SHERIDAN — Earlier this week, the Hemingway Society announced from its conference in Paris it will hold its next biennial conference in Sheridan in 2020.
National Endowment for the Humanity’s Hemingway Grant project director John Sutton estimated the conference will draw 350 attendees from countries around the world. He said at the 2016 conference, which was held in Chicago, conference-goers traveled from nine different countries to attend.
“I think it’s really interesting that this was announced from Paris,” Sutton said. “I can just imagine that hundreds of people are looking at their phone and saying ‘Siri, where is Sheridan, Wyoming?”’”
Sutton said Sheridan’s main competition for the 2020 conference was Havana, Cuba.
The group started pitching Sheridan as a destination for the Hemingway Society’ conference during its 2016 conference, but the proposal did not take shape until Sheridan College was awarded a grant from the NEH.
Last year, Sheridan College, along with the Wyoming Humanities Council and several local groups, including the Ucross Foundation, was awarded a $150,000 grant from the NEH for a statewide project called “Creating Humanities Communities Along the Hemingway Highway.” The college and its partners have designed a series of events that celebrate the life and writing of Ernest Hemingway and highlight the often-overlooked role Wyoming played in his life.
Those events have included several author talks with winners of the PEN/Hemingway Award for distinguished first works of fiction, including Yaa Gyasi, who won the award in 2017 for her novel “Homegoing,” and Kevin Powers, who won the award in 2013 for “The Yellow Birds.”
“I really think having the conference gives us an opportunity to continue the momentum we’ve been building with the grant,” Sutton said.
Sheridan College conference and services coordinator Deborah Isakson said the college hosted one of the Hemingway Society’s board members in September 2017 and gave him a tour of the community.
“He just adored Sheridan,” Isakson said. “He went back [to the society] and really sold Sheridan as a viable option to host the conference.”
Sutton and Isakson presented a formal bid to the Hemingway Society board in May and stressed the value Sheridan College could bring to the conference with the connections it’s formed through the NEH grant.
“We can bring in great authors and speakers that the conference wouldn’t have to pay for,” Isakson said.
Sutton said Sheridan College is still reaching out to speakers and authors about attending the conference, but one writer the Hemingway Society has expressed interest in is Wyoming-native C.J. Box.
“We’re going to begin planning in the next couple of weeks,” Sutton said. “One of the Hemingway Society board members is coming out in August.”
Isakson also said Patrick Hemingway, who is Ernest Hemingway’s son and his only living direct relative, lives in Bozeman, Montana, and plans to attend the conference.
Typically, conferences feature scholarly and creative presentations on all aspects of Hemingway’s life and work. Sutton said the Ucross Foundation is also planning on hosting an art exhibit featuring art related to Hemingway’s work, and the college is hoping it will be able to preview a Ken Burns documentary on Hemingway, which is currently in production and scheduled to broadcast in 2020.
Isakson said Sheridan College is an ideal location for the conference because it will be able to utilize its classrooms for the numerous presentations the conference will feature. Some conference attendees will also be able to stay in the college’s on-campus housing as an affordable lodging option.
“A lot of the attendees that go to a Hemingway conference don’t have a lot of money,” Isakson said. “They are college students that either want to get their paper read or attend paper workshops, so money can be a huge concern.”
From a community perspective, Isakson said the conference will be an opportunity to showcase Sheridan County to an international audience.
“I think it’s awesome we’ll be able to bring in 300 to 350 people who have never, for the most part, even been in the Rocky Mountains,” Isakson said. “Because the majority of Hemingway Society members are really from the East Coast.”
She added that visiting Wyoming will give conference attendees an opportunity to explore a frequently-forgotten chapter of Hemingway’s life. Though, as local programs that highlight Hemingway’s Wyoming roots continue to expand, that chapter of his life won’t remain forgotten for long.