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'I Fell In Love With That Book': A Playwright Discusses Hemingway's Influence On His Life

Playwright Brian Gordon Sinclair dressed as Ernest Hemingway.

Shortly after his mother died in 1987, Brian Gordon Sinclair stumbled upon a copy of “A Farewell To Arms,” Ernest Hemingway's famous novel set during World War I. Sinclair fell in love with the writing and knew he wanted to learn more about the author.

Sinclair dove into the life of the wartime journalist, world traveler and adventurer. He has since written seven plays from Hemingway's perspective and one has been turned into a film, called “The Hemingway Chronicles: Life and Death in Key West.” Every year, he attends Hemingways Days, a series of events in Key West celebrating the author.

Hemingway Days kicked off Tuesday. Sinclair is a guest speaker and his film will screen Wednesday. He joined Sundial from the Keys studios to talk about his passion for Hemingway and the author’s legacy in the Keys. 

WLRN: Where did your passion for Ernest Hemingway come from? Where did it all start?

Sinclair: Ironically it came out of Ireland back in 1987. My Irish mother died and while researching my roots I fell in love with the Irish Revolution of 1916 and wrote my first play that I would also star in and direct called "Easter Rising: The last words of Patrick Pierce." After playing the general, I loved being a hero on stage and amazingly I simply stumbled across a copy of "A Farewell to Arms" by Hemingway. I fell in love with that book and I said 'here's the hero that I'm going to put on the stage.'

What's his relationship to the Keys?

Well in 1928 he came down here and met people like Josie Russell who at that time had the original Sloppy Joe's and he also met Charles Thompson who ran a local hardware store and with these people he would often in their various boats go out fishing and he absolutely fell in love when he pulled his first marlin out of the water rising up like some silver dream and he realized it wasn't the marlin who was hooked it was Ernest Hemingway who was hooked on marlin fishing. But one of the things he really liked is that he would walk around looking like a bum with a pair of shorts and did not look like a writer at all. Local people were very surprised when they found out that he could earn a thousand dollars at that time for reading short stories. So he really loved the fishing down here and the almost outlaw lifestyle of the area.

Hemingway was an alcoholic. He was called a womanizer. He had three marriages he deal he dealt with depression. He ended his own life. But how do you deal with all the shades of Hemingway?

As a matter of fact I look intimately at my own life. I came out of a background where in essence I lost my father in early life. His father committed suicide by putting a pistol to his head and my father towards the end of World War II was hit by the propeller of an airplane that knocked him out of action for something like 10 years. I basically grew up without a father. Hemingway lost his father and sometimes people like that spend their life looking to become their own father because they've got that needy inner child that must be cared for. And in searching through Hemingway's life I've found a lot of those things and was able to grow up in many ways myself.

What do you think is going to be his legacy?

The greatest legacy of Ernest Hemingway is the language that he left us.