Memoir Writers’ Resources Series | A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

This is the fourth post in this series, which has an infinite number of parts. Therefore, there is no “Part 1 of a #;” it will simply continue until the well dries up. Previous posts are listed below.

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Much discussion exists over past decades and even today among journalists, critics, reviewers and yes, writers, about whether Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast is fact or fiction, autobiography or memoir. Say what they might, my copy has landed in the middle of my memoir writing resource books on my desk.

And rightly so, in my humble opinion, for a number of reasons:

  • If for no other reason, Hemingway’s writing may always be turned to as a beautiful example of writing at its best. A Moveable Feast offers no less. Lyrical, poetic, evocative and crisp, Hemingway’s writing transports you to Paris in the 1920s. The best reason to include this volume in your writing resources is best said by Hemingway himself:

“No subject is terrible if the story is true, if the prose is clean and honest, and if it affirms courage and grace under pressure.” ~ from Hemingway’s Midnight in Paris

  • Hemingway’s stories from his days in Paris make us a part of an inner circle which included F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry Miller, Gertrude Stein, Ford Madox Ford, Ezra Pound, Sylvia Beach and likely I have left someone out. These writers were geniuses! Some of our greatest literature came from their pens. An education from this inner circle via Hemingway’s stories and yes, the juicy gossip, is not to be dismissed easily. Nor is Hemingway’s influence on these men and women, and theirs on him.
  • One chapter stands out in my mind and is an interesting inclusion–“On Writing in the First Person.” A rather strange choice for someone who wrote novels, most often in third person. However, in A Moveable Feast Hemingway chooses to write in first person as a memoirist does. This chapter also provides a look at the process of writing, a definitive resource in any writer’s library.
  • An additional argument for selecting A Moveable Feast as a memoir writer’s resource is its format drawn from what Hemingway originally called “The Paris Sketches,” based on typed pages, notebooks on The Sun Also Rises, newspaper clippings and more. These items were in two small steamer trunks Hemingway had left at the Ritz Hotel in Paris in 1928. Hotel management convinced him, finally in 1957, to take possession of his belongings. It was in the summer of that same year when he began to work on the “sketches.” And this is how the chapters seem to the reader–vignettes, sketches, scenes not organized in any particularly chronological order but as scenes from one man’s life.

From this, perhaps it is easy to see how A Moveable Feast could be considered a memoir writer’s resource. Personally, I found it one of Hemingway’s most enjoyable works. If you have not read it, I encourage you to do so for no other reason than pure enjoyment of good writing.

“But sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would
sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the
flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out
over the roofs of Paris and think, ‘Do not worry. You have always written before
and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the
truest sentence that you know.’ So finally I would write one
true sentence, and then go on from there.”
~ Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

Previous Posts in the Series:

  1. The Memoir Project by Marion Roach Smith
  2. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
  3. The Power of Memoir: How to Write Your Healing Story by Linda Joy Myers

  • Sherrey, I finally read A Moveable Feast and loved it. Hemingway teaches us how much can be conveyed with a sparsity of the right words, “in a true sentence.” And I totally agree with Luanne’s comments about the value your blog and its theme of writing to heal brings to all of us. Thank you!

    • Kathy, reading A Moveable Feast brought a realization to me that not only did I enjoy Hemingway’s writing style but all the while he was teaching me about writing. And I love those words, “in a true sentence.” Such a good reminder. Thanks for the generosity of your comment about my blog.

  • Luanne

    I can’t believe I still haven’t read this book. I wanted to tell you that the premise of your blog is very close to my heart. It’s been a long time for me figuring out what the “one thing” my book is going to be about and it’s about recovering and salvaging and learning memories and writing them which heals.

    • Luanne, your comment means so much to me. I started blogging with the hope of helping just one other person see the way to recover, heal and/or salvage his/her life through recapturing memories and writing them out which is truly healing. You have stated my hope so clearly! Thank you, thank you.

      • Luanne

        Sherrey, it’s a very worthwhile goal! I do think that writing can be a tremendously healing project. I knew it, and yet I was surprised to discover that that is really what my book is about. Your blog is a valuable reminder for readers of what writing can do for us.