Paul Hendrickson Takes on Ernest Hemingway, the Unconventional Way

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Media Contact:Jacquie Posey | | 215-898-6460October 4, 2011

Paul Hendrickson has adapted the conventions of literary biography in an unconventional way to explore the life of Ernest Hemingway in his new book, Hemingway’s Boat: Everything He Loved in Life, and Lost, 1934-1961.

Hendrickson, senior lecturer in Penn’s Center for Programs in Creative Writing, tells NPR’s Rachel Martin, weekend host on All Things Considered, “It was such a challenge to take on Hemingway in the first place because so many books have been written about him.  I knew I did not want to do, quote, a conventional biography.

The NPR interview is at

In Hemingway’s Boat, Hendrickson uses the doomed author’s 38-foot cabin cruiser, Pilar, as a narrative device to guide readers through the final decades of Hemingway’s life, from what Hendrickson calls “the height of his reign as a monarch of American letters” to his suicide in 1961.

The book has drawn praise from both critics and readers.  It appears at No. 29 on the New York Times extended hardcover nonfiction list for Oct. 9.

Hendrickson, whose previous book Sons of Mississippi won the 2003 National Book Critics Circle Award, writes in his latest book, “Ernest Hemingway has been examined by so many scholars and memoirists and respected biographers and hangers-on and pretenders and doctoral students desperate for a dissertation topic that I feel sometimes we have lost all sense of who the man really was."

Hendrickson's well researched account touches briefly on Hemingway’s childhood love of boats and fishing and fully examines his tortured relationships with his sons, his second wife and his beloved fishing boat, Pilar.

Before joining the faculty at Penn, where he received the Provost’s Award for Distinguished Teaching in 2005, Hendrickson was a staff feature writer at The Washington Post from 1977 to 2001.