120 years ago today, the novelist and journalist Ernest Hemingway was born in Oak Park, Illinois. His elegant, yet lean style of writing—which he termed the iceberg theory—was a major influence on 20th-century writers and won him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954. He published seven novels, including The Sun Also Rises and To Have and Have Not, along with six short-story collections, and two non-fiction works. He served as an ambulance driver in World War I and his wartime experiences there, and as a war correspondent in WWII, formed the basis for his novels A Farewell to Arms (in 1929), and For Whom the Bell Tolls (his 1940 novel about the the Spanish Civil War).
Hemingway’s bold and adventurous lifestyle made him a popular celebrity and took him to far flung places, like Key West, Wyoming, Paris, Spain, on safari in Africa, and to Cuba, where he lived (and drank heavily) among the local fishermen and wrote The Old Man and the Sea, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1953. WATCH a short bio and learn about his tragic death… (1899)
At age 29, he received word that his father had killed himself and was devastated—having recently written to his father telling him not to worry about financial difficulties, a letter that arrived minutes after the suicide. He commented to his wife, “I’ll probably go the same way.” And, at age 61 after undergoing electroshock treatments for his depression and paranoia, he took his own life in Ketchum, Idaho, and was buried there by his family.
Hemingway’s behavior during his final years had been similar to that of his father before he killed himself. Medical records later confirmed that Hemingway had been diagnosed with hemochromatosis, a genetic disease whereby the inability to metabolize iron culminates in mental and physical deterioration. Both his sister and his brother also killed themselves, as well as his granddaughter, Margaux Hemingway.
Learn what ‘Papa’ Hemingway thought about the craft of writing in a compilation called, Ernest Hemingway On Writing.
MORE Good News on this Day:
- Belgium became independent with the crowning of Leopold I as King (1831)
- The United States Senate ratified the North Atlantic Treaty and joined NATO (1949)
- At a Geneva summit, US President Dwight Eisenhower presented his “Open Skies for Peace” proposal under which the US and the Soviet Union would trade maps detailing locations of each other’s military facilities and offer mutual aerial observation—it led to a program of unarmed aerial surveillance flights to help build trust (1955)
- The fully restored USS Constitution (“Old Ironsides”) celebrated her 200th birthday by setting sail for the first time in 116 years (1997)
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the final volume of the wildly successful wizarding saga by British single mom J.K. Rowling, went on sale, shattering publishing records broken by every previous books in the series (2007)
- The U.S. enacted sweeping changes to regulate U.S. banks and financial institutions (2010)
- Research was published that showed how scientists from Temple University were able to permanently delete the HIV virus from human DNA—snipping out the gene, and allowing the cell’s repair machinery to take over, soldering the genome back together—resulting in virus-free cells (2014)
Notable Birthdays: Actor, comedian Robin Williams (1951—2014)
And Happy 71st Birthday to British singer-songwriter Cat Stevens. Two of his solo albums reached triple platinum in the U.S., with iconic hits that included Father and Son, Wild World, Peace Train, Moonshadow, and Morning Has Broken. He also wrote “The First Cut Is the Deepest“, and credits West Side Story with giving him a new musical perspective. He changed his name to Yusuf Islam in 1977 and dedicated his life to religious education and philanthropy, but in 2006 revived his music career with his first pop album in 28 years, An Other Cup—followed by several others. HEAR about his near-death experience, and watch an excellent video at the bottom… (1948)
Born Steven Georgiou to a Greek Cypriot father and a Swedish mother in London, he taught himself piano on the family’s baby grand and asked for a guitar at age 15, inspired by The Beatles and Bob Dylan. His artwork is also featured on several of his album covers.
His spiritual evolution was a gradual one: In 1976, Stevens nearly drowned off the California coast. He said he shouted, “God, If you save me I will work for you,” and a wave appeared to carry him back to shore. The brush with death intensified his life-long quest for spiritual truths. He had been interested in “Buddhism, Zen, I Ching, numerology, tarot cards, and astrology”, but then, six months after his brush with death, his brother, who was a convert to Judaism, brought him a copy of the Qur’an as a birthday gift from a trip to Jerusalem and Stevens was quickly taken with its content, and he began his transition to Islam. He had already been intrigued by the sound of the Islamic ritual call to prayer, which was explained to him as “music for God”. Following the terrorist attacks on 9/11, he said, “It must be stated that no right-thinking follower of Islam could possibly condone such an action. The Qur’an equates the murder of one innocent person with the murder of the whole of humanity.”
He later founded the Small Kindness charity, which initially assisted famine victims in Africa and now supports, through donated musical royalties, thousands of orphans and families in the Balkans, Indonesia, and Iraq. (Photo by Bryan Ledgard, CC)