IT rarely takes long for young writers hired by The Kansas City
Star to learn that they are working in the long shadow of a
Ernest Hemingway was his name and eventually he claimed a
Pulitzer Prize and a Nobel Prize for his fiction. No other Star
alumnus achieved his stature or fame.
And the training he received as a novice reporter in Kansas
City helped him forge one of the most distinctive literary styles
of the 20th century - or so the story goes.
Hemingway's use of language was sophisticated and
self-conscious but also plain and direct in a way that made his
novels and short stories accessible to a mass audience.
His fascination with death, the drama of war and the visceral
pleasures of hunting - not to mention his appreciation of
bullfighting and boxing and his vivid descriptions of violence -
made Hemingway the prototypical macho literary hero.
While the influence of Hemingway's experience as a young
newsman may be debatable, he was a fine example of raw talent when
he signed on at The Star in 1917. It was his first job after high
school. And as the book "Hemingway at Oak Park High" makes clear,
the young writer's talent was largely undeveloped.
The 128-page book, published last fall, collects some of
Hemingway's unimpressive literary efforts as a high-school junior
and senior in Oak Park, Ill.
"I'm not sure that he would have seemed all that remarkable
now," Hemingway scholar Michael Reynolds, an English professor at
North Carolina State University, said in an interview with The
"The style that we associate with him isn't there yet," said
Reynolds, who wrote a foreword to the book. "I think it's always
encouraging to see someone like Hemingway was writing so cliched,
stereotypically, because it does give you hope if you want to write
The writings from 1916-17 include pieces that appeared in the
student newspaper, a literary magazine and the yearbook. While his
journalism was unremarkable, some of his fiction hinted at what was
to come, said Cynthia Maziarka, one of the school librarians who
compiled the material.
"The dialogue is as crisp as he could make it," she told The
Associated Press. "The stories usually have some kind of twist or
trick or turn that he used in his later short stories."
Hemingway once listed Kansas City as one of his favorite places
to write, along with Paris, Madrid and a few other far-flung
locations. Some of his later stories clearly reflected his six
months at The Star, and he spoke approvingly of the editors who
ordered him to write a "simple, declarative sentence."
Thus was born the belief that The Star's style manual, which
insisted on short sentences and paragraphs and "vigorous" English,
was a major building block in Hemingway's literary approach.
The argument is supported by "Ernest Hemingway, Cub Reporter,"
a 1970 book edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli, which reprinted 12 news
stories thought to have been written by Hemingway while he worked
in Kansas City, reporting hospital, police and Union Station news;
bylines giving the names of reporters were rare in those days on
A few of them have the poetic arc of a dramatic narrative.
"At the End of the Ambulance Run," for example, describes the
victims of shootings, brawls and razor fights treated at General
Hospital on the night shift. …