How Ernest Hemingway informed John Steinbeck's writing.

Written by Cole Schafer


It kills me to say this. But, John Steinbeck wrote better fiction than Ernest Hemingway.

The latter has cultivated more fame and adoration than the former, at least among today’s generations, because of his antics off the page and perhaps for his courageous bull and the matador mentality to living and writing.

However, pound for pound, book for book, Steinbeck out-wrote Hemingway.

Hemingway was to blame.

John Steinbeck’s work, like many up-and-coming writers in the Hemingway-era, was heavily informed by him.

He’s quoted…

“In my time, Ernest Hemingway wrote a certain kind of story better and more effectively than it had ever been done before. He was properly accepted and acclaimed. He was imitated almost slavishly by every young writer, including me, not only in America but in the world.”

From the little that I’ve read, this seems to ring true in Steinbeck’s prose. It’s the furthest thing from flowery. It says what needs to be said and it says nothing more.

Steinbeck was able to write some of the greatest literary masterpieces to ever exist, like The Pearl, and he was able to do so, on many occasions, with just 100 short pages and some change –– a feat I’m not entirely sure could have been accomplished without Hemingway’s influence.

The championship.

Hemingway didn’t have much good to say about Steinbeck. He didn’t have much good to say about anyone. Though, it’s obvious he saw the younger writer as his greatest opponent in what he referred to as the “championship”.

Ironically, the contenders only met once, and briefly, at a bar in New York City.

John Steinbeck found the age-old mantra to be true:

Never meet your heroes.

John O’Hara, a prolific writer in his own right, was in attendance and wielding a blackthorn walking stick –– a genre of wood that is revered for being incredibly strong and not very prone to breaking.

Hemingway apparently bet the writer $50 that it wasn’t in fact a blackthorn. O’Hara took the bet, handed over the stick, to which Hemingway placed it atop his head, yanked down and snapped it.

O’Hara was mortified. Hemingway was $50 richer. And, Steinbeck thought the entire event was bizarre and foolish.

They were never in the same room again. But, I can promise you, they were reading one another’s novels from afar.

By Cole Schafer.