NEH grant supports next phase of Hemingway Letters Project

September 21, 2012

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The late American novelist Ernest Hemingway has had a “tough guy” public image for many decades, but his letters are revealing a far more complex, sensitive and interesting individual. "The Letters of Ernest Hemingway, Vol. 1 1907-1922" was published by Cambridge University Press in fall 2011 to great critical acclaim and success, thanks to an international project led by Penn State scholar Sandra Spanier. A new National Endowment for the Humanities grant will help support the next phase of work on his letters.

“Ernest Hemingway was a prolific letter writer, and this entire project will span 16 volumes encompassing more than 6,000 letters from 250 sources,” said Spanier, professor of English and general editor of the Hemingway Letters Project. “In contrast to the painstaking craftsmanship of his fiction, Hemingway’s letters are spontaneous, informal and very garrulous at times. The letters give an eyewitness report of literary history. His appeal transcends politics and national borders. He also was an astute observer of his times, so his letters as well as his published work are a narrative of the 20th century. “

Headquartered at Penn State, the Hemingway Letters Project is authorized by the Ernest Hemingway Foundation and the Hemingway estate, which hold the copyrights to Hemingway’s letters. The project has been supported in part by earlier grants from NEH and the Heinz Endowments. The NEH grant of $225,000 will span three years of research. Spanier directs an international team of scholars in this effort, assisted by project center staff, graduate research assistants and undergraduate interns, all at Penn State. They are responsible for gathering, transcribing, annotating and publishing the entirety of Hemingway’s known surviving letters worldwide, about 85 percent of them never before published.

“The project has provided significant educational enrichment opportunities for more than three dozen undergraduate and a dozen graduate research assistants,” Spanier noted. “Several graduate assistants have gone on to publish scholarly articles in American literary studies, and others have presented academic papers related to Hemingway at national and international conferences. Such accomplishments enhance their ability to secure faculty teaching and research positions and boost Penn State’s international reputation for the study of American literature.

“As for undergraduates, this is a unique hands-on opportunity to extend their classroom studies and be involved in helping preserve the voice of one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century,” she added. “Hemingway was awarded the Nobel Prize for revolutionizing English prose style. But he also is unique among literary figures in the magnitude of his popularity – even celebrity -- outside academe.“

Volume 2, spanning 1923-1925, will reveal new details about Hemingway’s developing relationships with other expatriate writers and artists in Paris such as Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald. His letters of this time capture his first impressions of Spain, with its fiestas and bullfights, and trace the creation of his early short stories and first major novel, "The Sun Also Rises."

Sandra Spanier is a faculty member in the College of the Liberal Arts and a faculty associate in the Center for American Literary Studies.


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Last Updated September 21, 2012