It took him years to come to grips with his legacy and his complicated relationship with his father, Gregory. That mirrored the similarly complex bond that the youngest son, Gregory, had with his father, Ernest Hemingway.
But with the birth of his son and the completion of his cathartic book, "Strange Tribe," he came to the conclusion that when your name is John Hemingway, you can run but you can't hide.
"You don't escape anything," he said. "You take it with you."
Papa's grandson, a writer and translator living with his wife and two children in France, gave the keynote speech to open the third annual Ernest Hemingway Festival on Thursday, Sept. 20, at Carol's Dollar Mountain Lodge in Sun Valley. Linde Hoff, business development officer of the sponsoring Zions Bank, introduced him. The Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau presented the event.
Ernest Hemingway wouldn't have become the writer we know without the Paris years, Hemingway told an appreciative audience of more than 100.
"The French wanted to build a different society" as it evolved into a cultural hub after World War I and this appealed to his grandfather, Hemingway said. "He (Ernest) was someone in between, always on the edge," he said of the man he never met.
And as his grandfather fled for family reasons—to escape his puritanical, bible-thumping upbringing of Oak Park, Ill, so did the grandson try to flee geographically and emotionally from a father caught up in the same gender-bending bipolarity that shrouded Ernest Hemingway's psyche. The cheap food and drink and camaraderie of other like-minded artistic vagabonds, labeled "The Lost Generation," appealed.
"Paris was tailor-made for Ernest Hemingway," John Hemingway said. "He would not have become the writer he became if he had not gone to Paris."
Hailey-born, Erza Pound was an Ernest Hemingway mentor in Paris self-exile to escape what he also viewed as the "provincial mentality" of the U.S. "'In America they throw stones at poets,'" John Hemingway quoted Pound as saying.
Dressed in a cream-colored suit, no tie and white shirt and with the same five-o'clock shadow he displayed all weekend, Hemingway said of the ex-patriots "Paris was freedom for them."
Wearing the occasional cowboy hat, beret or baseball cap, listeners heard Hemingway describe growing up with his father who cross-dressed as he cris-crossed the country variously living in Montana, Miami and Key West. Gregory Hemingway eventually had a sex change operation and died as Gloria in 2001 in the women's section of the Miami-Dade County Women's Detention Facility.
Ernest Hemingway had a fascination with sexuality, lesbianism, homosexuality and many of his works have an androgynous aspect. Lesbianism was fashionable in the Paris of the day.
"Ernest was exposed to all this ... he found it familiar," John Hemingway told his listeners.
Hemingway quoted from his grandfather's book, "Garden of Eden," in which he wrote he was "looking for sexuality that went beyond all tribal laws."
Over the weekend John Hemingway visited the Ketchum Cemetery where his father, grandfather and other family members are buried. He also, for the first time, went to the Silver Creek Preserve near Picabo, where his grandfather and pals went bird hunting.
They came from all over to hear about Papa
There was a detention center guard, a pharmaceutical salesman, a student from Princeton and lots of teachers and scholars. But they all shared a common bond, their interest in Ernest Hemingway and his writings.
"I'm a Hemingway fan," said Charles Knapp, who came all from Carson City, Nev., to attend last weekend's Hemingway Festival in Sun Valley. Knapp is a guard at a correctional facility there. He had a simple explanation to explain why he was attending.
"Not very many people in my normal circle of acquaintances are interested in any kind of literature ... I like his style of writing."
Knapp grew up reading Hemingway in Michigan, where Hemingway spent a lot of time.