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Ernest Hemingway FAQ: Quotations

Question Where can I read Ernest Hemingway's Nobel Prize speech?

Answer Below is the full text of Ernest Hemingway's Nobel Prize acceptance speech, which was read for him by John C. Cabot, the then US Ambassador to Sweden.

Members of the Swedish Academy, Ladies and Gentlemen:

Having no facility for speech-making and no command of oratory nor any domination of rhetoric, I wish to thank the administrators of the generosity of Alfred Nobel for this prize.

No writer who knows the great writers who did not receive the prize can accept it other than with humility. There is no need to list these writers. Everyone here may make his own list according to his knowledge and his conscience.

It would be impossible for me to ask the Ambassador of my country to read a speech in which a writer said all of the things which are in his heart. Things may not be immediately discernible in what a man writes, and in this sometimes he is fortunate; but eventually they are quite clear and by these and the degree of alchemy that he possesses he will endure or be forgotten.

Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer's loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.

For a true writer each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed.

How simple the writing of literature would be if it were only necessary to write in another way what has been well written. It is because we have had such great writers in the past that a writer is driven far out past where he can go, out to where no one can help him.

I have spoken too long for a writer. A writer should write what he has to say and not speak it. Again I thank you.

For a print version, see Conversations with Ernest Hemingway edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli.

You can also listen to Hemingway read his speech.

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Question Did Ernest Hemingway write the shortest short story?

Answer As legend has it, Ernest Hemingway was sitting with writers at the Algonquin Hotel and bet them that he could write a short story in only six words. He won the bet with this clever creation: "For sale: Baby shoes, never worn."

Snopes.com suggests that the six-word story did not originate with Hemingway, but rather with a one-man play titled Papa written by John deGroot. Commenting on the authenticity of his play, deGroot said: "Everything in the play is based on events recounted by Ernest Hemingway and those who knew him. Whether or not all these events actually happened is something we'll never know truly. But Hemingway and those who knew him claimed they did."

In January 2013, Quote Investigator thoroughly researched the origins of this quotation and concluded that there is "no substantive evidence that Ernest Hemingway composed a six or seven word story about an unworn pair of baby shoes or an unused baby carriage."

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Question Where does the phrase, "grace under pressure" originate?

Answer The phrase "grace under pressure" first gained notoriety when Ernest Hemingway used it in a profile piece written by Dorothy Parker. Parker asked Hemingway: "Exactly what do you mean by 'guts'?" Hemingway replied: "I mean, grace under pressure." The profile is titled, "The Artist's Reward" and it appeared in the New Yorker on November 30, 1929. The first published use of the phrase, however, was in an April 20, 1926 letter Hemingway wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald. The letter is reprinted in Ernest Hemingway: Selected Letters 1917-1961 edited by Carlos Baker, pages 199-201.

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Question Ernest Hemingway said you must do what four things to be a man?

Answer The four things are:

  • Plant a tree
  • Fight a bull
  • Write a novel
  • Father a son

Whether Hemingway actually said this is questionable. A source for the statement has never been found.

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Question What is Ernest Hemingway's "there are only three sports" quotation?

Answer "There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games."

This is one in a long list of quotations mysteriously attributed to Ernest Hemingway. While the general public seem to agree that this is in fact a Hemingway quotation, scholars have some reservations and for good reason. The early Hemingway did not believe that bullfighting was a sport. For him, it was a tragedy. See his October 20, 1923 article titled "Bullfighting A Tragedy" reprinted in By-Line: Ernest Hemingway: Selected Articles and Dispatches of Four Decades edited by William White. Hemingway reiterates his beliefs regarding the tragedy of bullfighting in his 1932 book, Death in the Afternoon.

In July of 2006, Gerald Roush, a visitor to Timeless Hemingway, provided a possible source for the "three sports" quotation. He cited a story titled "Blood Sport" by Ken Purdy, which originally appeared in the July 27, 1957 edition of the Saturday Evening Post. The story is reprinted in Ken Purdy's Book of Automobiles (1972). Gerald provided a scan of where the quotation appeared and it reads as follows: " 'There are three sports,' she remembered Helmut Ovden saying. 'Bullfighting, motor racing, mountain climbing. All the rest are recreations.' " Gerald noted that the character of Helmut Ovden is modelled after Ernest Hemingway. This could explain why the quotation has been so widely attributed to Hemingway over the years.

In May of 2007, Rocky Entriken wrote to Timeless Hemingway with another possible author for the quotation:

"As I am told, the quote belongs to Barnaby Conrad, a writer of the same era as Hemingway and a San Francisco raconteur of some note. Mostly he did magazine articles but his books include The Death of Manolete. My source is Dan Gerber, yet another writer of the era."

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Question Where can I find a definition of "the true gen"?

Answer See Denis Brian's book, The True Gen: An Intimate Portrait of Hemingway By Those Who Knew Him. On a page before his introduction, Brian provides an explanation of "the true gen." Hemingway himself explains the concept in an October 1945 letter to Malcolm Cowley. See Ernest Hemingway: Selected Letters 1917-1961 edited by Carlos Baker, page 603.

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