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Ernest Hemingway hides in the shadows of Oak Park, reminders of his boyhood spackling the crevices of a town that’s aged 100 years since his departure.  He was born and educated here, and started jotting down ideas in journals, yearbooks and school newspapers here. His dreams of travel and adventure and literary fame started here. It’s all there, in the shadows.


The International Hemingway Society’s 2016 Conference in Oak Park brought Hemingway into the bright light for a few weeks. The series of talks and workshops and readings created an occasion to once again think about the highly-decorated author’s relationship with his boyhood home.  Hemingway was inducted into the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame’s 3rd class, and will forever, despite his global stature, remain one of OUR great writers.  The Oak Park Art League, a cultural treasure in its own right, explores, in various ways, the artistic possibilities that Hemingway surely felt as a boy.


CLHOF and OPAL, using Hemingway as a muse, brokered a marriage between the literary and visual arts. OPAL installed a series of exhibits based upon Hemingway, and that served as the springboard for a series of writing exercises. As part of a writing workshop led by Bob Boone, middle schoolers viewed the exhibits and learned a bit about Hemingway’s Oak Park life, as well as his Nick Adams stories; they then created their own short stories. Adults toured the artwork in advance of their contribution to a chain story in which one writer after another added a paragraph, the only guidelines being to use the art to advance the story and quickly hand it off to the next participant.


The results are interesting and worthwhile.


Dustin Evans, Lev Working and Michael Drobot, all on the verge of entering the seventh grade, were recognized for their submissions to the Junior Hemingways writing contest. They struggled with ideas of toughness, loneliness, courage, and self-worth. Each will receive gift cards from The Book Table, as well as publication in The Write City magazine.


Writers like Brendan Short, Nancy Sindelar, Rob Elder, Valya Lupescu and others channeled Hemingway’s voice, stole from his literary world and biography, used objects from the OPAL artwork, utilized contemporary Oak Park landmarks, and all the while caromed between voices and points of view and timelines—a fun exercise much like improve freeze tag. The 17 contributors included Hemingway scholars, humorists, dramatists, fantasy writers, sculptors, designers and painters. Each writer, in turn, merged their own distinct voice into the existing pattern.


See the results for yourself: you’ll see traces of the OPAL artwork in all the literature. Read the Hemingway Chain Story HERE