Ernest Hemingway, Cub Reporter the Star May Have Influenced Literary Style

Article excerpt

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 literary legend.

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 Associated Press.

"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 yourself."

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 most newspapers.)

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. …

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