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Ernest Hemingway at his home Cuba, late 1940s.
Courtesy of Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston
Ernest Hemingway at his home Cuba, late 1940s.

Wednesdays, Aug. 31 - Sept. 14, 2022 at 9 p.m. on KPBS 2 / On demand now with KPBS Passport!

Ernest Hemingway, the iconic literary figure considered one of the greatest American writers and among the first to live and work at the treacherous nexus of art and celebrity, is the subject of an upcoming three-part, six-hour documentary series directed by award-winning filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.

HEMINGWAY: Official Trailer

The documentary paints an intimate picture of Hemingway the writer — who captured on paper the complexities of the human condition in spare and profound prose, and whose work remains deeply influential around the world — while also penetrating the myth of Hemingway the man’s man to reveal a deeply troubled and ultimately tragic figure. The film also explores Hemingway’s limitations and biases as an artist and a man of his time. HEMINGWAY interweaves a close study of the biographical events of the author’s life with excerpts from his fiction, non-fiction and short stories, informed by interviews with celebrated writers, scholars and Hemingway’s son, Patrick.

Hemingway's WWI Service

The filmmakers explore the painstaking process through which Hemingway created some of the most important works of fiction in American letters, including novels "The Sun Also Rises," "A Farewell to Arms," "For Whom the Bell Tolls" and "The Old Man and the Sea"; short stories “Hills Like White Elephants,” “The Short and Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” “Up in Michigan,” “Indian Camp” and “The Snows of Kilimanjaro;” as well as the nonfiction works “Death in the Afternoon” and “A Moveable Feast.”

How Hemingway's Childhood Sparked a Love of Nature, Writing

Ernest Hemingway “loved being in love,” the writer Michael Katakis says in the film. He married four times over the course of his tumultuous life and had three sons. His relationships with women — his mother, sisters, wives and the World War I nurse who broke his heart — profoundly affected his work. Yet for all his bravado and hyper-masculine posturing, Hemingway wrote about relationships between men and women with sensitivity, nuance and clarity. As writer Edna O’Brien says on camera, he was able to put himself “inside the skin” of the other and give voice to women’s deepest emotions.

Writer Edna O'Brien on Hemingway's View of Women

Narrated by long-time collaborator Peter Coyote, the series features an all-star cast of actors bringing Hemingway (voiced by Jeff Daniels), his friends and family vividly to life. Through letters to and from his four wives — voiced by Meryl Streep, Keri Russell, Mary-Louise Parker and Patricia Clarkson — the film reveals Hemingway at his most romantic and his most vulnerable, grappling at times with insecurity, anxiety and existential loneliness. 

“I’ve always admired Hemingway’s writing,” said Daniels. “The power of his simplicity changed literature. Reading his published work along with his unpublished letters gave me new insight into his impact as an artist and the ultimate tragedy of his life.” 

The Beginnings of Ernest Hemingway's Marriage to Mary Welsh

HEMINGWAY tracks the meteoric rise and tragic fall of the author who, in his final years, suffered from chronic alcoholism, serious mental illness, traumatic brain injuries and depression. In 1961, at the age of 61, Hemingway died by suicide, leaving behind an unparalleled body of artistic work and a complicated emotional legacy for those closest to him. 


The filmmakers were granted unusually open access to the treasure trove of Hemingway’s manuscripts, correspondence, scrapbooks and photographs housed at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston. Interviews with renowned biographers and scholars, including Mary Dearborn and Marc Dudley, shed new light on the man and his work; and well-known writers around the world — including Edna O’Brien, Abraham Verghese, Mario Vargas Llosa, Mary Karr, Tim O’Brien, Akiko Manabe, Leonardo Padura and Tobias Wolff — deepen the film’s exploration of Hemingway’s oeuvre.

It also includes moving commentary from Hemingway’s surviving son, Patrick, and from the late Senator John McCain, whose lifelong role model was not Hemingway, but Robert Jordan, the protagonist of “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”

Sen. John McCain on His Hero from 'For Whom the Bell Tolls'


Episode 1: “A Writer (1899-1929)” Wednesday, Aug. 31 at 9 p.m. on KPBS 2 - Hemingway, yearning for adventure, volunteers for the Red Cross during World War I. He marries Hadley Richardson and moves to Paris, publishes "The Sun Also Rises" and finds critical and commercial success with his second novel, "A Farewell to Arms."

The Inspiration Behind 'The Sun Also Rises'

Episode 2: “The Avatar (1929-1944)” Wednesday, Sept. 7 at 9 p.m. on KPBS 2 - Hemingway, having achieved a level of fame rarely seen in the literary world, settles in Key West with Pauline Pfeiffer but can’t stay put for long. He reports on the Spanish Civil War and begins a tempestuous romance with Martha Gellhorn.

Hemingway's Front Seat to the Spanish Civil War

Episode 3: “The Blank Page (1944-1961)” Wednesday, Sept. 14 at 9 p.m. on KPBS 2 - Hemingway follows the Army as they advance through Europe. Afterwards, he tries to start a life with Mary Welsh, but is beset with tragedies. He publishes "The Old Man and the Sea" to acclaim but is overcome by his declining mental condition.


Filmmakers and special guests explore the writer’s art and legacy.

"Hemingway and Biography" - presented by WETA and Georgetown University. It features Ken Burns, Lynn Novick, Amanda Vaill, Howard Bryant and Paul Elie. Stream on demand:

"Hemingway the Author" - presented by GBH and The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. It features Ken Burns, Lynn Novick, Tobias Wolff, Abraham Verghese and Alan Price.

"Hemingway, Gender and Identity" - presented by WNET New York Public Media and The Center for Fiction. It features Ken Burns, Lynn Novick, Mary Karr, Marc Dudley and Lisa Kennedy.

"Hemingway, the Sea and Cuba" - presented by South Florida PBS, The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, and FIU Casa Cuba. It features Ken Burns, Lynn Novick, Cristina Garcia, Brin-Jonathan Butler and Ann Bocock.

"Hemingway and Celebrity" - presented by The Los Angeles Times, PBS SoCal KCET, and features Ken Burns, Lynn Novick, Lesley Blume, Patt Morrison and Rachel Kushner.

"Hemingway and the Natural World" - presented by Idaho Public Television and The Community Library, and features Ken Burns, Sarah Botstein, Terry Tempest Williams and Jenny Emery Davidson.

"Hemingway, Journalism and War" - presented by The Kansas City Star and Kansas City PBS, and features Ken Burns, Lynn Novick, Alex Vernon and Melinda Henneberger.

"Hemingway and Childhood" - presented by WTTW, and features Ken Burns, Lynn Novick, Verna Kale, Tim O’Brien and Paris Schutz.

Fimmaker Quotes:

“HEMINGWAY is both an intimate, turbulent family saga and an examination of some of the greatest works of American literature in the 20th century,” said director Ken Burns. “The documentary attempts to show how flawed our assumptions about Ernest Hemingway and his writing have been. At the same time, we are unsparing in our inquiry into less well-known aspects of his character and writing. Our intent is to offer viewers an honest portrayal of a complex and conflicted writer who left an indelible mark on literature.”

“In an era when Americans are re-evaluating so many icons, Hemingway is a particularly compelling figure to revisit," said director Lynn Novick. "He was hugely complicated, deeply flawed, and he truly revolutionized the art of writing. One of the great revelations of this project was asking renowned writers from around the world — Mario Vargas Llosa, Edna O’Brien, Abraham Verghese, Leonardo Padura, Mary Karr — to share their insights into Hemingway's work and why it’s still important today.”

“One of the great challenges of this project,” said producer Sarah Botstein, “was finding ways — visually, cinematically — to show how Hemingway honed his craft and how he used words to such extraordinary effect. In collaboration with our editors, we deployed all the tools in our filmmaking toolbox — graphic effects, archival footage and photographs, live cinematography, sound effects — to make Hemingway’s work come fully alive on screen.”

Watch On Your Schedule:

Members can stream the entire series with KPBS Passport, a benefit for members supporting KPBS at $60 or more yearly, using your computer, smartphone, tablet, Roku, AppleTV, Amazon Fire or Chromecast. Learn how to activate your benefit now.


A production of Florentine Films and WETA, Washington, D.C. Directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, written by Geoffrey C. Ward, and produced by Burns, Novick and Sarah Botstein. Original music produced by Johnny Gandelsmen, with additional music created by longtime Florentine collaborator David Cieri.