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Sun rising on Hemingway centenary in Key West


May 26, 1999
Web posted at: 2:44 p.m. EDT (1844 GMT)

(CNN) -- As the 100th anniversary of Ernest Hemingway's birthday approaches, organizers of the annual Hemingway Festival in Key West, Florida, are gearing up for their biggest celebration yet.

The festival, traditionally a raucous gathering of tourists, white-bearded Hemingway look-alikes, and fans of the Nobel Prize-winning author, has been extended to 10 days this year, July 16-25, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the author's birth on July 21.

Some events include an arm-wrestling contest, a street fair, a three-mile race, a "running of the bulls" (Hemingway look-alikes race along Old Town's Duval Street in front of wheeled bulls made from old oil drums), and the Hemingway Look-Alike Contest, which caps the festival each year.

New events have been added, such as a poetry writing contest.

"It's a contest to see who can write the bawdiest limerick," festival director Karen Thurman said.

Writing, too

The competition will complement other literary events, like a writing workshop, readings and book signings, and a short-story writing contest judged by his granddaughter, Lorian Hemingway.

"We're expecting close to 1,000 entries," organizer Carol Shaughnessy said. "We had a query from Zimbabwe a couple of days ago."

Hemingway lived in Key West from 1928 to 1939. The tourist board on the island -- 90 miles north of Havana, Cuba -- bills Hemingway's stay there as the time he engaged in his most prolific writing, penning books like "A Farewell to Arms" and "To Have and Have Not."

Hemingway won the 1954 Nobel Prize for literature for his 1952 novel "The Old Man and the Sea." Before his death by suicide in 1961, his masculine persona, as much as his writing, had transformed him into an international icon. He was known for carousing, as well as his endless search for adventure -- fishing the Florida Straits for marlin or hunting the jungles of Africa for lion.

Festival under fire

The festival and the island have come under fire from Hemingway family members in recent years for profiting on the Hemingway name without passing along the good fortune to his survivors.

For instance, the writer's former residence on the island has been turned into a museum popular with tourists, although many of the artifacts in the house never belonged to Hemingway.

Meanwhile, the Old Town section of Key West is lined with bars and restaurants either named after Hemingway or alluding to him in some way.

But Key West is not alone -- Hemingway also lived in Cuba, Spain and France, and commemorations are being held in each location to mark the Hemingway centenary.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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