Ernest Hemingway on Africa

I find myself teaching and talking to my gifted students a great deal about Africa. Not the typical, insipid, cliched, politically correct mush, but the facts, the history, the amazing cultures, the diversity, the wildlife, and geography of the continent. One book I’ve used is Waiting for the Rain, and it seems to work well, though since Apartheid is no longer a hot news item, it doesn’t work as well as it used to. But it is a fine read.

Of course, a gifted teacher can always use Hemingway to expose students to Africa. According to, Hemingway traveled twice to East Africa, was probably the one who introduced the Swahili word “safari” into the English language, and Hemingway’s personality contributed greatly to the image of the “Great White Hunter.” At any rate, Hemingway’s African experiences contributed to his writing some of his finest novels and short stories: The Green Hills of Africa, of course, and “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.” This short story was made into a movie in 1947, called The Macomber Affair. Then there was “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” which was also made into a movie in 1952. My favorite African writing of Hemingway is True at First Light, a fictional memoir that was completed by Hemingway’s son, Patrick after the death of his father. When I won the Ernest Hemingway Short Story Competition, I met Patrick and heard him talk of this book.

Here is a great quotation from True at First Light, an opening epigraph, which reveals Hemingway’s thoughts on Africa:

“In Africa a thing is true at first light, and a lie by noon and you have no more respect for it than for the lovely, perfect weedfringed lake you see across the sun-baked salt plain. You have walked across that plain in the morning and you know that no such lake is there. But now it is there absolutely true, beautiful and believable.”