Born in Wilmington in 1915, Robert Ruark became one of North Carolina’s most-renowned, twentieth-century writers. He gained popularity for Washington Daily News, Saturday Evening Post, and Field & Stream columns. After brief stints in the military during World War II and completing his first novel, Ruark moved to Africa in the 1950s. The North Carolina writer wrote Horn of the Hunter: The Story of an African Hunt in 1953.
In 1951, Ruark, his wife, Virginia, and professional hunter, Harry Selby, traveled to present-day Kenya for a two-month safari excursion. Just as Hemingway had trekked through Africa and produced his Green Hills of Africa in the mid-1930s, Ruark emulated his literary hero by composing a work describing the continent’s peoples, animals, and landscapes. Ruark had hired Selby, a student of Hemingway’s guide, Philip Percival, and he hired several Africans who had assisted Hemingway in his earlier safari.
Two years after his safari, Ruark returned to Africa to cover the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya for Life magazine. British imperialists and Kenyan natives were fighting in 1953. Life hired Ruark because of his previous experiences in Africa and his connections with guides. John Bittner writes that with “sweeping commentary” Ruark described “the terrain, the politics, and the brutality of the rebellion” in his Life columns.
After his time in Africa, Ruark and his wife moved to Spain. There, the North Carolina writer lived the remainder of his short life. In the summer of 1953, Ruark met his Ernest Hemingway in Pamplona, Spain during the San Fermin festival. Ruark even watched a bullfight with his favorite author. In a Life column, Ruark wrote, “You will pardon a small boy’s enthusiasm for a current event, but the other day I sat with Ernest Hemingway to watch a bullfight in the same town he immortalized in…The Sun Also Rises.” A friendship was struck between Hemingway and Ruark struck up a friendship, and on a regular basis, the two authors subsequently corresponded about hunting and literature.
Meanwhile, Ruark wrote Horn of the Hunter: The Story of an African Hunt. Detailing his Kenyan safari, Ruark’s non-fiction work showcased his humor and story-telling ability. Yet some critics scathed Ruark’s numerous Hemingway references. Two years later, Ruark published Something of Value, and the novel exposed the Mau Mau conflict in Kenya. Though some critics considered the numerous descriptions of brutality and violence unwarranted, Something of Value remained a New York Times Best Seller for 42 weeks. MGM Studios later produced a film adaptation.
Although Ruark was known for his witty columns and his classic The Old Man and the Boy, he gained popularity for his non-fiction Horn of the Hunter. In his Field & Stream review, David E. Petzal contends that Ruark’s Africa narrative is “the best book on African hunting ever written” (2005). He also praises Ruark’s attention to detail in order for the reader to imagine correctly the diverse African landscape and the people and animals in Africa.
Bittner, John R. “Hemingway’s Influence On The Life And Writings Of Robert Ruark.” Hemingway Review 21.2 (2002): 129. Academic Search Complete. Web. (Accessed May 10, 2012); “Robert Ruark.” North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program website. A Division of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources. http://www.ncmarkers.com/Results.aspx?k=Search&ct=btn, (accessed May 10, 2012); Petzal, David E. “Horn Of The Hunter.” Field & Stream 109.9 (2005): 36. MasterFILE Complete. Web. (Accessed May 10, 2012).