to you.
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It was on this day in 1952 that Ernest Hemingway came out with his last novel, The Old Man and the Sea. He’d had a hard time getting back to writing since covering World War II as a journalist. He finally published his first novel in 10 years in 1950, Across the River and Into the Trees, about World War II. It got terrible reviews.

Hemingway was working on a long novel that he called The Sea Book, about different aspects of the sea. He got the idea for it while looking for submarines in his fishing boat. The book had three sections, which he called “The Sea When Young,” “The Sea When Absent,” and “The Sea in Being,” and it had an epilogue about an old fisherman. He wrote more than 800 pages of “The Sea Book” and rewrote them more than a hundred times, but the book still didn’t seem finished. Finally, he decided to publish just the epilogue about the old fisherman, which he called The Old Man and the Sea.

The novel begins, “He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.” It tells the story of an old man who catches the biggest fish of his life, only to have it eaten by sharks before he can get back to shore.

The Old Man and the Sea won the Pulitzer Prize, and two years later, Hemingway won the Nobel Prize in literature. He didn’t publish another novel in his lifetime.

To read more stories behind the stories of great writers, visit Writer’s Almanac

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