Along with the increased excitement about visiting Cuba, comes a renewed fascination with the life of American writer, Nobel Prize winner and overall Cubaphile, Ernest Hemingway. Separating Hemingway from Cuba is akin to removing mint from a freshly made mojito- it simply cannot be done.
Not everyone is able to hop over to Cuba for guided tours of Hemingway’s Finca Vigia, nor to take the ancient elevator up to his hotel room (no. 511) in the Hotel Ambos Mundos. But even if you can’t savor a daiquiri at the Havana bar, El Floridita, those who find themselves in the Boston area from now until the end of 2016 can pop into the Kennedy Library’s exhibit Ernest Hemingway- Between Two Wars.
Billed as the “first ever major museum exhibition devoted to the work and life of Ernest Hemingway” the exhibit features a collection of rarely exhibited material, including multiple drafts of the writer’s major works, some of his correspondence with a legendary circle of expatriate writers living in 1920s Paris (Gertrude Stein and others), as well as photographs and a selection of Hemingway’s personal belongings. Of particular interest to many will be all materials and photos related to his decades in Cuba.
Hemingway departed Cuba for the last time in July 1960 never to return. However, he and his wife Mary Welsh Hemingway had left everything behind at their beloved farm on the outskirts of Havana called Finca Vigia. At the time of Hemingway’s death in July 1961, relations between Cuba and the United States had become strained with travel there banned for Americans. It is said that John F. Kennedy personally arranged for Mary to return to Cuba in order for her to retrieve Hemingway’s papers and art. Fidel Castro himself reportedly met Mary at the farm to allow the transport of all these manuscripts and personal items to be shipped to Tampa Florida (in the hull of a shrimp boat).
Everything else, including the farm, was left behind for the Cuban people who converted the farm into the Museo de Ernesto Hemingway as it stands today (see our feature here.)
Once Mary had all of these Hemingway papers secured in the U.S. she continued to retrieve others that had been stored in other key locations such as in the back room of Sloppy Joe’s bar in Key West, Florida and the Ritz Hotel in Paris, to name but a few of the repositories built up over the writer’s lifetime.
Next Mary set out to find a suitable custodian of these papers and memorabilia that she wished would be used to reveal Hemingway’s creative process. Examples of this include the letter he wrote to this father stating his mission as a writer “You see I’m trying in all my stories to get the feeling of the actual life across – not to just depict life – or criticize it – but to actually make it alive. So that when you have read something by me, you’ve actually experienced the thing” and his forty-four different hand-written drafts for the ending to A Farewell to Arms, as but a few of these specimens.
It is reported that, while alive, Hemingway had said that he might like to donate his papers to the New York Library but space there was limited. Mary wanted a location where all of the materials (printed and audiovisual, as well) could be examined by scholars and interested parties. In 1964, Mary happened to meet Jacqueline Kennedy’s secretary at a party and an arrangement was struck to donate the papers in their entirety to the JFK Library where eventually the Hemingway room was established. JFK had been a reader of Hemingway’s writings and had quoted him in one of his speeches shortly before his death. Mary had felt that in the JFK Library she had found the proper custodians of Hemingway’s literary and personal legacy.
Of particular interest to those with an interest in Hemingway’s life in Cuba will be the collection of photographs depicting his life there including a seemingly endless stream of visiting dignitaries and celebrities. Even some of the safari trophies have survived the years and are on display to further enhance the true Hemingway immersion. According to the JFK Library this collection “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 this author.”
Want a taste of Hemingway as you plan your trip to Havana? There is no better place in the US to catch the Hemingway mood than at the JFK Library!
Ernest Hemingway- Between Two Wars is on exhibit at the John F. Kennedy Library (Columbia Point Boston, MA) until December 31, 2016 (www.jfklibrary.org).
A.J. Twist is a Montreal-based writer and photographer.