This is something I read at the Shebeen Club’s long-ago Hemingway’s Birthday Party. James Sherrett was kind enough to be one of our readers that night, with an excerpt from his very Hemingwayesque novel Up in Ontario.
Our other reader was Lucan Charchuk, who has now read twice, as well as presenting some of his artwork.
When Lori Dunn and I began the Shebeen Club, we hoped that within a year we’d be using it to present living Canadian authors, instead of dead foreign celebrities. This was the first event at which we managed to do both, and almost a year ahead of schedule! There were challenges to be overcome, of course. Our event occurred during a bicycle race whose track completely encircled and cut off the pub, but our public was not to be thwarted, and we had a relatively full house. The readings went very well. Despite the dangerous concentration of so much masculinity in one room, violence was averted and a sense of calm, if really testosterone-fuelled calm, reigned.
This is the speech that a very ill Hemingway had the US Ambassador read as he accepted the Nobel Prize for Literature on Hemingway’s behalf. It tells you something about the courage of the two men above that they had the fortitude to read their own work after hearing this. Hemingway is, as always, honest to the point of acute pain. He sets the bar very high; may we all attain that height, if only for a moment.
Hemingway’s Nobel Acceptance Speech
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.