Update from the Hemingway Letters Project

Verna Kale
Letters of Ernest Hemingway, Volume 6


The Letters of Ernest Hemingway Volume 6 (1934-1936), the latest installment in the ongoing Hemingway Letters Project, will be published on May 16. Edited by Sandra Spanier, Verna Kale, and Miriam B. Mandel, with volume associate editor Ross K. Tangedal, the volume spans June 1934 through June 1936. The Hemingway Letters Project is producing a comprehensive scholarly edition of the author's some 6,000 letters, approximately 85 percent of them never before published. 

The project is authorized by the Ernest Hemingway Foundation/Society and the Hemingway Foreign Rights Trust, holders, respectively, of the U.S. and international rights to the letters. It is also supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Production of this volume was delayed by the closure of libraries and archives during the COVID-19 pandemic, and by resulting supply-chain problems in the publishing industry. However, the editors hope that readers will find the volume to have been worth the wait. 

This volume starts with Hemingway’s recent purchase of his cabin cruiser Pilar and ends as Hemingway is vacationing in Bimini with his family, just weeks before Franco’s rebels stage their first attempt at a coup in Spain. Some highlights of the 366 items of correspondence volume 6 include:

  • fishing
  • publication of Green Hills of Africa
  • publication of twenty-one Esquire pieces
  • fishing
  • criticism of the federal government's response to the 1935 Labor Day hurricane
  • transformation of Key West into a tourist town in which Hemingway is a primary attraction (to his annoyance)
  • fishing
  • advising would-be writers about craft
  • supporting artists Luis Quintanilla and Antonio Gattorno (the former jailed in Madrid, the latter struggling against poverty in Cuba)
  • fishing


  • an Appendix of Earlier Letters, letters 1918-1934 available for publication after their respective volumes had already been published

Also there is quite a lot of fishing.

Readers might be surprised to learn that Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins has been unseated from his previous ranking as Hemingway’s #1 correspondent. That honor in this volume goes to Esquire editor Arnold Gingrich, recipient of fifty-nine letters. There are many other familiar names in this volume—Maurice Speiser, Jane Mason, Archibald MacLeish—but there are also seventy-two brand new recipients in the Roster of Correspondents.

Readers will find Hemingway in a self-described “belle epoque” in his writing life. He also takes an active interest in art, politics, and the environment. The letters are often witty and full of his characteristic zest for life, but they also demonstrate how seriously he took the practice of writing. Though this period of writing for Esquire helped shape his public persona as a sportsman (some might argue, perhaps, for the worse), behind the scenes we see his sensitivity and generosity. We see, too, when he feels challenged and envious, and there are a few moments where darkness creeps in.

Below are a few of the editors’ favorite quotable quotes in volume 6 that we find particularly illustrative of this period or revealing about the real person behind the legendary persona:


Fishing advice to Esquire editor Arnold Gingrich, 21 June [1934]:

"You shouldn’t fish blindly in the ocean any more than in a stream.  You can know the damned gulf stream like a trout stream.  The holes, the eddys, the shallows are all there.  Only you can’t see them."


Advice to aspiring writer Joseph Hopkins, 31 December [1935]:

Take it easy and write a good one and remember you have to write them a sentence and a paragraph at a time and not just with a vague general ambition.


On the long-term value of art and science, to managing director of the Academy of Natural Sciences Charles Cadwalader, 6 September 1934:

Science is at least as long as Art [...]


Again on the long-term value of art, to director of the Museum of Modern Art Alfred Barr, 23 October 1934:

I think it is a wonderful thing for modern painting that the bottom has dropped out of it financially — Hard on the boys but there will be better pictures — The good pictures will be worth just as much and much more in the end (we’ll all be dead but the pictures wont be)


On his reputation, to Gingrich, 23 October 1934:

I am a phony in the sense that every writer of fiction is a phony — ie I make things up


Good advice he probably should have taken a bit more often, to his mother-in-law Mary Pfeiffer, [20 August 1934]:

a letter comprised entirely of invective I think should always not be sent if possible.


Words of comfort to friends Sara and Gerald Murphy on the death of their son, Baoth, [19 March 1935]:

Very few people ever really are alive and those that are never die; no matter if they are gone.  No one you love is ever dead.


On the strenuous life vs. the writing life, to critic Ivan Kashkin, 19 August 1935:

A life of action is much easier to me than writing.  I have greater facility for action than for writing.  In action I do not worry any more.  Once it is bad enough you get a sort of elation because there is nothing you can do except what you are doing and you have no responsibility.  But writing is something that you can never do as well as it can be done.  It is a perpetual challenge and it is more difficult than anything else that I have ever done - so I do it.  And it makes me happy when I do it well.


On literary critics, to Scribner's editor Maxwell Perkins, [20] April 1936:

They [literary critics] can’t tell literature from shit and I have no more illusions on that score, nor any of fairness, nor any idea but what they want to put you me out of business. Nor will I ever again notice them, mention them, pay any attention to them, nor read them. Nor will I kiss their asses, [EH autograph insertion: kick their asses], make friends with them, nor truckle to them. Am going to work by myself, for myself and for the long future as I have always done.

National Endowment for the Humanities seal

The Hemingway Letters Project, too, keeps working for the long future. With volume 6 on the shelves, work on volume 7 and later volumes continues apace with a new volume forthcoming about every two years. As always, the editors are grateful to the libraries, museums, archives, and scholars whose diligent work in preserving Hemingway's letters has made this project possible, and we are especially grateful to the private collectors who have shared copies of letters with us. Our inbox is always open: hemletters@psu.edu 


Verna Kale is Associate Research Professor in English at the Pennsylvania State University and Associate Editor of The Letters of Ernest Hemingway. She has published a critical biography, Ernest Hemingway, part of the Critical Lives series (Reaktion/University of Chicago Press, 2016) and is editor of Teaching Hemingway and Gender, part of the Teaching Hemingway series (Kent State University Press, 2016).  


Verna Kale 05/14/2024

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