The Hemingway Way
Famous writer’s former aide spending semester with MSU Billings students; presentation set this week
Dr. David Craig, Director, University Honors Program, 657-2908
Dan Carter, University Relations, 657-2269
MSU BILLINGS NEWS SERVICES — She listens intently as classroom discussion moves topic to topic. Gender roles in the mid-20th Century…. Behaviors during combat… Capturing emotions with the written word.
Between knowing grins and nods of approval, she does more listening than talking. She is a guest in a research writing class at Montana State University Billings this semester, but everyone knows her turn is coming.
The launching pad for those discussions is Ernest Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms” and sooner or later the question is posed in one form or another: What was Hemingway trying to say?
And at that point, the attention turns to Valerie Hemingway, the former aide of famous writer and resident expert on his writing and tendencies.
“I love that young people are still reading Hemingway,” the 66-year-old says over coffee after the class. “More and more people are continuing to read him because he is a very good writer.”
And that is her task.
A guest of Dr. David Craig, the director of the MSU Billings University Honors Program, Valerie Hemingway is team teaching his research writing classes during spring semester to encourage students to find their voice and their passion through writing. She uses her experience as a secretary to Hemingway during his later year years as well as her own book “Running With the Bulls: My Years With the Hemingways.”
She will offer her insights into Hemingway and his effect on four generations of writers in an upcoming talk at MSU Billings.
“Why Hemingway Now?” will be presented on Thursday, April 12 at 7 p.m. in the MSU Billings Library, Room 148. It is sponsored by the MSU Billings College of Arts and Sciences, the Department of English, Philosophy and Modern Languages and the University Honors Program. It is free and open to the public.
Craig said his experience with Valerie Hemingway has been beneficial for the university, the students and the community. About half of the class is made up of community members who are either fans of Hemingway or want to hone their own writing skills and are “auditing” the class.
“While most of the students are freshman and sophomores, thanks to Valerie and the auditors, the class often has the feel of a graduate seminar,” Craig said. “She connects us to the seriousness and intensity that Hemingway brought to his writing, especially his early fiction.”
Born Valerie Dandby-Smith and raised as a Catholic in Ireland, Valerie Hemingway grew up with three brothers. She cherished education and knowledge, but knew as a young girl “I had no chance to go to college.” She got to know Hemingway’s writing by sneaking a read of “The Sun Also Rises” from the secret library of a friend’s father who happened to serve on the censorship board in Ireland.
She became a news reporter and had a chance encounter with Hemingway in Spain in 1959. While the interview with him was brief, they made a connection and for the following couple of years, she worked for Hemingway and his wife, Mary, traveling with them through Spain and France and living with them during the writer’s final months in Cuba. As his secretary in Spain, France, and Cuba, after the author's death, Valerie Hemingway worked for the Hemingway Estate in Cuba, Key West, Ketchum, and New York — gathering all of the author’s papers and organizing them for presentation to the Kennedy Library. She came by the Hemingway name by marrying —and later divorcing — Gregory, his youngest son.
She now lives in Bozeman, where she ultimately obtained a college degree and has traveled the country to do presentations on the unique perspective she has on the name she carries.
Teaching this semester has been “a wonderful interlude in my life,” she said. She particularly likes the enthusiasm of the students to learn about good writing and devoting themselves to improvement.
“It’s exciting to see them grow,” she said. “They’ve come leaps from where they were.”
The students, in turn, say they relish their time with Valerie Hemingway.
Patricia Hampton, a 20-year-old honors student from Billings, said she enjoys Valerie Hemingway’s conversational manner in which she draws students into discussions.
“I love it,” Hampton said. “I think she’s amazing.”
Valerie Hemingway said she likes being able to open doors to Hemingway’s work so that student can grasp that new knowledge and run with it.
“With knowledge, you can go anywhere,” she said.
PHOTOS ABOVE: Valerie Hemingway, center, listens to some discussion recently at a research writing class at MSU Billings. Hemingway, who was a personal aide to author Ernest Hemingway and later married his son, is a guest of Dr. David Craig this semester. She will give a talk, “Why Hemingway Now?” will be presented on Thursday, April 12 at 7 p.m. in the MSU Billings Library, Room 148. Photos below show Craig and students in the class.