Hunting Hemingway: Local author Nancy Sindelar on her new book “Influencing Hemingway”
For the last 20 years, part-time local Nancy Sindelar has spent her winters guiding skiing in Steamboat Springs. But she’s had good reason to leave, as evidenced by her new book, “Influencing Hemingway: The People and Places That Shaped His Life and Work,” released by Roman & Littlefield Publishers last June.
Though much has been written about the Nobel prize-winning author, Sindelar’s tome is the first to document — in photographs and letters — the individuals and locales that inspired him (many of its photos are new to the public). Recently hosting a signing at Hemingway’s former home in Key West, Florida, Sindelar has presented her work at the International Ernest Hemingway Colloquium in Havana, Cuba; the Hemingway Society Conference in Venice, Italy; the Hemingway Festival in Sun Valley, Idaho; and the American Library in Paris. We caught up with her between spring ski runs for her thoughts on Steamboat and bringing Papa to life.
Steamboat Living: How much time do you spend in Steamboat each year?
Sindelar: I’m in Steamboat each ski season. I’ve been a mountain guide for Steamboat Mountain Masters for the last 12 years.
SL: What first brought you here?
Sindelar: In 1993, my daughter and I were skiing in Winter Park during her spring break. We skied in Steamboat for one glorious day and then visited a model home. Shortly thereafter, I bought it. The rest is history.
SL: What’s your back story?
Sindelar: I was an English teacher at Hemingway’s alma mater, Oak Park and River Forest High School, and later worked as an assistant superintendent in a large school district in suburban Chicago. When I retired, I rekindled my interest in Hemingway as a Hemingway scholar and lecturer.
SL: How did you first become interested in him?
Sindelar: It began 30-plus years ago when I was teaching at his alma mater. My students were fascinated by his life, but some thought their own lives paled in comparison. They inspired me to learn more about Hemingway’s years as a high school student. I wanted my students to know what he was like, what activities he was involved with and what shaped his life. I studied the school’s yearbooks and archives, and even interviewed some of his former teachers. We learned that the man who became an international sports legend and literary figure was just as involved with life as a teenager as he was as an adult. He was athletic, intelligent and handsome, was the editor of the school paper, published three stories in the school’s literary magazine, played cello in the school orchestra and was a member of the football, track and swim teams.
SL: Any parallels to your own life?
Sindelar: Living in the Oak Park River Forest area gave me an understanding of the culture in which Ernest was raised. Then—as it is now—the community was focused on high educational expectations. Though Oak Park was more conservative in Ernest’s day, even now the strict Protestantism of Ernest’s family and the religious influences of Wheaton College can still be found there.
I’ve also spent time in many of the places Hemingway was drawn to later. As a kid, I raced sailboats to Mackinaw Island in northern Michigan, so I had an appreciation for Walloon Lake and the “summer people” of northern Michigan. Having lived in Switzerland and spent time in France, it was easy for me to see how a boy from Oak Park could be energized and transformed by the people, food and freedom of Paris during the 1920s, and thrilled with the opportunities to ski the mountains of Switzerland.
Similarly, as skiing and hunting drew Ernest to Sun Valley, I, too, was attracted to the resort. I learned to ski there and knew well the celebrity atmosphere of the Sun Valley Lodge and mountain comfort of the Trail Creek Cabin that he experienced later in life.
SL: How about his travels to Cuba?
Sindelar: My first trip to Cuba came in 2011. I’d been asked to make a presentation at the 13th Annual International Ernest Hemingway Colloquium, a gathering of scholars whose ideas, research and presentations created an interesting tapestry of his life. After only a few days in Havana, it was clear to me why Hemingway was attracted to Cuba and why the 22 years he spent there was the longest period of time he lived anywhere. The people were charming, honest and friendly; the climate and culture were warm and exotic; and the island was surrounded by beautiful waters and world-class fishing.
SL: What was your favorite part of the research?
Sindelar: Visiting his homes and reading his personal letters. I visited every place he ever lived and have stood in the room where he was born and the room where he ended his life. I’ve tracked down his Paris apartments, his favorite ski town in Switzerland and spent time in his Key West and Cuban homes. I’ve seen his Red Cross uniform, touched the clothes in his closet in Cuba and his skis and snow shoes in Sun Valley. I’ve also seen his notes charting his weight on the wall of his bathroom in Cuba and read many of his personal letters. Knowing where he lived and worked has provided new insight into his fiction. Reading his casually written letters has provided insight into his happiness, pain and depression.
SL: What did you unearth that people might not know about him?
Sindelar: Hemingway had a tremendous work ethic. Though his hunting and fishing expeditions were legendary, he always got up early and wrote for five or six hours each day. He was always happiest when he was writing.
SL: There’s a photo of him skiing…how big a skier was he?
Sindelar: Hemingway loved skiing and the outdoors. He learned to ski at Les Avants in Switzerland. Then he later skied in Schruns, Austria, Gstaad, Switzerland, and Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy. Though his final years were spent in Sun Valley, he never skied there because of problems with his back.
SL: How do you think he would’ve liked Steamboat?
Sindelar: Hemingway would have loved Steamboat! He would have hunted in the fall, skied the trees in the winter and fished whenever he wasn’t hunting or skiing.
— “Influencing Hemingway: The People and Places That Shaped His Life and Work” was released by Roman & Littlefield Publishers in June 2014. Find it locally at http://www.steamboatbooks.com.
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