A. E. Hotchner has just published a new book. Hemingway in Love: His Own Story is an intimate portrait of the troubled writer, by a man who knew him well.
Hemingway committed suicide in 1961. Hotchner — a longtime Westport resident — is still going strong in his 90s.
Earlier this week, “06880” reader Fred Cantor chatted with Hotchner about his life and times in our town. Here is his report.
A. E. Hotchner, the well-known writer and philanthropist, moved to Westport from New York City in 1953 — but not for all the reasons commonly associated with such a move.
“Somebody said to me: ‘Go to Westport. It’s an inexpensive place,'” Hotchner recalls.
A real estate broker showed him a 1920s home, on 5 acres, that had been empty for 2 years. “A real white elephant,” Hotchner remembers it. “Nobody wanted it, it was so big.”
But he and his wife, with 2 young children, liked the possibilities. They made an offer that was accepted.
The Hillandale Road home and surrounding acreage have provided Hotchner plenty of solitude to write the nearly 20 books he has published over the years, including his latest.
Like his previous works, Hotchner composed an initial draft of Hemingway in Love by longhand, on an old roll-top desk in his 3rd floor study in the finished attic that was already in place when he moved in.
What motivated him to write a new part of the Hemingway story almost 50 years after his acclaimed biography, Papa Hemingway?
The publisher’s lawyers edited out controversial parts of the 1966 manuscript that dealt with people who were alive then. Finally, Hotchner feels he is able to tell “a great tragic love story” that had such an impact on Hemingway’s life, and was perhaps even “more dramatic than what Hemingway was writing about” at the time.
“He was under siege,” Hotchner explains.
Hotchner was not only close friends with one of the 20th century’s most iconic authors. He was also close to one of its most celebrated movie stars: Paul Newman. That friendship led to their co-founding the Newman’s Own charitable endeavor.
But long before that wonderful philanthropy, Hotchner was involved in a much smaller local charity event that was an integral part of small-town Westport life in the 1950s: the writers-vs.-artists basketball game in the Staples High School gym.
Hotchner played with illustrious teammates like Peter De Vries and Max Shulman. The event raised money for good causes — but there was pride involved too. Hotchner recalls De Vries being injured one game, lying on the bench unable to continue, encouraging his teammates to win.
Hotchner has other fond memories of his early years in Westport: a downtown butcher in a straw hat; a Main Street hardware store that sold nails by the pound; a farm just down the street from his home where cows grazed, and nearby homes dating back to the Revolutionary War.
Westport has changed considerably since 1953. Nevertheless, over 60 years later Hotchner very much enjoys his home. He considers his property “an oasis.” He calls the grounds “glorious.”
And — nearing the century mark — he likes being surrounded by “what’s familiar.”