May 15, 2013

Ernest Hemingway’s Cuban archives finally available in the US


Ernest Hemingway on his boat, off the coast of Cuba

Ernest Hemingway wrote some of his most enduring works from his estate in Cuba, where he lived off and on from 1939-1960, but until now most of his papers from that time have remained in Cuba, inaccessible to most Americans. Now, Brett Zongker writes for the Associated Press, some 2,000 digitized records of his archives have been delivered to the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston.

Massachusetts Congressman James R. McGovern and the Finca Vigia Foundation (named after Hemingway’s home in Cuba) made the announcement last week, noting that the newly available documents include Hemingway’s passports, handwritten letters to his wife Mary Hemingway, and correspondence about books such as The Old Man and the Sea and For Whom the Bell Tolls. Writer Archibald MacLeish sent Hemingway a telegram congratulating him on the latter: “The word great had stopped meaning anything in this language until your book. You have given it all its meaning back. I’m proud to have shared any part of your sky.” Hemingway himself, meanwhile, wrote a note to Ingrid Bergman expressing his desire to have her star in the film adaptation of the novel, alongside Gary Cooper (which she did, in 1943).

The Finca Vigia Foundation was founded in 2004 by Jenny Phillips, the granddaughter of Hemingway’s editor Maxwell Perkins, when she visited Havana and saw the state of disrepair at the Hemingway home, where many of the author’s documents were being kept in a damp basement. Phillips worked with the American government to obtain permission for archivists to travel to Cuba and save what she describes as “the flotsam and jetsam of a writer’s life.”

While the trove of Hemingway documents doesn’t include any manuscripts or revelatory items, Phillips is happy that “all these bits and pieces get assembled in a big puzzle.” Sandra Spanier, a Hemingway researcher and English professor at Pennsylvania State University, agreed with the assessment, saying that “while there’s no one single bombshell document, no long-lost novel to be discovered here, these new details add texture and nuance to our understanding of the man. Hemingway was an eyewitness to 20th century history. His work both reflected his times and, in a way, shaped his times.”

The JFK Library already has a considerable Hemingway collection thanks to efforts by President Kennedy, as well as Jacqueline Kennedy and Mary Hemingway, consisting of over 100,000 pages of writing and 10,000 photos. Meanwhile, renovations are underway at the Finca Vigia estate in Cuba, including construction of a new building with “library-quality atmospheric controls” to better preserve the author’s extensive archives.


Nick Davies is a publicist at Melville House.