“In order to write about life, first you must live it.”
This quote from Ernest Hemingway, one of the most influential American authors of the 20th century, is especially timely as hundreds of Hemingway scholars will descend on northern Wyoming and southern Montana next week for the biannual “International Hemingway Conference.”
Hemingway, an American novelist, short-story writer and journalist, wrote seven novels, six short story collections, and two nonfiction works between 1926 and his death in 1961. In the early years of his writing career, Hemingway spent many months in the Beartooth Mountains near Cooke City, Montana.
Cooke City was actually the setting of Hemingway’s last short story, “A Man of the World,” according to Chris Warren, author of “Ernest Hemingway in the Yellowstone High Country.”
Warren was instrumental in bringing the conference to Silver Gate, only three-tenths of 1 mile from Cooke City.
“I submitted the initial proposal, traveled to the International Hemingway Conference in Paris in 2018 to support my proposal and presented a paper establishing Cooke City as the setting of Hemingway’s last short story,” Warren said. “My proposal won, and the Conference was set for 2020.”
However, Warren said that after planning and preparing for the conference for nearly three years, the 2020 event was canceled due to COVID.
“We then geared up for 2022,” he said, “and after all the work was done it (came) under threat from the flooding and subsequent Yellowstone closure.”
Paris, Venice, Key West
The International Hemingway Conference is usually held in locations such as Paris, Venice, Chicago and Key West, Warren said, which is why bringing international attention to these small communities in Wyoming and Montana is such a big deal to the small businesses which have been so recently devastated economically by the June 13 flood.
“The last conference was in Paris at the Eiffel Tower, the Sorbonne and the American University of Paris,” Warren said. “This one is being thrown in Cooke City, which has a year round population of 80.”
In preparation for the conference, Warren, who has lived in Cooke City and Silver Gate for 29 years, gathered materials showcasing the author’s adventures in the Beartooth Mountains.
“I traveled to the JFK Library in Boston and the Princeton library and gathered all these pictures of Hemingway in the 10 to 12 miles east of here,” Warren told Cowboy State Daily. “And so what we have here are pictures and the flies that Hemingway used. We have the old magazines that the original stories were printed in. And there’s really no other collection anywhere in the world like this.”
Warren said he was never a writer by trade, but living in the Cooke City area for nearly 30 years and learning about “Papa Hemingway’s” history in the area turned him into an author.
“Over those years, I met a bunch of old timers whose fathers knew him, and knew him well,” Warren said. “And it kind of got me started on what I thought would be a magazine article or newspaper article, and it turned into a book, as I uncovered more and more information.”
Warren said he is thrilled about the interest the conference has generated.
“We have 150 papers being presented,” he said. “We have 12 authors coming, we have all these events planned.”
The conference will actually take place in two venues – from July 17 to 21, events will be held in Sheridan, which is where Hemingway first arrived in 1928, looking for a quiet place to finish writing his novel, “A Farewell to Arms.”
He eventually found the right location, with few distractions, on the third floor of the Sheridan Inn, as well as in a cabin in the Big Horn mountains.
In 1930, Hemingway went west again, landing at the L-T Ranch just outside Cooke City, where he returned for three subsequent visits in the 1930s.
Warren explained that many of Hemingway’s manuscripts were mailed off from the Cooke City General Store, including “To Have and Have Not,” and “Death in the Afternoon.”
“The protagonist of ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ is from Red Lodge,” Warren pointed out. “The protagonist of ‘Islands in the Stream’ was a Montana rancher, the protagonist of ‘Across the River and Into the Trees’ is also from Montana. So we have this connection.”
According to the International Hemingway Society’s website, Hemingway gathered material for his short stories “The Wine of Wyoming” in Sheridan, and for “The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio” while recovering from an auto accident in the Billings, Montana, hospital.
Hemingway’s final story, “A Man of the World” is set in Cooke City, which is near where the international conference will stage its final few days of the 2022 gathering, at the Range Rider Lodge in Silver Gate, just down the road from Cooke City, where Warren is the manager and bartender.
From Warren’s perspective, the conference has brought a sense of purpose to the communities that have been hit so hard by the closure of the northeast gate to Yellowstone National Park.
“We’ve been able to come together as a community and still pull off,” he said. “This conference that’s usually in places like New York and Paris, and Madrid and Key West. And so not only is a town with a year-round population of 80 pulling it off, we’re pulling it off after this devastating catastrophe.”
Warren said that this area embodies the essence of Hemingway’s writing, and his life.
“Hemingway was about wild places, remote places, hunting, fishing, food, wine, and this place is full of it,” he said. “So if anybody wants to come up and see what we’ve got going on here, please do.”