The Importance of Being Ernest Love Him or Hate Him, Hemingway Left His Literary Mark. and Now His Hometown Is Making Big Plans for His 100th Birthday

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Byline: Jack Helbig Daily Herald Correspondent

Thirty-eight years after his death from a self-inflicted shot gun wound, Ernest Hemingway still rouses passion.

"I hate him," a hip writer friend tells me, and then uses an eight-letter word unfit for a family newspaper to describe the man once called "the bronze god of the whole contemporary literary experience in America."

A lot of feminists would agree, lumping him in with David Mamet and other unapologetic patriarchs, sexists and male chauvinist fools.

Others, like Redd Griffin of the Hemingway Foundation in Hemingway's hometown of Oak Park can't speak of the man without his eyes glistening with undisguised hero worship.

"Hemingway was an intensely spiritual man," he says. "One of the great writers of the century."

And then there are people in between. Washington-based lawyer Mark Matulef was a total "Hemingway junkie" when he was in high school. Encouraged by an English teacher who loved Hemingway, Matulef read everything he could get his hands on by Hemingway: the short stories, major novels like "The Sun Also Rises" and "For Whom the Bell Tolls," minor ones like "To Have and Have Not," even Hemingway's tersely written war dispatches.

"And then I outgrew it," he says with a sigh. "I guess everyone goes through a Hemingway phase when they are young. At least every man does."

Matulef is still quick to rise to Hemingway's defense whenever he feels the writer's reputation is threatened.

"He was not a misogynist, not anti-feminist. He was very progressive in his thinking about sex roles for his time. He was friends with Gertrude Stein, after all. The times just changed, and what seemed progressive then seems backward now."

Name another 20th-century author who arouses so many strong contradictory opinions. Or whose work continues to sell well with the general public and is read with equal relish by high school students and college professors?

Hemingway turns 100

Hem would love it. He loved stirring things up; he loved to catch the public's eye.

"Hemingway was a master at self-promotion," notes Hemingway scholar James Platt.

In his life he played a number of high profile roles: wounded war veteran, spokesman for a disaffected generation, boxing tough guy, great white hunter, disciplined Noble-prize-winning writer determined never to go soft.

If Hemingway were alive he would have turned 100 this year. And its not hard to believe a centenarian Hemingway would be very pleased by all the attention he is getting.

Several important books about Hemingway have been published, or are about to be published this year, including a collection of interviews, "Remembering Ernest Hemingway," conducted by James Platt and Frank Simons, and the final volume in Michael Reynolds critically acclaimed multivolume biography: "Hemingway: The Final Years."

Hemingway, himself, will weigh in with a new book, a memoir written in the mid-'50s and set aside for other work. Hemingway's son, Patrick, recently completed the exhaustive editing of the unpublished manuscript, which consisted of both type-written and hand-written pages. The resulting book, "True at First Light," about Hemingway's experiences on a safari, will be published July 21, Hemingway's birthday.

As important, there are Hemingway celebrations going on all around the country in such places as Key West, Fla., Petosky, Mich. and Sun Valley, Idaho, which are all places that loom large in the Hemingway legend.

But the locus of all the Hemingway celebrations will be here in the Chicago area, in his hometown of Oak Park.

For eight days, Wednesday through July 21, this quiet west suburban village will become Hemingwayland, with performances, lectures, films and the like planned for every night of the week, culminating in Hem's 100th birthday.

The big bash

The folks at the Hemingway Foundation have been literally planning this event for years. …