It is claimed Ernest Hemingway once wrote a six-word short story that could make people cry for a bet. The wager was ten dollars, which Hemingway won with the following:
“For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.”
However, there’s no hard evidence that this ever happened.
Snopes has categorized the anecdote as “Undetermined.”
Quote Investigator claims Hemngway’s tale was first reported in Get Published! Get Produced!: A Literary Agent’s Tips on How to Sell Your Writing by Peter Miller in 1974:
Apparently, Ernest Hemingway was lunching at Luchow’s with a number of writers and claimed that he could write a short story that was only six words long. Of course, the other writers balked. Hemingway told each of them to put ten dollars in the middle of the table; if he was wrong, he said, he’d match it. If he was right, he would keep the entire pot. He quickly wrote six words down on a napkin and passed it around; Papa won the bet. The words were “FOR SALE, BABY SHOES, NEVER WORN.” A beginning, a middle and an end!
The six word story was also mentioned by author Arthur C. Clarke in a letter dated 11 Oct. 1991:
“My favourite is Hemingway’s—he’s supposed to have won a $10 bet (no small sum in the ’20s) from his fellow writers. They paid up without a word. . . .
Here it is. I still can’t think of it without crying—FOR SALE. BABY SHOES. NEVER WORN.”
Quote Investigator suggests possible sources for the story may be early advertisements from 1906 onwards; newspaper stories, the first from 1910; or even an essay on creative writing by William R. Kane from 1917.
Whatever the truth of the matter, this short story does succeed in telling a moving tale in just six simple words, and the anecdote about its origin does little to change Hemingway‘s position as one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century. Here’s how Mr. Hemingway described the author’s role in his Nobel Prize winning speech in 1954:
“Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.
“For a true writer each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed.”
Ernest Hemingway interviewed at his home in Cuba after his Nobel Prize win had been announced.