Items from Hemingway’s Cuba home go to JFK Library

WASHINGTON (AP) — A new partnership will allow U.S. scholars and the public to get a fuller view of the trove of books and records Ernest Hemingway left at his home in Cuba where he wrote some of his most famous works.

Cuba and a private U.S. foundation are working together to preserve more of the novelist’s papers and belongings that have been kept at his home near Havana since he died in 1961. On Monday at the U.S. Capitol, U.S. Rep. James McGovern of Massachusetts and the Boston-based Finca Vigia Foundation are scheduled to announce the digitization of 2,000 Hemingway papers and materials. The digital copies will be transferred to Boston’s John F. Kennedy Library.

This is the first time anyone in the U.S. has been able to examine these items from the writer’s Cuban estate, Finca Vigia. The records include passports showing Hemingway’s travels and letters commenting on such works as his 1954 Nobel Prize-winning “The Old Man and the Sea.”

Jenny Phillips, the granddaughter of Hemingway’s editor, Maxwell Perkins, founded the Finca Vigia Foundation in 2004 after a visit to Havana. She saw Hemingway’s home falling into disrepair and became aware of the many records kept in a damp basement at the estate. She worked to get permission from the U.S. Treasury and State departments to send conservators and archivists to Cuba to help save the literary records.

“This is the flotsam and jetsam of a writer’s life — it’s his life and his work,” Phillips said. “All these bits and pieces get assembled in a big puzzle.”

The newly digitized files include letters from Hemingway to the actress Ingrid Bergman, letters to his wife Mary, passports documenting his travels and bar bills, grocery lists and notations of hurricane sightings. It does not include any manuscripts.

An earlier digitization effort that opened 3,000 Hemingway files in 2008 uncovered fragments of manuscripts, including an alternate ending to “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and corrected proofs of “The Old Man and the Sea.”

Restoration work continues at Hemingway’s Finca Vigia estate in Cuba. A new building is being constructed with library-quality atmospheric controls to house the writer’s books and original records.

“Scholars have been trying for years to see what’s there, and because of the political situation between the two countries, the Cubans held on very fast to what they had there,” said Phillips, who spent time negotiating on both the Cuban and American sides to gain access to the Hemingway collection. “I think this is an extraordinary, one-of-a-kind collaboration between the two countries.”

McGovern, an advocate of normalizing relations between the U.S. and Cuba, has called the collaboration over Hemingway historic. In 2009, he said it was “a turning point toward a more rational, mature relationship.”

The Kennedy Library holds a large Hemingway collection of more than 100,000 pages of writings and 10,000 photographs because Jacqueline Kennedy helped arrange a place for the items. Hemingway’s wife, Mary Welsh Hemingway, returned to Cuba in 1961, after the writer’s death, hoping to retrieve his belongings. Because of Fidel Castro’s rise to power, President John F. Kennedy helped arrange for her visit to take Hemingway’s possessions back to the United States.

Mary Hemingway took at boatload of materials back to the U.S., burned some records deemed sensitive and left thousands of other volumes and documents at the home near Havana.


Finca Vigia Foundation:

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum:


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