January 18, 2016

US and Cuba join forces to preserve Hemingway’s Havana materials


Havana, Cuba. The front entry of Ernest Hemingway's home at Finca La Vigia. © 2010

Ernest Hemingway’s longtime home outside of Havana. Image via The Washington Post.

The house outside of Havana, Cuba, where Ernest Hemingway wrote some of his most celebrated works will be undertaking new efforts to preserve thousands of the writer’s books and papers, NPR’s Carrie Kahn reported last month.

Hemingway occupied the house, called Finca Vigía, on and off between 1939 and 1960, and it is deeply associated with his writing career (a number of the few interviews the writer granted were conducted there). Before his death, he left Finca Vigía to the Cuban people, and it has long functioned as a museum. But while the house has been fully restored, “years of hot, humid Caribbean weather has taken a toll on” the archival items inside of it, Kahn reports.

Now, in what seems like another result of warming relations between the US and Cuba, the foundation that runs Finca Vigía has put together a team of experts from both countries to work on preserving the papers—and it includes the host of the television show This Old House, Bob Vila!

In an interview with Kahn, Vila—whose parents emigrated from Havana during World War II—described the effort to protect the papers as an opportunity to bridge Cuban and American culture:

“The changes that President Obama has brought forth have allowed us to actually begin fundraising so that we can help with the work of creating a paper conservation laboratory as well as an archival storage facility where many of these literary treasures will find a safe home.”

This facility—to be called the “Taller,” (Spanish for “Workshop”)—will be “the first building constructed in Cuba, using US materials and ingenuity, since the 1950s,” according to a project description posted on the website of the Finca Vigía Foundation.

And it appears that some of the items haven’t been touched for just as long: Vila described taking an initial trip to Finca Vigía and being shown a wooden building—“essentially a guesthouse/garage”—where many of Hemingway’s belongings were still being stored. As he described it, the Cubans were “very, very jealous” about letting him into the building, but he “finally convinced them.”

“I’ve always compared it to what it must have been like to find Tutankhamen’s tomb,” Vila told Kahn. “[I]n the dim light, I just saw a row of all his African hunting trophies, boxes upon boxes of books, and I look to the left, and there’s his typewriter.”

Time to put those trophies into climate-control!


Kait Howard was a publicist at Melville House.