By Brad Groznik | Collegian Staff Writer
The Cuban Government is allowing a Penn State professor to look at famed writer Ernest Hemingway like no one has before.
In 2002, a team of American Hemingway scholars collaborated with the Cuban National Council of Patrimony to preserve the countless papers, books and photographs that Hemingway left in his house in Cuba after passing away.
One American scholar chosen to partake in this venture is Penn State English Professor Sandra Spanier.
“It’s a great opportunity to see into his mind,” Spanier said. “When Hemingway left Cuba in 1960, he didn’t know that he would kill himself one year later, so his house looks just as if its still waiting for his return.”
Thomas Saxton (sophomore-accounting), one student interested in the project, said he finds it very exciting.
“The fact that Castro is even letting people into Cuba is awesome,” Saxton said.
The Cubans turned Hemingway’s house into a museum soon after his death in 1961, but preservation has only started recently. Spanier went to Cuba in 2002 to visit the house to see all that was there.
“Hemingway never threw anything away,” Spanier said.
“Every souvenir, hunting trophy and old shoe was saved,” Spanier added.
The need for preservation stems from the constant tropical weather in Cuba. The high humidity is destroying everything on the house, Spanier said. For this reason, a Rockefeller grant of $75,000 was awarded for the conservation.
Every piece of paper is to be photocopied and restored. Then the copy will be sent to The John F. Kennedy Library in Boston for future Hemingway scholars to benefit.
One professor offering support for Spanier is John Harwood, the senior director of Teaching and Learning with Technology at Penn State, who has previously worked with Spanier on other large projects.
“I’ve known Sandra since the ‘80s, and I was very excited to hear she was heading this project,” Harwood said.
An advantage for Spanier working on the Cuban project is that her work will benefit The Hemingway Letters Project that she coordinates, which includes editing and annotating thousands of Hemingway’s personal letters.
“Hemingway has around eight to 10 thousand letters that have never been published,” Spanier said.
Only about one-tenth of Hemingway’s letters have been published thus far. One book edited by Carlos Baker documents 600 of Hemingway’s letters, but there is much more to be read.
“Sometimes Hemingway would write letters and never send them,” Spanier said. “He wrote one letter to Sen. Joseph McCarthy, which he wisely chose not to send.”
However, categorizing the letters will not be the most daunting task. Hunting down the letters from around the world will require international cooperation, Spanier said.
“Hemingway kept correspondence with many great literary figures of the 20th century, including Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald; they’re huge collector’s items,” Spanier said. “Just recently, a two-page, typed, unsigned letter went for $19,000 at an auction.”
The project should extend over several years, but Spanier said she is up to the task. “This is a large project with many people participating and should show great results,” Spanier said.