Get a taste of Hemingway’s Cuba

Cocktails, happy hour and writing: that’s the kind of book launch Hemingway would no doubt have approved of.

And that’s what’s happening on Tuesday, 23 October, from 5.30 to 7pm at Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink. Chango’s Beads and Two-Tone Shoes is the new novel of Pulitzer Prize-winning author William Kennedy, based around a fictional 1957 meeting between journalist Daniel Quinn and the ever-fascinating Papa in Bar Floridita, Havana.

“Hemingway’s life was a perpetual battle with himself over his worth as a writer and I came to see that he never overcame his own uncertainty about his achievement,” William tells Weekender.

“He was a great writer sometimes, not always; and he knew the difference and compensated with an excessive display of ego – the pugnacious lout-hero (his version of boxing champ) as surrogate for the great writer. He behaved this way as a young man and was still at it in his last years in Havana, which I wrote about.”
Indeed, the author notes, he could not imagine writing about Cuba without including Hemingway, whose work remains brilliant and original.

Writing historical fiction does require research of course, particularly as the novelist was not there physically during the revolution (although he was in Miami).

“About the Civil Rights era, I also did some research, but I had lived through it and written about it as a journalist and so the research was not so extensive,” muses William.

Staying inspired

A long and successful career in writing must require constant inspiration, we posit, but the author and journalist isn’t quite so sure that’s the correct way to frame matters.

“I think inspired is the wrong word. It implies a eureka moment. I am attracted to certain material, whether it be the life of an individual, or a set of events and they drag me into their midst and demand my attention; and this sometimes takes years.

“Often the attraction comes out of my personal history, but sometimes it appears like a vision from an unknown past. Then there is the need to write, which came over me in late high school and is still a force I contend with, sometimes against my conscious will. The need always overcomes the will,” he says.

The industry, William says, is being transformed so radically that it is ceasing to exist as he knew it, so advice in that sense is somewhat moot.

“But I would suggest to young writers that they look on writing as an ongoing foray into the art of fiction; that they inure themselves to rejection, indifference and failure and decide, after all that, whether they have what it takes to keep writing, which is an exploration of the soul and not an upward scramble in the marketplace.”
The author is polishing off a new draft of a play he began years ago, with a view to try and staging it.

“In between scenes I’m accumulating old iron, old rags and old bones for another novel. I’m back again with Yeats where it all starts – ‘In the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart.’”
As for the Cayman Islands, he’s never been here but – somewhat wryly, we suspect – he does have a plan in mind, as he tells us.

“I look forward to seeing the architecture of the bank where Mitt Romney keeps his secret income.”

Enjoy Cuban cocktails and canapés, rub elbows with Kennedy, hear about his impressive career as an author, screenwriter and playwright, and have your book signed.

Tickets for the appearance on Tuesday, 23 October at 5.30pm are now available at Books & Books and the venue, Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink. The cost is $25 and includes refreshments and a copy of the book.

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