JFK Library & Museum: Hemingway Archive

Research isn’t always pretty.

Sometimes it’s in dusty basements and old libraries.  Sometimes it involves adventures in bad weather in unknown places.  Sometimes it means reading hundreds of academic documents without turning over a single treasure. 

That is NOT research at the JFK Library and Museum in Boston.


The building itself is situated at Columbia Point, overlooking the water through four story glass windows.  Its modern and clean design carries up to the Hemingway room, which then takes on the comfortable familiarity of Hemingway’s Key West writing cottage.  A lion skin rug greets with its massive, open jaws.  An antelope hangs on the wall next to Waldo Pierce’s famous painting of Hemingway.  Four Andre Masson paintings grace the walls—three from his Forest Series over the fireplace in the room, and one by a research desk. Various memorabilia fill two glass cases, including original editions of the author’s work, a change purse of good luck charms he kept, a stamped, black travel valise, a trunk, and notes from his speech when he won the Pulitzer Prize for The Old Man and the Sea. A Hemingway bust watches over the whole scene in silent approval.


       IMG_4163     IMG_4161          IMG_4164

                       IMG_4162     IMG_4166

In 1972, Hemingway’s fourth wife, Mary, deeded her collection of manuscripts, letters, photographs, and other items to the JFK Library and Museum so it could all be kept together, preserved, and used for research.  John F. Kennedy, himself, was instrumental in helping Mary collect the materials, as many of them were at Hemingway’s residence in Cuba.  He gave Mary permission to travel there to retrieve as much as she could.  Today, the Ernest Hemingway Archive holds the greatest collection of his paper and photo artifacts, library, and personal groupings of his press and reviews.

Tuesday, I spent the afternoon with all of Hemingway’s outgoing correspondence from 1935-1942.  To my relief, much from 1935 remains—which is the time period I’m focusing on in my novel. I was hunting for clues to his daily life, whereabouts, and personal relationships, and the letters were a wealth of information. I was also given a good look at his letter writing style, which is important to me because the last section of my novel will be a correspondence between Ernest Hemingway and my protagonist.


Wednesday, I spent with the pictures. (That was in a dusty basement.)   I initially thought I’d just use the pictures for imaginative purposes, but in poring over such great visual reminders of Hemingway and the people and places in his life, I decided to see about including them in the text of my novel—even though it’s historical fiction.  I think interspersing the photos within the text would greatly enhance the reading experience.  I do have to get permission to use many of the photos, though, so that could be a process. 

The staff at the library and museum were extremely gracious and helpful.  It was a very positive research experience, and I hope to get back soon.

I chose June 9th and 10th to visit the EH Collection because Lillian Ross—the New Yorker journalist who profiled Hemingway in 1950—was speaking. Ms. Ross kept up a correspondence with Hemingway throughout his life, following the time she spent with him for the New Yorker profile.  She spoke very warmly of her friend, Hemingway, and told stories of his humorous letters, generosity in writing, and his tragic death.  Of all of the Hemingway biographies I’ve read in preparation for my Hemingway novel (and there have been many) only Ms. Ross’ biography, Portrait of Hemingway, captures the essence of Hemingway as a man, rather than Hemingway as a writer, sportsman, or legend. 


On writing, she spoke of her love of Hemingway’s short, clear, moving sentences.  She spoke of the negative space of his work—what was left unsaid–that spoke volumes.  I was particularly interested in her thoughts on Hemingway’s thoughts on the connection between art, music, and writing.  (This subject has been on my mind for some time, and I now wonder if it was influenced by all the Hemingway books I’ve been reading.) 

She said corresponding with Hemingway by mail or in person was a treat because he always used humor, was always original, and had a silly, meandering way of writing or speaking that was wholly different from his fiction.  She said he would have made a great “texter.” (Which was funny to hear since Ms. Ross is almost ninety years old.)

It was a treat to hear Lillian Ross speak, and immerse myself in Hemingway for two days.  It will make for some great writing.



9 thoughts on “JFK Library & Museum: Hemingway Archive

  1. I think your site was so great and it is really awesome..Of course it really impress me a lot..

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    Good blogging !!

  2. nstodard says:

    Your recap of your research experience makes me jealous! Makes me think about the film Possession; the only thing better than a library with a great collection is a treasure trove in an attic 🙂 So…is Hemingway actually a character in your novel?

  3. Lara says:

    So what are your thoughts on the connection between music, art and writing? I have found, as I write, that listening to music while i do it definitely keeps my words flowing and the mood I am trying to convey consistent. I also see that many writers (Stephenie Moyer and Charlaine Harris off the top of my head) are often asked what they listen to while they write. People want a soundtrack of sorts, I think to flesh out the story. Our lives are in 3-D, they are never flat of course! I guess too it’s from movies being such a huge part of our social consciousness, and from awards shows, we constantly see them broken down into costume, setting, score, etc. I know that when I first started writing, it was a little overwhelming, like trying to watch a movie and take dictation describing it at the same time. I am so analytical and have such a whole to parts to whole way of looking at things, after a while I felt I simply had to break my story down into music, setting, character profiles, and even did sketches and magazine cutouts of characters and clothing so that my whole would be more seamless. I also have ideas for paintings that I’ve done sketches for but haven’t had the time to do anything about! lol I have loads of visuals for my story, maps, landscapes, action scenes caught by my brush “in media res”….so much to do, so little time!! 🙂
    In what way do you see the three coming together? 🙂 Just curious!!
    AND, I love to research, I wish there was someplace I could go to research, but when you’re writing fantasy/scifi, it’s kinda hard! lol

    • erikarobuck says:

      I obsess over the connection. I did a post on it a couple of weeks back. I listen to classical music (Mozart, Chopin, Beethoven mix on Pandora) while I work. I “see” my story as a movie before I write it–complete with lighting (time of day, etc), music, colors, background, etc. I try to cram all that into each scene without overwhelming the reader. I use photographs, video, and actor headshots as inspiration for my characters and scenes. Actually visiting the places I write about is helpful, but not always possible or necessary.

      I would imagine any field research for you would be impossible. 🙂 Maybe you could visit the wolves at the zoo…

  4. […] Novel Writing Month) yesterday in the hopes of pounding out the rest of the first draft of my Hemingway book.  I’ve completed most of the research and have 150 pages written, but I like the deadlines […]

  5. john brooks says:

    In the Pilar log, Hemingway made an entry saying, today is the day Joe Russell died, a date in June. Hemingway was marking the first anniversary of Russell’s death. Can you give me that date? Thank you very much.

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