English Professor Stephen Cushman Weighs in on Hemingway for Ken Burns’ Film

A former student association has led University of Virginia Professor Stephen Cushman to join a diverse group of writers and scholars discussing Ernest Hemingway in a new three-part PBS series directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, “Heming” starts on Monday.

Hemingway is a tall, controversial figure in 20th century American literature whose prose has been a major influence on writing for nearly 100 years. Burns and Novik wanted to “reveal the man behind the legend” and reveal his complicated, complicated life, they say on the show’s website. Yes, he wrote about macho topics such as war, bullfighting and big game hunting, but there was so much more to him than the person he portrayed to the world, as the documentary shows.

Hemingway, who wrote from World War I until the 1950s – with a work published after his death after dying from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1961 – became known for his non-fiction, novels and short stories. , and especially for writing style.

“My connection to the documentary came through Burns co-founder Lynn Novick, whom I taught at an American literature study in Yale in the early 1980s,” Cushman wrote in an email, saying he was proud to be a program consultant. in a row.

With more than 30 years of documentary writing, Novick has worked on seven popular series with Burns, including “The Vietnam War”, “Baseball” and “Jazz”, as well as the creation of the 2019 PBS series, “College Behind Bars” “, First solo work as a director, with Sarah Botstein as producer.

Cushman said it remains true that “no 20th-century American writer has had as much influence on the way ordinary Americans write American English by Hemingway.” The author’s style is deceptively simple and icy, he said, with much more happening beneath the surface.

In the first episode, Cushman responded to the reception of Hemingway’s book of short stories, “In Our Time,” published in 1925. Hemingway wrote at the time that he hoped the book would be praised from above and could be read from below. “There is no scripture that can be read in high school,” Cushman said. “At the time, there was this ‘cult of difficulty’ of Anglo-Irish-American modernist writers, including James Joyce and Gertrude Stein.” , William Faulkner and ee cummings.

Although the documentary has been around for years, one thing that makes Hemingway important today is the blurring of gender and gender exchange – in his work and in his life. Kusman said this is not known to the average reader and viewer. The letters and later work contrast Hemingway’s super-masculine image with someone softer, willing to look at feminine features.

“We now know that Hemingway was, in fact, years ahead of his time on non-binary gender liquidity,” Kusman said.

He recalled having a major discussion with Novick and producer Sarah Botstein about Hemingway in the fall of 2016. He met with the two when they visited Charlottesville for the Virginia Film Festival to show excerpts from the 10-part documentary about the Hemingway. . (Cushman went on to teach a University Seminar using the series in the fall of 2017, and Novick attended his class.)

It will take several years and more conversations with Cushman – who is one of the program’s 13 advisors, a diverse group of screenwriters and scholars – until the directors have completed the documentary.

Cushman, Robert C. Taylor, an English teacher who joined the UVA School in 1982, has written and published more than a dozen books on everything from the Civil War to American poetry, including the publication of six volumes of his poems. A new book of poems will be published in 2022 and a book on the Civil War will be published later this year, as well as a collection of essays written by UVA Emeritus history professor Gary W. Gallagher.

Novick described Cushman as “a brilliant scholar and an incredibly gifted teacher.” As a sophomore at Yale University, Novick was in the discussion section of an American literature course taught by Cushman – then a doctoral student. even then, he was known among students for his teaching, he said. Almost 40 years later, she still remembers the way she wrote down her papers to see what she would learn about writing.

They eventually got in touch after college and she said she considers him an important mentor. Over the years, Novick said during a recent phone call, she had talked about working on a project at some point, and Hemingway as a documentary has long been on Burns and Novick’s list of ideas, she said.

Novick said working with Cushman was like going back to class. She and Botstein interviewed him about all of Hemingway books and a range of topics.

“He is a scholar of American literature and I knew he could put Hemingway in a broader context,” he said. “Anyone could comment on Hemingway’s work, the use of language and influence. “It’s extremely important to create the story of Hemingway in his day and now.”

Cushman, who has read and re-read Hemingway’s work many times, said their subsequent on-camera interview was even more rigorous than defending his dissertation.

Cushman did not meet Ken Burns until a meeting in New York in June 2018.

“Within two full days at a seminar table, Burns led the counselors page by page through the script,” Cushman said. “Ask questions. wanted extensions and clarifications. He was always presentable, charismatic and humorous. But he was also strict and demanding. He was the artist and our comments were his materials. “

Then in August 2019, the English professor spent a weekend at the Burns Band in New Hampshire when film consultants and the Florentine Films crew gathered to see the rough cut and give feedback and suggestions, he said. .

Although he received a special link for the final product a few weeks ago, Cushman said that the internet connectivity where he lives is so poor he could only do it in the first 30 minutes or so due to all the delays and buffers, but he saw his first appearance. (A preview showed he has eight seats in the first two-hour episode.)

“What I can say is that the final part I saw is impressive,” he said. “It’s the difference between a draft and a final copy after a hundred more reps.”

Cushman’s interest and Hemingway study continues, he said. In the late 1990s, he taught the author’s work in the required UVA English research course, which he taught as a group with his colleague Michael Levenson. Working on these lectures, he said, “I broadened and deepened my previous acquaintance with his work.”

Kusman then took the opportunity for a compassionate experience of Hemingway’s environment.

In 2007, Kevin Conley, director of UVA Alumni & Parent Travel, invited Cushman to take a trip to Tanzania entitled “Hemingway in Africa,” for which participants read Hemingway’s book, “Green Hills of Africa.” . As they visited some of the same places Hemingway went to, Cushman said he learned even more about the author and the creative choices he made about what to include and what to leave out, even in his non-fiction.

Kusman was invited again, eight years later, on a similar itinerary to Cuba. Hemingway married his fourth wife, Mary Wall, and they lived in Cuba until the revolution in the 1950s. He moved to Idaho in 1959. to see the Pilar boat, he said.

Thinking of Hemingway, both the man behind the myth and the legacy of his work, Cushman said there are many authors whose work he loves and teaches, but that does not mean they were good people he would like to know.

“I have never bought the idea that a person who spends all day writing should then go out and be a role model,” he said. “Hemingway was not always a good guy. Injured, broken, repaired and broken again. He was a fragile person. It is amazing that he wrote so many wonderful books despite the damage. “

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