International Imitation Hemingway Competition

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The International Imitation Hemingway Competition, also known as the Bad Hemingway Contest, was an annual writing competition begun in Century City, California. Started in 1977 as a "promotional gag",[1] and held for nearly thirty years, the contest pays mock homage to Ernest Hemingway by encouraging authors to submit a 'really good page of really bad Hemingway' in a Hemingway-esque style.[2]

Submissions have included such titles as "Big Too-Hardened Liver" (1992 winner),[3][4] "The Old Man and the Flea" (2002 winner), "The Bug Count also Rises", "Across the Suburbs and Into the Express Lane at Von's" (2000 winner, Scott Stavrou) and "The Short, Happy Life of Frances' Comb."

The competition, as created, had two rules: mention Harry's Bar & Grill (the Venetian Harry's was long one of Hemingway's favorite watering holes) and be funny.[5] First prize was round-trip tickets and dinner for two at Harry's in Florence, Italy.[6]

In addition to the humor of the contest, there is irony in its existence, as Hemingway famously said: "The step up from writing parodies is writing on the wall above the urinal." Nevertheless, the contest had thousands of dedicated enthusiasts among writers and Hemingway fans, drawing more than 24,000 entries in its first ten years of operation.[7] Many notable literary figures judged the contest over the years, including Digby Diehl, Jack Smith, Ray Bradbury, Barnaby Conrad, George Plimpton, Bernice Kert,[2] Jack Hemingway, A. Scott Berg, and Joseph Wambaugh.[8][9]

In the late 1970s, seeking to promote Harry's Bar & American Grill in Century City, California, bar owners Jerry Magnin and Larry Mindel consulted advertising executive Paul Keye, who suggested the contest to capitalize on Hemingway's literary references to "Harry's".[10] The contest announcement in The New Yorker magazine stated, "One very good page of very bad Hemingway will send you and a friend to Italy for dinner."[6] For the 11th Annual Contest, to promote the contest's move from (closing) Century City to the San Francisco Harry's, PR firm Tellem Worldwide recruited noted San Francisco authors Herb Caen, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Cyra McFadden as judges.[7]

In 1988, after 11 years of contests, Spectrum Foods Inc., the new owners of Harry's in Los Angeles, ended their sponsorship of the contest because of escalating costs.[11] At this time literary organization PEN Center West took over sponsorship.[12] American Airlines' in-flight magazine American Way began printing contest-winning entries, and continued the grand prize of a flight to Italy.[1] In 2000 United Airlines assumed sponsorship of the contest, publishing winning entries in their in-flight and online Hemispheres Magazine.[13] United Airlines' support continued until the 2005 contest,[14] following which the competition ended.[15] The final winning parody was entitled "Da Movable Code."[16]

Hemingway's spare writing style had often been imitated prior to the contest. Since then, two anthologies of Imitation Hemingway have been published (The Best of Bad Hemingway, Volumes I & II) and include contest winners as well as satires of Hemingway written by E. B. White, Raymond Chandler, F. Scott Fitzgerald and George Plimpton.[17][18]


  1. ^ a b Schwartz, Amy E. (August 12, 1994). Homage to Poppa and Pappy. The Washington Post, p. A27. Retrieved June 15, 2010.
  2. ^ a b Smith, Jack (March 15, 1993). Wanted: One Really Good Page of Really Bad Hemingway. LA Times. Retrieved March 7, 2010.
  3. ^ Smith, Jack (March 16, 1992)
  4. ^ Richards, Charles. "Contests Brings Out Hemingway, Faulkner Write-Alikes". AP News. Retrieved August 9, 2016.
  5. ^ International Imitation Hemingway Competition Archived March 16, 2007, at the Wayback Machine Nelson Taylor, American Bizarro, St. Martin's Griffin, 2000. ISBN 978-0-312-26286-0. At Retrieved March 7, 2010.
  6. ^ a b Avins, Mimi (September 5, 2002). "The Bar Tanked: Many Suffered. The closure of Harry's Bar". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 15, 2010.
  7. ^ a b Tellam (2009). Case History – Harry's Bar & American Grill "11th Annual International Hemingway Contest" Tellam Corporate website. Retrieved June 15, 2010.
  8. ^ 2000 International Imitation Hemingway Award. "Across the suburbs and into the express lane", Scott Stavrou. Personal website.
  9. ^ "'Snooze Of Kilimanjaro' Is Best Of Bad Hemingway". Mohave Daily Miner. UPI. March 11, 1986. Retrieved June 16, 2010 – via Google News Archive.
  10. ^ "The Contessa is not at home, my Colonel," he said. "They believe you might find her at Harry's." "You find everything on earth at Harry's." – Ernest Hemingway, Across the River and into the Trees (1950).
  11. ^ Ringle, Ken (September 24, 1988). "At Harry's, A Farewell To Yarns". The Washington Post. p. C01. Retrieved June 15, 2010.
  12. ^ Kissell, Joe and Jahnke, Morgen (October 19, 2004). Bad Fiction Contests. Interesting Thing of the Day; Alt Concepts
  13. ^ "Sometimes you've got to be bad to be good". Hemispheres Magazine. February 29, 2000. Archived from the original on July 8, 2000. Retrieved March 7, 2010. Announcement of contest sponsorship.
  14. ^ "2005 Contest". Hemispheres Magazine. 2005. Archived from the original on November 19, 2005. Retrieved March 7, 2010. End of contest sponsorship.
  15. ^ "On Hemingway and the ideal of masculinity". Washington Post. July 20, 2017. Retrieved December 14, 2018.
  16. ^ "2005 Imitation Hemingway Contest Winner". Hemispheres Magazine. 2005. Archived from the original on January 6, 2006. Retrieved March 7, 2010.
  17. ^ The Best of Bad Hemingway Volume 1: Choice Entries. Harry's Bar & American Grill. Mariner Books; 1989. ISBN 978-0-15-611861-3
  18. ^ The Best of Bad Hemingway Volume 2: More Choice Entries. Harry's Bar & American Grill. Harvest Books, 1991. ISBN 978-0-15-611866-8. Retrieved March 7, 2010.

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