Hemingway granddaughter reads for book club

Wednesday, July 31, 2002
Lorian Hemingway and That Bookstore owner Mary Gay Shipley (Times photo/Anne Winchester)

"Going home, the more it's done, the more it can't be undone."

Those words resonated in the small room, the audience held spellbound by the sound of the author's voice as she read her written work aloud.

Here, in the "back room" of That Bookstore in Blytheville on a Friday evening, Lorian Hemingway read Chapter 14 of A World Turned Over, her third book published. It is a story especially close to her heart, this granddaughter of Ernest Hemingway and second wife Pauline Pfeiffer.

"Home" is Jackson, Miss., where she lived with her family for five years before moving away just three weeks before the infamous Candlestick Tornado hit on March 3, 1966, and which became the subject of Hemingway's book. She said she has been haunted by the tragedy for most of her life.

The Friday night reading was held for members of the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Book Club from Piggott, who enjoyed an informal dinner with Hemingway before strolling down the street to Dorsey's Gallery and hearing the author discuss her life and career.

Hemingway spent some of her childhood years in Arkansas Pine Bluff, Little Rock, Altheimer and Arkadelphia "but never Piggott." Of all the places she has lived, she said she considers Jackson and Pine Bluff as "home...with family pull."

"It's a story I had wanted to do all my life," Hemingway said of her book. She said wanted to speak beyond the community itself to other places that have been devastated by disaster.

The Candlestick Tornado, F-5 in intensity, killed 57 people, including 14 in South Jackson and 13 in the newly built Candlestick Shopping Center.

"The area destroyed is where we as children would gather in the afternoon," Hemingway said.

Even though she had not been in Jackson when the storm hit, she said felt a certain sense of survivor's guilt and a fear of storms.

"I would study that sky every afternoon," she said. "I was always afraid it would come...it haunted me. I started having dreams about it. I've dreamed about it all my life."

When she returned several years later, Hemingway said the survivors were more than willing to speak of their experience and thanked her "for remembering this and making it a part of history." She said the book's title came from one woman's account, who described the aftermath as "like the world rolled over."

Hemingway said her book is her own version of her grandfather's "Who Murdered the Vets," an account of when the "storm of the century" devastated veterans camps in Key West. A storm so intense that there were "sparks on the sand." He helped recover bodies and later wrote that he felt the government had the ultimate responsibility in evacuating the vets before the storm hit.

"He was angry when he wrote it," Hemingway said. "It's my very favorite work of his."

She said she began teaching herself to write and to use a typewriter in third grade and wrote poems. While in college, she studied pre-med and had planned to be a doctor.

"I just loved how the body works," she said. "I was just fascinated by it."

Hemingway said she continued writing in college but never signed up for writing courses.

On Saturday Hemingway came to Piggott to the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Educational Center and there, in the studio where her grandfather created some of his most memorable work, she signed books and read excerpts from A World Turned Over.

Her grandmother, Pauline, died the year Hemingway was born. Hemingway and her husband visited Piggott a few years ago with the intention of purchasing the Hemingway-Pfeiffer property but later decided against it.

If she had bought the house and studio, Hemingway told the Times, she had planned to restore it, but her plans "never did get to come to fruition."

"It's a beautiful place," she said of Piggott.

While she was not around the Pfeiffer family members much growing up, Hemingway said she was close to her aunt, Virginia Pfeiffer, during her teenage years.

Hemingway said her next book will be a novel about a man on death row and will be set in Arkansas.

She described herself as a "slow writer" and formulates her books "in stages." She said it took three years to write A World Turned Over.

"I must have done five different drafts and approaches," she said. "It is a historical event, but it is not a biography."

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