In 1958, Journalist George Plimpton in his Art of Fiction series sat down with author Ernest Hemingway in a lengthy interview. One of the questions he asked of the great American writer was who inspired him. I find his response surprising.
Plimpton: Who would you say are your literary forebears, those you have learned the most from?
Hemingway: Mark Twain, Flaubert, Stendhal, Bach, Turgenev, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Chekhov, Andrew Marvell, John Donne, Maupassant, the good Kipling, Thoreau, Captain Marryat, Shakespeare, Mozart, Quevedo, Dante, Virgil, Tintoretto, Hieronymus Bosch, Brueghel, Patinir, Goya, Giotto, Cézanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin, San Juan de la Cruz, Góngora—it would take a day to remember everyone. Then it would sound as though I were claiming an erudition I did not possess instead of trying to remember all the people who have been an influence on my life and work. This isn’t an old dull question. It is a very good but a solemn question and requires an examination of conscience. I put in painters, or started to, because I learn as much from painters about how to write as from writers. You ask how this is done? It would take another day of explaining. I should think what one learns from composers and from the study of harmony and counterpoint would be obvious.
What is amazing are the composers and artists Hemingway mentions that he considers as integral to his life’s work. Writing involves the totality of one’s life. Writers almost always answer that question with just a list of other writers they like. I love how Hemingway goes outside the literary world and names other types of artist who have all inspired him.
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