With Hemingway — A Year in Key West and Cuba

Steve Newman Writer
9 min readMay 9, 2021

Arnold Samuelson

In 1934, at the height of the Depression a young man rode the rails from Minneapolis to Key West to ask Hemingway’s advice about writing…

Arnold Samuelson could easily have been a character out of a Hemingway short story: he certainly has a touch of Nick Adams about him and, like Hemingway, he also had a domineering mother who insisted he make something of himself. But how was he to achieve anything in the middle of a depression that had put 14 million people out of work in the US. And although he’d studied journalism at college he never officially graduated because he wouldn’t (or couldn’t) pay the $5 diploma fee.

Diploma or no diploma Arnold was still determined to become a writer.

In 1932, he had to get away from the farm (his family were Norwegian immigrant wheat farmers) and the recent brutal murder of his sister. He needed space. Arnold then, having done a deal with a local newspaper, and with a friend, took off (in a snow storm)to explore the world, or at least that part of the world the rail tracks might take them. He took a pair of hair-cutting shears with him to earn the cost of a meal or two, and his violin, which, as his daughter writes in the foreword to Samuelson’s book:

“ He played…in makeshift orchestras and relied on hitchhiking for transportation. He furnished the Sunday Tribune with a series of ‘Wandering Boy’ articles and awaited spring in a log cabin in Northern California.” Which sounds a bit like the experience John Steinbeck had looking after a small log cabin resort, where, being snowed in, he started to write seriously.

It would seem, at this point, that Arnold’s friend had gone back home.

Arnold settled in and wrote his pieces for the Tribune, smoked a good many cigarettes (he used the stubs to decorate his Christmas tree), speared fish, and found a Hemingway story in a magazine, which he read and re-read. That’s how to write, he thought, that’s how to do it.

That might have been enough for most budding writers. Not for Arnold Samuelson it wasn’t. Come spring he made his way home, one assumes to collect what the newspaper owed him. He then set out again, riding the rails, for Key West.