Penn State Intercom......November 21, 2002

Hemingway project
takes Spanier to Cuba

By Amy Neil
Public Information

Spanier_CastroLast week Sandra Spanier, associate professor of English at Penn State, traveled to Havana as part of a U.S. delegation that signed an historic collaborative agreement with Cuba to restore and preserve the books and papers of Ernest Hemingway at Finca Vigia, his home in Cuba, where he lived from 1939-1960. Last March she became the first North American Hemingway scholar ever granted permission to see the manuscript collection at Finca Vigia and has since been closely involved as an adviser to the preservation project.

Launched with a startup grant of $75,00 from the Rockefeller Foundation, the joint effort by the New York-based Social Science Research Council and the Cuban National Council of Patrimony will restore materials damaged by the Caribbean climate; produce microfilm copies of the material; and help preserve the house, including a 9,000-volume library and Hemingway's fishing boat, The Pilar.

Jenny Phillips, granddaughter of Maxwell Perkins, Hemingway's editor, made a visit to Finca Vigia in January 2001, which set in motion the events that led to the project. Hemingway scholar Scott Berg accompanied Spanier, Phillips and U.S. Rep. James McGovern on this historic trip.

Spanier is leading the effort to publish the complete letters of Hemingway, which through the years 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 Only two books of selected letters have ever been published, and about 90 percent of his letters are as yet unpublished. The project, a cooperative venture of the Ernest Hemingway Foundation, Hemingway's family and the University, is known as the Hemingway Letters Project at Penn State.

As general editor, Spanier is 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 be assembling and directing an international team of scholars to contribute to this effort according to their specialties.

The first phase of the project, locating Hemingway's correspondence, took Spanier to Finca Vigia. She is one of only a handful of Hemingway experts to see the collection, which has been carefully tended by Cuban curators since his home became a national museum following his 1961 suicide in Idaho.

Although Hemingway's widow, Mary, removed more than 200 pounds of his papers from Cuba in 1961 — papers which are now in the Hemingway Collection of the John F. Kennedy Library — Spanier said a rich trove of material remains at Finca Vigia.

"It was a scholar's dream come true. I literally got goosebumps when I entered Hemingway's cellar and saw those original letters and manuscripts," she said of her trip. "Barring the discovery of the famous 'lost suitcase' full of his earliest manuscripts that was stolen in a Paris train station in 1922, the archive at Finca Vigia is likely the last significant cache of Hemingway papers yet to be explored."

According to Spanier, more than 20,000 items have been meticulously inventoried, including Hemingway's firearms, clothing, animal trophies and biological specimens, and art works. She said the Finca Vigia papers consist of everything from recipes to manuscript materials, scrapbooks, reviews of his books that he had saved since 1925 and moved with him from Paris to Cuba, scrapbooks of news articles about his back-to-back African plane crashes in 1954 and collected clippings about him from Cuban newspapers and magazines.

"Of primary interest to scholars are the approximately 3,000 documents, 2,000 to 3,000 photos, negatives and glass slide transparencies, and his library of nearly 9,000 books, some of which contain marginalia ranging from his pithy commentary on the text to dated records of his pulse and blood pressure," Spanier added.

She said "treasures among the documents" include draft fragments and a rejected epilogue to For Whom the Bell Tolls; his annotated galley proof and handwritten inserts to Across the River and Into the Trees; and a series of long love letters to Mary that he wrote from the front in the last months of World War II, before they were wed.

"This collection promises to shed new light on his personal relationships and on his creative process," she said. "And it will give us an unprecedented picture of his place in Cuban popular culture and of his relationships with individual Cubans — perhaps helping us to understand why he chose to live there for one-third of his life and donate his 1954 Nobel Prize medal to the Cuban people."

She said that the preservation project will open the door to valuable exchanges between Cuban and North American scholars. One fascinating bit of new information she learned during her trip is that upon receiving the Nobel Prize, Hemingway did a television interview in Spanish in which he called himself a "Cubano Sato," meaning "half-breed Cuban."

"He loved Cuba and Cuba loved him back," said Spanier.

For more information on the Hemingway Letters Project at Penn State, visit

Amy Neil can be reached at