Penn State Intercom......May
Sandra Spanier tapped
for Hemingway project
By Amy Neil
A long-term project has begun to publish the complete letters of Ernest Hemingway. The project, a cooperative venture of the Ernest Hemingway Foundation, Hemingway's family and Penn State, will be directed by general editor Sandra Spanier, associate professor of English at the University.
Spanier will be responsible for editing and annotating all of Hemingway's correspondence, a collection estimated to be 8,000 to 10,000 letters strong, for publication in a multi-volume edition. She will coordinate an international team of scholars in this effort. In addition, a single-volume edition of selected letters will be published with the general public in mind. The undertaking will be known as the Hemingway Letters Project at Penn State.
"I'm very pleased to see this project is being undertaken because so much of Ernest Hemingway is in his letters," commented Ernest Hemingway's only surviving son, Patrick, about the project. "He had many friends and devoted a great deal of time writing to his friends, and for this reason his letters give a very complete account of the 20th century."
Through the years,
Hemingway's letters have been carefully guarded. Only two books of selected
letters have ever been published, and about 90 percent of his letters
are as yet unpublished.
once said that his letters were 'often libelous, always indiscreet and
often obscene,'" said Spanier. "These are private writings, unguarded
and uncensored. They capture his emotions in the heat of the moment, and
reveal a far more interesting and complex personality than one might expect
from Hemingway's public persona. Sometimes he would vent his anger in
a letter and then not send it -- usually wisely. He could be vulnerable,
tender, critical and self-critical, and he could be wickedly funny."
Said Hemingway, "I don't think he was worried about them as literature, so they are more relaxed. They are especially interesting when they parallel events of his life that he drew on in fiction."
According to Scott Donaldson, president of the Ernest Hemingway Foundation, the Hemingway Letters Project represents a crucial step forward for the study of American literature.
an indelible mark on modern American prose," he said. "It is hard to conceive
of any other writer's letters that might rival his in importance and interest."
As Spanier pointed
out, Hemingway's letters tell us a great deal about the times in which
he lived (1899-1961).
"Hemingway's work was always of the moment. His second book was entitled In Our Time, and he reflected the temper of his times whether he was writing about the malaise of the 'lost generation' in Paris in the '20s or about the Spanish Civil War. His letters constitute a cultural history of the 20th century."
The first part
of the project will involve a lot of detective work, as his correspondence
is not located in one place. But the hunt for Hemingway letters is on.
Spanier has located letters in at least two-dozen libraries in the United
States, the largest cache being The Ernest Hemingway Collection at the
John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library in Boston. Other collections are located
in archives around the world and in the hands of private collectors and
According to Spanier, Hemingway saved everything. He was meticulous in saving drafts of his prose, letters, recipes and even receipts.
"There were trunks filled with papers left at the Ritz Hotel in Paris and at Sloppy Joe's Bar in Key West, as well as in his home in Cuba, where he lived from 1939-1960," she said. "His widow, Mary, was given permission by Fidel Castro to remove about 200 pounds of paper and other items from Hemingway's home after his death."
The Ernest Hemingway Foundation chose Spanier as general editor of the letters project from among competing scholars. "We are delighted that the Hemingway Letters Project has found its perfect editor in Sandra Spanier and its ideal home at Penn State," said Donaldson. "Penn State's distinguished tradition as a leader in American literature was established early by Fred Lewis Pattee and continued by many scholars such as Philip Young, Professor Spanier's mentor and one of the first and most influential Hemingway scholars. This tradition is embodied today by such scholars as Spanier, and Penn State professors James West and Linda Miller, who will serve on the project's advisory board."
"I see Penn State
as an especially fitting loc ation
for the Hemingway letters edition, both in terms of its tradition and
its commitment to the project," said Spanier. "I am honored to be carrying
on the work of my professors, Philip Young and Charley Mann, who were
the first to see Hemingway's papers in the late 1960s -- back when they
were kept in a New York bank vault and in shopping bags in the closet
of his widow's apartment."
Their book, The Hemingway Manuscipts: An Inventory, was published in 1969 by the Penn State Press. The University became one of the earliest centers for American literary studies with the arrival of Pattee in 1894 -- at the time a controversial departure from English literature. A pioneering scholar in American literary history, Pattee was first in the nation to hold the title of professor of American literature.
Spanier's research interests include 20th-century American literature, especially expatriate American modernists. A longtime Hemingway scholar, she recently led the Penn State Alumni Association study tour, "A Moveable Feast: Hemingway's Paris and Pamplona," which followed Hemingway's footsteps through the streets of Paris and retraced the route of Jake Barnes, Hemingway's character in The Sun Also Rises, to Spain.
She has served on the editorial board of the Hemingway Review since 1992, and has participated in international Hemingway conferences in such Hemingway haunts as Paris, Sun Valley, Bimini and Havana. Spanier also interviewed and edited a book by Martha Gellhorn, writer and war correspondent who hated being known as Hemingway's third wife, before Gellhorn died in 1998 at the age of 89. With David Morrell, she edited a book of Philip Young's essays, including a section on Hemingway, published by the Penn State Press in 2000.
Spanier also has extensive experience in editing a writer's letters. She is completing an edition of the letters of the late Kay Boyle -- at the request of Boyle -- who was one of the most enduring writers of modernist American literature and well-known among Paris' American expatriate community. Spanier's 1986 book, Kay Boyle: Artist and Activist, was the first to treat the author's life and work.
She estimates that Boyle wrote more than 20,000 letters in her lifetime.
"I have made dozens of trips to archives during the course of the project and personally collected copies of more than 7,000 letters." While searching for letters, she discovered the manuscript of Boyle's long-lost first novel, Process, written in France in 1924-25 and missing since the late 1920s. The novel, edited by Spanier, was published for the first time in 2001.
Spanier worked with John Harwood, director of Penn State's Center for Academic Computing, to develop a computerized inventory system that enabled her to sort the database of letters by date, author, recipient and provenance. This system will be utilized for the Hemingway Letters Project.
The most influential American writer of the 20th century, Hemingway's life and writing style have been widely written about and analyzed. As a young writer in Paris in the 1920s, Hemingway aimed to revolutionize American literature. He had two best-selling novels before the age of 30, and was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1952 and the Nobel Prize for Literature 1954. After years of struggling with depression and illness, he committed suicide in 1961.
Hemingway's books are
widely read throughout the world, and today almost universally are taught
in U.S. high school and college courses. He also has become an icon of
popular culture. His image or name appears in furniture and car advertisements,
and his homes in Key West, Cuba and his birthplace in Oak Park, Ill.,
are tourist attractions. A war simulation computer game is named after
his novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls. There even is a Hemingway cookbook.