Hemingway Letters and Documents from Cuba to be Made Available in the U.S. for the First Time at the JFK Library

For Immediate Release: January 29, 2009 
Further information: Brent R. Carney (617) 514-1662, Brent.Carney@JFKLFoundation.org 
Tom McNaught (617) 514-1656, Tom.McNaught@JFKLFoundation.org

Boston, MA - Through a groundbreaking initiative with the Government of Cuba, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston recently received 15 rolls of microfilm containing 3,000 images of letters and documents written by and to Ernest Hemingway while he was living at the Finca Vigía, the Nobel-Prize winning author’s home outside of Havana.

The treasure trove of documents includes the corrected proofs of The Old Man and the Sea, the ‘Final’ movie script based on that novel, an alternate ending to For Whom the Bell Tolls, and thousands of letters.

While the original papers remain in Cuba at the archives of the Cuban National Ministry of Culture, researchers will now have access to archival replicas both in Cuba at the National Council of Cuban Cultural Patrimony and soon in Boston at the Kennedy Presidential Library.

The Ernest Hemingway Collection at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library spans Hemingway’s entire career, and contains ninety percent of existing Hemingway manuscript materials, making the Kennedy Library the world’s principal center for research on the life and work of Ernest Hemingway.

“After Hemingway’s death in 1961, his widow Mary received support from the Kennedy administration to travel to Cuba and retrieve the majority of her husbands papers,” explained Kennedy Library Director Tom Putnam. “We are honored to be the repository of those materials and the addition of these copies of the papers that were left behind helps to make the Hemingway Collection even more complete, providing unparalleled insight into Hemingway’s crucial years in Cuba from 1939 to 1960. I want to thank Congressman James McGovern who was so instrumental in facilitating this exchange with the Cuban government.”

“The preservation of these Hemingway materials is an extraordinary achievement, and I am honored to have played a small part,” said Congressman James McGovern. “I commend the people – Cuban and American – who have worked so hard to maintain Hemingway’s literary heritage as well as the Finca Vigía. I particularly want to thank Frank and Jenny Phillips and Mary Jo Adams for their tireless efforts. And it goes without saying that I can’t think of a more appropriate place for these treasures to be held than the Kennedy Library. I am hopeful that this collaboration can serve as a model for future cooperative efforts between the Cuban and American people.”

The Ernest Hemingway Collection Curatorial staff is currently organizing the images and developing a Finding Aid so that once the collection is opened researchers will be able to easily identify the materials they wish to view. The opening of the materials is expected in spring 2009.

This unique bi-national collaboration stemmed from an agreement signed in November 2002 at the Finca Vigía by former Cuban President Fidel Castro, Sean Hemingway (Ernest’s grandson), U.S. Congressman James McGovern, and representatives of the Finca Vigia Preservation Foundation and the Social Services Research Council (SSRC) who worked side by side with the Cuban officials in the scanning and microfilming process.

After Hemingway’s death, his widow, Mary Hemingway returned to the Finca Vigía and removed many of Hemingway’s manuscripts, letters, and paintings. She deeded the property and its remaining contents to the Cuban people and the Finca Vigía was turned into a museum which has been carefully cared for over the years by Gladys Rodriguez Ferrero, the Finca’s Curator.

In 2001 Jenny Phillips, granddaughter of Hemingway’s longtime editor Maxwell Perkins, and Congressman James McGovern, a long-time advocate for normalizing U.S.-Cuba relations, conceived of a plan to launch a joint Cuban-American project to preserve Hemingway’s Cuban home and archive the remaining papers.

With the support of Princeton Professor Stan Katz, chair of a team of scholars dedicated to stimulating intellectual and cultural exchange between the United States and Cuba, and the Social Science Research Council, a plan was developed whereby the documents would be digitally scanned in Cuba and converted to microfilm by the Center for Research Libraries. Archival copies of the microfilm would then be given to the Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston and to the National Council of the Cuban Cultural Patrimony. Scanning the originals is a means of preserving them, as now researchers in Cuba can work from archival replicas rather than handling the original documents.

Examples of the type of documents that will be available to researchers in Boston include:

  • Letters to Hemingway from his family including his mother Grace Hall and his sons John and Patrick;
  • Over a dozen letters from Adriana Ivanich, the possible muse for his novel Across the River and Into the Trees. Adriana also designed the dust jackets for Across the River and Into the Trees and The Old Man and the Sea;
  • A group of letters to Mary Welsh Hemingway [his fourth wife] written when they first met and were both serving as war correspondents in Europe during World War II;
  • Letters or cables from such luminaries as Robert Capa, Pablo Casals, Marlene Dietrich, Sinclair Lewis, Lillian Ross and Ingrid Bergman;
  • Mail from friends and fans particularly after Hemingway won the Nobel Prize for Literature and published Old Man and the Sea.

The Ernest Hemingway Collection was the generous gift of Mary Hemingway to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. While Ernest Hemingway and John F. Kennedy never met, President Kennedy admired Hemingway’s work. In the opening sentence of his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Profiles in Courage, Kennedy cited Hemingway's description of courage, writing that, “This is a book about the most admirable of human virtues: courage. ‘Grace under pressure,’ as Ernest Hemingway defined it.” President Kennedy invited Hemingway to his 1961 inauguration, but the author declined as he was too ill to travel.

Mary Hemingway saw the Kennedy Library as a fitting place for her late husband’s papers due to the role President Kennedy played in helping her collect them after Hemingway’s death. In 1961, despite a U.S. ban on travel to Cuba (the result of high tensions between the two countries following the Bay of Pigs invasion), President Kennedy made arrangements for her to enter Cuba to claim family documents and belongings. While in Cuba, Mrs. Hemingway met with Fidel Castro who allowed her to take her husband’s papers and the artwork he collected in exchange for the donation of their Finca Vigía home and its remaining belongings to the Cuban people.

A 1968 exchange of letters between Mary Hemingway and Jacqueline Kennedy confirmed that the Hemingway papers would be archived at the Kennedy Library. In 1972, Mrs. Hemingway began depositing papers in the Kennedy Library, and in 1980, Patrick Hemingway and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis dedicated the Hemingway Room in the Kennedy Library.

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is a presidential library administered by the National Archives and Records Administration and supported, in part, by the Kennedy Library Foundation, a non-profit organization. To learn more about the Hemingway Collection, or to find out how to make an appointment to conduct research call (866) JFK1960.