‘A Clear Well-Lighted Place’ by Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway. How lazy and obvious to pick him, for so many reasons. I wish I had discovered and been shown so many other writers when I was younger. I wish, at school, we’d been shown all those stories and voices that never had their chance. And I really did think about doing this anthology without this story, from the perspective of me now, not me as I went through life, and the stories I clung to, or that rose up unexpectedly and captured me.


I was twenty when this story found me, came to me, as it was, by being read aloud to those who had turned up to an American Short Story seminar by one of my university professors. I was finding it hard to be alive, sometimes. The world was (is) so big, and human beings so small, so insignificant, or as I suppose I felt, was so insignificant, what would happen if I just… disappeared.

He read this story, in his beautiful voice (I still think of him reading this, or pieces of Moby Dick in The American Novel seminar, and nothing I’ve ever heard read aloud has ever come even vaguely near it) and I was moved. So. I found an old copy of the collected stories in a second-hand bookshop and cut this one out, stuck it in the back of my diary, and if I ever felt like I might be alone in the universe, I read it.

Obviously, I’ve moved on. I’ve read much better and more complicated and more stylish, more beautiful stories since. I’ve read more important ones too, ones that crack open the world and write it new.

But, this story, it made me pause and think that maybe there wasa point to me, that there was this huge café, with thousands upon thousands of tables, where the occupants were just looking for a clean well-lighted place, to feel connection. And it made me feel better, about everything. So.

It can be found in so many places, but I have a copy of The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway: The First Forty-Nine Stories, Scribner, 2014

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