[Collected on the Internet, October 2006]
Hemingway on a bet said that he could write a story in under 10 words. Here's his story: "Classified: Baby Goods. For sale, baby shoes, never worn."
[Collected via e-mail, March 2008]
Did Hemingway actually write a short story comprising entirely of these six words?
For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.
Origins: Certain anecdotes about notable figures continue to be told and retold as true — whether they actually are true or not — because they so perfectly encapsulate quintessential aspect of the persons they're told about. One such anecdote clings to author Ernest Hemingway, a tale of a six-word-long story he supposedly authored that, in its terseness, seems to be a perfect encapsulation of not just Hemingway's economic writing style but also of the man himself:
Two curious elements of the "baby shoes" tale are that no one seems to have been able to locate an original source or publication that establishes Hemingway's authorship of the story, and that the tale itself (i.e., the claim that Hemingway wrote such a story) apparently doesn't go back much further than the 1990s. An explanation we believe accounts for both these elements is that the six-word-story originated not with Hemingway himself, but with Papa, a one-man play about Hemingway which was written by John deGroot and debuted in 1996. As the New York Daily News noted in a
Three decades after his suicide, we are still fascinated by the man who taught Americans about the running of the bulls at Pamplona, who personified an idea of machismo now woefully out of fashion, who was a legendary hunter, fisherman and drinker, and who incidentally, wrote "A Farewell to Arms" and "The Old Man and the Sea."
Most remarkably, because he wrote in short, declarative sentences, his books most remarkably, are still read.
In "Papa," a one-man show about Hemingway, John deGroot illustrates how pungent brevity can be, when he has his subject tell "a short story in six words — 'For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.'"
Set in Cuba in 1959, the play takes place during a photo session with a Life photographer. There is the further dramatic peg of the writer's anxiety and anger about his wife, Mary, who has just left him after a fight.
On a concluding note, we observe that the Hemingway legend bears a passing resemblance to a familiar urban legend about a student who utilizes similar brevity in acing an essay assignment.
Last updated: 29 October 2008
Demaline, Jackie. "'Seafarer' Actor Reprises Hemingway Role." Cincinnati Enquirer. 26 October 2008. Kirkpatrick, Robert J. "Papa." The Hemingway Review. 22 September 1996. Kissel, Howard. "Anecdotes About His Life as 'Papa'." [New York] Daily News. 6 May 1996. Miller, Peter. Author! Screenwriter!: How to Succeed as a Writer in New York and Hollywood. Cincinnati: Adams Media, 2006. ISBN 1-593-37553-0 (p. 166).