Hemingway

(Rochester, NY) – Ernest Hemingway, the iconic literary figure considered one of the greatest American writers and among the first to live and work at the treacherous nexus of art and celebrity, is the subject of an upcoming three-part, six-hour documentary series directed by award-winning filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. Hemingway premieres Monday, April 5- Wednesday, April 7, 2021, 8-10 p.m. on WXXI-TV. It will encore each night from 10 p.m.-12 Midnight.

Hemingway paints an intimate picture of the writer—who captured on paper the complexities of the human condition in spare and profound prose, and whose work remains deeply influential around the world—while also penetrating the myth of Hemingway the man’s man, to reveal a deeply troubled and ultimately tragic figure. The film also explores Hemingway’s limitations and biases as an artist.

Written by Geoffrey C. Ward and produced by Sarah Botstein, both longtime collaborators of Burns and Novick– Hemingway interweaves a close study of the biographical events of the author’s life with excerpts from his fiction, nonfiction, and short stories, informed by interviews with celebrated writers, scholars and Hemingway’s son, Patrick. The filmmakers explore the painstaking process through which Hemingway created some of the most important works of fiction in American letters, including novels The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and The Old Man and the Sea; short stories “Hills Like White Elephants,” “The Short and Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” “Up in Michigan,” “Indian Camp” and “The Snows of Kilimanjaro;” as well as the nonfiction works Death in the Afternoon and A Moveable Feast.

Narrated by long-time collaborator Peter Coyote, the series features an all-star cast of actors bringing Hemingway (voiced by Jeff Daniels), his friends and family vividly to life. Through letters to and from his four wives—voiced by Meryl Streep, Keri Russell, Mary-Louise Parker, and Patricia Clarkson—the film reveals Hemingway at his most romantic and his most vulnerable, grappling at times with insecurity, anxiety, and existential loneliness. 

In three two-hour episodes, Hemingway tracks the meteoric rise and tragic fall of the author who, in his final years, suffered from chronic alcoholism, traumatic brain injuries, and serious mental illness. In 1961, at the age of 61, Hemingway died by suicide, leaving behind an unparalleled body of artistic work and a complicated emotional legacy for those closest to him. 

The filmmakers were granted unusually open access to the treasure trove of Hemingway’s manuscripts, correspondence, scrapbooks, and photographs housed at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston. Interviews with renowned biographers and scholars, including Mary Dearborn and Marc Dudley, shed new light on the man and his work; and well-known writers around the world—including Edna O’Brien, Abraham Verghese, Mario Vargas Llosa, Mary Karr, Tim O’Brien, Akiko Manabe, Leonardo Padura and Tobias Wolff—deepen the film’s exploration of Hemingway’s oeuvre. It also includes moving commentary from Hemingway’s surviving son, Patrick, and from the late Senator John McCain, whose lifelong role model was not Hemingway, but Robert Jordan, the protagonist of For Whom the Bell Tolls

Photo: Ernest Hemingway at his home Cuba, late 1940s.
Credit: Courtesy of Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

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