Fountain on Papa

Ben Fountain, author of a tremendous 2006 short-story collection, Brief Encounters With Che Guevara, (my review of the book for Kirkus is on the book’s Barnes & Noble page) speaks with the Kansas City Star about Ernest Hemingway‘s influence on his work.

Several stories concern cultural collisions. Americans go overseas and find their values changed or confronted. In “The Good Ones Are Already Taken,” an American soldier goes to Haiti and comes home spiritually changed. To his wife’s dismay, he has “married,” in a spiritual sense, a Haitian goddess. Why are you interested in such themes?

For me, that’s where life is lived — in these train wrecks of cultural collisions. That’s where the most interesting things happen, where our notions of reality, and what’s good and what’s bad, are challenged in the most visceral ways. … What happens to you when you run up against another reality and you keep banging your face into it? That’s when we change. Ideas don’t really change us so much. It’s lived experience that changes us.

The interview appears on the eve of a large international Hemingway conference that opens in Kansas City tomorrow. As a thorough background piece in today’s Star explains, Hemingway lived briefly in K.C., starting his writing career as a cub reporter for the paper. As Steve Paul reports, just before Hemingway headed to Europe a colleague sent him off with a note that encouraged him to have bigger ambitions for his career:

“Hemmy, old scout, if you don’t pack up a Baby Corona and shoot some feature stuff to the Great Longanbaum when you get on the front you’re just a plain damn fool. This is your chance – the opportunity of your lifetime to make the limelight. You can do it. You can do it big. I don’t want to flatter you, but I’d give a million dollars in cold iron men if I possessed your originality. You see things. You know things. You read human interest like a book. And above all you can tell it. All you need to do is to keep your confidence in the Great Hemingstein screwed up to the highest pitch.”

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