In 1934, a young man called Arnold Samuelson hitchhiked his way to Florida to ask Ernest Hemingway for writing advice. “It seemed a damn fool thing to do,” he’d later write, “but a twenty-two-year-old tramp during the Great Depression didn’t have to have much reason for what he did.” Samuelson road atop boxcars for 2,000 miles till he reached Key West, and slept in the local jail before making it to Hemingway’s doorstep:
When I knocked on the front door of Ernest Hemingway’s house in Key West, he came out and stood squarely in front of me, squinty with annoyance, waiting for me to speak. I had nothing to say. I couldn’t recall a word of my prepared speech. He was a big man, tall, narrow-hipped, wide-shouldered, and he stood with his feet spread apart, his arms hanging at his sides. He was crouched forward slightly with his weight on his toes, in the instinctive poise of a fighter ready to hit.
After the initial guardedness, Hemingway started warming to the man, discussing the Cosmopolitan story “One Trip Across” that inspired Samuelson’s journey, and offering the aspiring writer some advice:
“The most important thing I’ve learned about writing is never write too much at a time,” Hemingway said, tapping my arm with his finger. “Never pump yourself dry. Leave a little for the next day. The main thing is to know when to stop. Don’t wait till you’ve written yourself out. When you’re still going good and you come to an interesting place and you know what’s going to happen next, that’s the time to stop. Then leave it alone and don’t think about it; let your subconscious mind do the work. The next morning, when you’ve had a good sleep and you’re feeling fresh, rewrite what you wrote the day before. When you come to the interesting place and you know what is going to happen next, go on from there and stop at another high point of interest. That way, when you get through, your stuff is full of interesting places and when you write a novel you never get stuck and you make it interesting as you go along.”
Hemingway then asked Samuelson what he liked to read, and wrote out a list of what he ought to. He also lent him a collection of Stephen Crane stories, as well as a rare edition of his own novel, A Farewell to Arms. Read on for Hemingway’s complete list, and find the full story of the encounter here.
The Blue Hotel by Stephen Crane
The Open Boat by Stephen Crane
The Enormous Room by E.E. Cummings
Far Away and Long Ago by W.H. Hudson
The American by Henry James
Dubliners by James Joyce
Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann
Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham
Hail and Farewell by George Moore
The Red and the Black by Stendhal
(via Open Culture)