Paul Hendrickson recently explained that his new book “isn’t meant to be Hemingway biography—not in any conventional sense.” Rather, it’s an attempt “to come to a modest understanding of the almost insanely complicated life of Ernest Hemingway through the narrative lens of something in the material world he had loved very much. A possession that was intimately his and he hers for 27 years, which were his final 27 years. Her name was Pilar and she was his 38-foot sea-going motorized fishing vessel, and she lasted him through three wives, the Noble Prize and all his ruin.”
In celebration of Hendrickson’s latest work, published just this month, the Penn Humanities Forum organized a lecture and discussion with the author/creative writing professor last week. Over the course of his 40-minute talk, Hendrickson discussed his goals in writing Hemingway’s Boat: Everything He Loved in Life, and Lost, 1934-1961 [Knopf, 2011. $30.]—“My aim has been to try to lock together the words ‘Hemingway’ and ‘boat’ in the way that the locked-together and equally American words ‘DiMaggio’ and ‘bat’ or ‘Satchmo’ and ‘horn’ will quickly mean something in the minds of most people, at least of a certain age.”—and also outlined some of the major themes and ideas that flow through his water-themed new work.
I recorded Hendrickson’s lecture, and you can hear it in its entirety below:
The Washington Post published a review of Hemingway’s Boat last Thursday, calling it “a large-minded, rigorously fair summation of the best thought on Hemingway’s writing, his life, traumas, pathologies, his family and friends, his even more abundant cast of personal, literary and cultural enemies” and “a valuable new tool for…seeing Hemingway.” Other reviewers have described the book as “inspired” and “glorious” and “fetchingly kinetic.”
A Washington Post reporter for 23 years, Hendrickson’s previous books include Sons of Mississippi (2003), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award in general nonfiction and the Chicago Tribune’s Heartland Prize; The Living and the Dead: Robert McNamara and Five Lives of a Lost War (1996); Looking for the Light: The Hidden Life and Art of Marion Post Wolcott (1992); and Seminary: A Search (1983).
The Gazette profiled Hendrickson in 2006, and that article is available here.