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Come to papa: Ernest Hemingway's papers return from Cuba

Records from the estate in Cuba where Ernest Hemingway wrote many of his most famous books have been digitized and brought to the United States, the Associated Press reports. The materials will be held at Boston's John F. Kennedy Library, which holds a Hemingway collection of over 100,000 pages.

The Boston-based Finca Vigia Foundation -- named after the estate near Havana where Hemingway lived from 1939 to 1960 -- has been working in Cuba to preserve the papers, books, and belongings that have remained at the house since the Nobel Prize-winner died in 1961. 

The foundation was started by Jenny Phillips, the granddaughter of Hemingway's editor Maxwell Perkins. In 2001, she noticed that the Hemingway home had fallen into disrepair and that many of the author's papers were being stored in a damp basement. After long negotiations navigating the complex relationship between Cuba and the U.S., permission was obtained for the U.S. Treasury and State departments to send conservators to Cuba to help save the artifacts. The foundation also seeks to restore and maintain Hemingway's Cuba home and grounds.

Because of travel restrictions to Cuba, this will be the first time most U.S. citizens will have the opportunity to see and examine these Hemingway papers. Among the 2,000 records that have been digitized are passports showing Hemingway's travel itineraries, letters, shopping lists, bar bills (undoubtedly large), notes from Hemingway to his wife, Mary, and handwritten notebooks full of weather observations, including hurricane sightings.

"This is the flotsam and jetsam of a writer's life," Phillips said. "All these bits and pieces get assembled in a big puzzle." 

Sandra Spanier, a Hemingway scholar at Penn State who reviewed the documents, said that they would undoubtedly help future biographers. "While there is no one single bombshell document," she said, "these new details add texture and nuance to our understanding of the man."

Included in the records is a letter written by the critic Malcolm Cowley, praising Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea": " 'The Old Man and the Sea' is pretty marvelous,' " Cowley writes, "the sea is, too, and so is the fish."

A telegram from poet and writer Archibald MacLeish contains more praise, this time for Hemingway's novel, "For Whom the Bell Tolls": "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."

There is also a carbon copy of a confidential note Hemingway wrote to actress Ingrid Bergman, telling her he wanted her to have the female lead in the 1943 film version of "For Whom the Bell Tolls," opposite Gary Cooper: "There is no one I would rather see do it and I have consistently refused all suggestions that I endorse other people for the role," he wrote. Bergman did win the role of Maria.

The documents also reveal more about Hemingway's role in World War II: While in Cuba in 1942 and '43 he was authorized by the U.S. Embassy to patrol the island's north coast in his fishing boat, searching for German submarines.

Restoration is ongoing at the Finca Vigia estate. Among other projects, a climate-controlled building is being constructed at the site to house Hemingway's books and the original records. 

Although tensions still exists between the US and Cuba, Phillips sees the Hemingway project as a unique feat of cooperation forged through literature. "Because of the political situation between the two countries, the Cubans held on very fast to what they had there," Phillips said. "I think this is an extraordinary, one-of-a-kind collaboration."


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Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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