A Chat with Italo Calvino

Italo-Calvino 284I discovered Italo Calvino late. But I did discover him. Evidently, it was my time to find his favorite works of literary criticism (Why Read the Classics?), to open up to some fantasy (“The Distance of the Moon”), and maybe to rehabilitate the neo-realist part of him (Difficult Loves) that he may have undervalued later in his writing life. Now, if I could only have a chat with him.

The translations in Why Read the Classics? include many essays involving writers of English. Calvino planned this collection before his passing in 1985 and the Twentieth Century authors included are those he revered the most.

One of the chats I would have enjoyed with Italo Calvino concerns his treatment of Ernest Hemingway. They were a generation apart; but both were journalists; both had seen war up close; and both took an intense, activist—rather than an intellectual anti-fascist stance, Hemingway during the Spanish Civil War and both of them during World War II. And both were authors of compelling fiction.

Calvino and his contemporaries began their writing careers seeing Hemingway as a god-like figure from their fathers’ generation and, starting out as neo-realists, they tried to mimic, or at least learn from, Hemingway. Most of them, Calvino wrote, moved on toward post-modernism after the war, with some (like him) moving into fabulism and fantasy.

Calvino and his contemporaries lived through difficult times “seriously and boldly and with purity of heart.“ They learned from Hemingway to value openness and generosity, practical—technical as well as moral—competencies in doing things that had to be done, and being straightforward. They learned to avoid self-contemplation and self-pity and to learn to gauge a person according to their gestures or handling of brusque exchanges. I would say that is quite a positive legacy if they took all of that from a member of their parents’ generation.

Ernest_Hemingway 284Calvino then explains his generation became more discerning after their first war and found Hemingway’s style had begun to “descend into mannerism.” He came to be seen by them as “too narrow.” They began to know and to think more about his life style, his philosophy of life, and they decided that his focus on “violent tourism,” his hunting and his shark fishing, were repulsive. Not dealt with in the essay is Hemingway’s inability to stay in a marriage very long, but that is such a commonly known fact that it seems implicitly bundled with the critique of his adventure seeking. So, it seems that Calvino and his contemporaries matured enough to have decided after some rumination, that there should have been more to Hemingway. Apparently, it was his reticence about sharing the details of the thinking and range of emotions in his fiction that prompted Calvino’s criticism of Hemingway’s work not having any real depth.

Some biographers and reviewers of them in the last few decades apparently have agreed and have suggested there wasn’t any thinking or any real emotions there in Hemingway to disclose.

I’d have asked Calvino about that. Is that what he was getting at with his commentary?

Did he think there was no thinking or emotion conjured in his own stories in Difficult Loves when he was trying to “apprentice” with Hemingway?

Is it possible Calvino’s criticism might have led astray those biographers who couldn’t or wouldn’t separate life style from the man’s work while mounting their attacks?

It seems to me that in much Hemingway’s fiction, we actually do find ourselves thinking and feeling a good deal about being looked to by other men and sometimes women for a proper response in a tense situation—not discourse, not sharing of emotions, not speculation, but decisive action, maybe even violent action, requiring some physical skill, some mental agility, some grit, and certainly, some control over one’s emotions.

I agree with Calvino that Hemingway’s Nick Adams stories offered us the experience of an apprenticeship along with Nick’s own that resulted in training to tolerate and, if not to understand, to survive as best we can the brutality of the world. It involves identifying yourself (as others will) with the actions you take. It involves a commitment (that you and others can recognize) to manual and technical dexterity so that you can make a judgment as to your utility and reliability to get things done. Like protagonists of Hemingway’s work, you try not to have other problems (or not to show them at least) that interfere with you “doing things well.”

Calvino says there is always something Hemingway is trying to escape. Calvino focuses on Hemingway’s need to keep validating his abilities in doing things well and suggests a sense of vanity about it. Calvino senses in there a desperation, a defeat, maybe a death. Calvino says that Hemingway’s focus on his strict observance of his own code and his apparent application of that code to other things gives it the stature of a moral code. He says that to Hemingway his fidelity and ethical code is the only reality he can be certain of in an unknowable universe.

Maybe to Hemingway, the code is the only thing he can be sure of and he will just have to deal with whatever else comes along. Calvino says this focus eliminates the realities of emotions and thoughts that for Hemingway seem unreachable. I would point out to Calvino that it doesn’t eliminate them as possibilities. It is just that in Hemingway’s world, you don’t talk about it. It is private. Work out your own thoughts and emotions on the subject.

I would bring up to Calvino that perhaps that focus doesn’t eliminate the thoughts and emotions for Hemingway—or for us—and that he, Calvino, in the same essay provides us with the explanation: Hemingway’s first rule was understatement. He doesn’t often mention the details of his thoughts or emotions or what he thinks of those had by others. That is not the way of men involved in any dangerous or grisly business that has to be done—to chat about it, to reflect on it. So, perhaps he, Hemingway the narrator, is still too much a part of the action for Calvino.

I would have asked about “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” and “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and whether he felt the thinking and emotions of all three characters in the former and of Harry the writer dying of gangrene in the wilds in the latter were not explicit enough.

Calvino says outright that Hemingway’s identification of men with their actions and determining whether or not they are able to cope with duties imposed on them is still a valid way of “conceiving of existence.” I’d have to point out that is still true in a time when women are included routinely in the ranks of firemen, policemen, and combat soldiers.

In a following essay on Jorge Luis Borges, Calvino follows Borges’ discussion about discovering patterns in perceptions which have to be recognized before one can choose a path with this caution: “Yet it is in the rapid instant of real life, not in the fluctuation of time of a dream nor in the cyclical or eternal time of myths, that one’s fate is decided.”

And so it is, I would say to Mister Calvino. And it is particularly true in the realm of Newtonian physics applied to the real world of cars, ships, planes, and firearms. Mister Newton is very unforgiving of neglect or incapacity. Calvino’s essay on Conrad discusses difficulty in writing about the “sense of integration with the world that comes from a practical existence, the sense of how man fulfills himself in the things he does . . . that ideal of being able to cope, whether on the deck of a sailing ship or on the page of a book.” Would Calvino accept Hemingway as succeeding as well as Conrad in writing about that?

Calvino acknowledges his debt to Hemingway in the writing of his own early neo-realist years and he says, in spite of his detracting comments, the ledger is still in the black for Hemingway. He also notes that Hemingway knew how to live in a world with “open, dry eyes, without illusion or mysticism, how to be alone without anguish . . .” He developed a style that “can be considered the driest and most immediate language, the least redundant and pompous style, the most limpid and realistic prose in modern literature.”

Calvino says when he reads Kafka, he finds himself constantly approving and rejecting the legitimacy of the adjective Kafkaesque that we hear and read all the time.

I would bring up to Mister Calvino the eddy currents he has brought to the conversation in writing classes and writers’ groups where some are tempted to use the adjective Hemingway-esque. Some of them deliver it with a sneer, seemingly knowing something, and other still deliver with approving awe.

For those eager to discuss Hemingway, Italo Calvino has fed both sides quite well.


Richard Perkins is a regular contributor to The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review and a graduate of The Johns Hopkins University MA in Writing Program. He is writing an historical novel and revising a collection of connected stories.


The Rue de Fleurus Salon and Reading Series with Rick Moody | Inaugural Washington D.C. and Baltimore Series Launch on Thursday, June 27, 2013

Rue de Fleurus Rick Moody Slider II

The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review, a literary and arts journal housed at The Johns Hopkins University, M. A. in Writing Program, is pleased to announce our new Rue de Fleurus Salon and Reading Series. Our debut event will be on Thursday, June 27th, 2013 at the Washington D. C. Campus off Dupont Circle. Our featured reader will be Rick Moody. Free and open to the public.

The Rue de Fleurus Salon and Reading Series with Rick Moody


The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review, a Literary & Arts Journal Housed at The Johns Hopkins University, M. A. in Writing Program
is pleased to announce we will hold our Rue de Fleurus Salon at

Foundry Gallery

1314 18th Street, NW, Washington DC, 20036

(One Minute Walk from the DC Hopkins Campus off Dupont Circle)

Dupont Circle Map, Hopkins Campus, Foundry Gallery, Parking, Hotel, Local Eats

7:30 PM

Free and open to the public, wine and light food will be served

Please RSVP


Rick MoodyBorn in New York City, Rick Moody attended Brown and Columbia universities. His first novel, Garden State, was the winner of the 1991 Editor’s Choice Award from the Pushcart Press and was published in 1992. The Ice Storm was published in May 1994 by Little, Brown and Company. A film version, directed by Ang Lee, released by Fox Searchlight in 1997 and won best screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival. His collection of short fiction, The Ring of Brightest Angels Around Heaven was also published by Little, Brown, the title story winning the Aga Khan Award from The Paris Review. He has received the Addison Metcalf Award and a Guggenheim fellowship. His memoir The Black Veil: A Memoir with Digressions won the NAMI/Ken Book Award, and the PEN Martha Albrand prize. The Diviners won the Mary Shelley Award from the Media Ecology Association. His new novel, The Four Fingers of Death, was published in 2010. His short fiction and journalism have been anthologized in Best American Stories 2001, Best American Essays 2004, Best American Essays 2008, Year’s Best Science Fiction #9, Year’s Best Fantasy, and, multiply, in the Pushcart Prize anthology. His radio pieces have appeared on The Next Big Thing, Re:Sound, Weekend America, Morning Edition, and at the Third Coast International Audio Festival. He is also a musician. His album Rick Moody and One Ring Zero released in 2004. As part of The Wingdale Community Singers he plays and writes lyrics. They have released two albums, the most recent of which is Spirit Duplicator (2009). He has taught and lectured at NYU, Bennington, Yale, and the New School. He will be guest-lecturing this summer at The Johns Hopkins University. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

richard peabody 1976Richard Peabody is the author of a novella, three short story collections, and seven poetry books. He is a native Washingtonian and teaches fiction writing at Johns Hopkins University, where he received the Faculty Awards for Distinguished Professional Achievement and Teaching Excellence. He is also the Beyond the Margins Above and Beyond 2013 Award winner for his outstanding service to the Washington, D.C. literary community, and he is Eckleburg‘s Patron Saint of Indie. He is the founder and co-editor of Gargoyle Magazine and editor of twenty-one anthologies including Mondo Barbie. His collection of short stories, Blue Suburban Skies, is out from  Main Street Rag Press. Read “Maraschino Cherries,” an excerpt from his collection, Speed Enforced by Aircraft (The Broadkill River Press, 2012).

Something Happened by Chas SchroederChas Schroeder’s body of work explores the intersection of pastoral, urban, and ultimately diaristic sentiments. Employing mixed media and text to reveal the aesthetic possibility inherent in subjects ranging from game animals to misogyny to advertising to colonialism to love, no subject is out of the range of his sincere and deeply curious toying. His signature style is marked by the purposeful use of acrylics, wood, found objects, vibrant spray, stencil work, collage, street techniques and perversely rendered figures (both animal and human) in a fashion that seems to address the anxieties and wonders of modern American life in it’s most exuberant forms.

LibreChap1Tim Wendel is the author of Summer of ’68 (Da Capo), Top 10 choice by Publisher’s Weekly. High Heat was a New York Times editor’s choice. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, Washingtonian, National Geographic Traveler, Huffington Post, GQ and Esquire. He teaches at The Johns Hopkins University, M. A. in Writing Program where he is a writer in residence.

moustache Annie Terrazzo has been creating mixed media and trash portraiture for almost 10 years and has sold over 400 works in that time. “Detritus”, Annie’s recent artistic endeavour and is made completely out of newspapers and vintage magazines from around the world. Originally from Colorado, she studied art with her family of jewelers and plein air artists and then moved on to study graphic design and portraiture in San Francisco. Since then, she has devoted her time to capturing the current depreciation of newspapers and found paper, making fun of it, and preserving them. Annie travels the world collecting newspapers and doing exhibitions, but Los Angeles will always be her home.

craveKareem Rizk, born in Australia, is a collage artist, illustrator and designer, currently living and working in Copenhagen, Denmark. Media include collage, acrylic, oil pastel, pencil, solvent transfers and acrylic transfers. The work is highly textured and often multi-layered with a nostalgic and weathered quality. Exhibitions include solo shows and group shows in Australia, US, Canada, UK and Europe. Rizk’s work has been published in numerous art magazines and books and his work is held in private collections worldwide.

Peter Cardamone A Ride Through BaltimorePeter Cardamone is a Baltimore-based writer and artist working in intermedia and film. “I always think that poems can fall easily into the cracks of movies where they just show the world around the characters whether beautiful or despondent and that is why Baltimore is the perfect place to film.”

DanaLittle-So_Shadows_Speak-so_shadows_speakDana Little currently lives (and, incidentally, writes and creates) in one of Baltimore’s basement apartments that features exposed piping and black mold.

NicoleIdar-_The_Green_Parakeet's_Tale_-page_10_shot_92-103 Nicole Idar, author of “The Green Parakeet’s Tale,” is a Malaysian writer now based in Washington DC. She is the recipient of a Cafritz Fellowship from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and an Undiscovered Voices Fellowship from the Writer’s Center in Maryland, and is the founder of Asian Arts Live, a new reading and performance series that will debut in DC in the fall.

Amir_Shahlan_Amiruddin-The_Green_Parakeets TaleAmir Shahlan Amiruddin, illustrator of “The Green Parakeet’s Tale,” is a new media artist and founder and Creative Director of One Eye Fish Studio, based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Amir’s first animated short film “Tanggang” won first prize in the Best Animated Short Mixed Media category at the 2011 Lumiere Digitale Animation Festival in Pune, India.

Michael_Shattuck-Charlie_Devoured_ReducMichael Shattuck is a Baltimore City native and currently resides there. His work has appeared in Short, Fast, and Deadly and Outside In Lit & Travel.

Lisa_AnnDulin-No_Sweet_Songbird-bio_pic_bwL. Ann Dulin is a Midwestern-bred writer living in Baltimore with aspirations to short film and audio media, and a drive to explore taboo.

Disembodied V MediumRae Bryant is a writer and intermedia artist working in photography, collage and film. Her work has been exhibited in Washington DC and New York. Her short story collection, The Indefinite State of Imaginary Morals, released from Patasola Press in 2011. Her stories and essays have appeared in The Paris Review, StoryQuarterly, McSweeney’s, BLIP Magazine, Gargoyle Magazine, and Redivider, among other publications and have been nominated for the Pen/Hemingway, Pen Emerging Writers, and Pushcart awards. She earned a Masters in Writing from Hopkins and has taught in the writing program as well as the International Writing Program at The University of Iowa.  She is represented by Jennifer Carlson with Dunow, Carlson & Lerner Literary Agency.


D. J. Uncle Matt was born and raised in L.A., where his mother, Dominatrix Sheree Rose, introduced him to the Punk scene and L.A. music and arts scene. Matt studied film at the University of Oregon and in Barcelona, where he taught English and lived the expatriate life. He has written, produced, filmed and/or directed feature films, shorts, music videos, and worked as assistant camera on Sick: The Life & Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist, a Sundance Film Festival, Berlin Film Festival, and L.A. Film Festival awards winning documentary. Matt lives in Washington D.C., where he is a filmmaker/screenwriter and hosts the bi-weekly radio show, Uncle Matt’s Two-Hour Shower.


& MORE….



Rue de Fleurus Salon and Reading Series

The Rue de Fleurus Salon and Reading Series takes its name from Gertrude Stein’s famous Paris residence where she conducted her expatriate salon including luminaries such as Fitzgerald, Joyce, Hemingway, Matisse and Picasso.



Biography | Ernest Hemingway


Born: July 21,1899, Oak Park, Illinois

Died: July 2, 1961, Ketchum, Idaho — Suicide


Ernest “Papa” Hemingway is the expatriate writer we love to hate and hate to love. He is the superhero/antihero equivalent of literary greatness with a Royal Quiet de Luxeon at his hip and a bottle of “grog” in his hand, shirt ripped open for the world to see his big, manly, hairy chest. Journalist, world traveler, fighter, marrying man, decorated WWI Italian army volunteer, sportsman, fisherman, big game hunter, Hemingway’s bravado made him infamous and a fine dinner guest. His contributions to the community of letters is unattested, bringing an understatement and simplicity of style to the modernist canon like none before him. John Updike and Joan Didion, and many more, claim him as a major inspiration. As likely to carry a urinal home from Sloppy Joe’s, his Key West bar hangout, as he was to write major literary works, Hemingway, the man, was sometimes larger than his work and made him the media eye candy of his time.

When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write. You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there. You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again. You have started at six in the morning, say, and may go on until noon or be through before that. When you stop you are as empty, and at the same time never empty but filling, as when you have made love to someone you love. Nothing can hurt you, nothing can happen, nothing means anything until the next day when you do it again. It is the wait until the next day that is hard to get through.

— Ernest Hemingway, The Art of Fiction No. 21, The Paris Review
A Conversation with George Plimpton in a Madrid Café, 1954

Hemingway is arguably the patriarch of the Paris expatriates with Gertrude Stein his matriarch and F. Scott Fitzgerald his chum. Rest in Peace, Papa.


Hemingway vs. Wallace Stevens (1936) Street fight, Key West, Florida
Hemingway vs. Max Eastman (1938) Max Perkins’ Office, Scribner’s, New York, New York



Sloppy Joe’s — Key West, Florida
Floridita Bar, San Francisco, Cuba
Dôme, Paris, France



Elizabeth Hadley Richardson (1891 — 1979)

  • Married 1921
  • Divorced 1926

Pauline Marie Pfeiffer (1895 — 1951)

  • Married 1927
  • Divorced 1940

 Martha Ellis Gellhorn (1908 — 1998)

  • Married 1940
  • Divorced 1945

 Mary Welsh Hemingway (1908 — 1986)

  • Married 1946
  • Widow



“Indian Camp” (1924, Transatlantic Review)
In Our Time (1925, collection)
The Sun Also Rises (1926)
Death in the Afternoon (???)
“Hills Like White Elephants” (1927)
Men Without Women (1927)
A Farewell to Arms (1929)
“The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” (1935)
“The Snows of Kilimanjaro” (1936, Esquire)
The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories (1938)
For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940)
Across the River and into the Trees (1950)
The Old Man and the Sea (1952)
A Moveable Feast (1964)
Islands in the Stream (1970)
True at First Light (1999)
More Books…



The Pulitzer Prize in Fiction (Finalist, 1941) For Whom the Bell Tolls
The Pulitzer Prize in Fiction (1953) The Old Man and the Sea
The Nobel Prize in Literature (1954)




Heller, Nathan. “Hemingway: How the Great Novelist Became the Literary Equivalent of the Nike Swoosh.” Slate Magazine. March 16, 2012.

Lost Generation. “Ernest Hemingway Biography.” n.d.

Nobel Lectures. Literature 1901-1967, Editor Horst Frenz, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1969.

Plimpton, George. “Ernest Hemingway: The Art of Fiction No. 21.” The Paris Review. May 1954. n.d. 

Rich, Frank K. “Hemingway.” Modern Drunkard Magazine. n.d.