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Hemingway From Cuba To Idaho: An Interview With Marty Peterson

Hemingway From Cuba To Idaho: An Interview With Marty Peterson

Marty Peterson is currently Special Assistant to the President of the University of Idaho and a Hemingway scholar, with a focus on Hemingway’s years in Idaho. Marty is a member of the Hemingway Society, a founding co-chair of the Idaho Hemingway House foundation and a former member of the board of directors of the Finca Vigia Preservation foundation. Marty has also been active in the Hemingway centennial in 1999 as well as several other projects. Marty lives in Boise, Idaho. Thank you Marty for taking the time to talk about Hemingway!


AB: Marty, you are a member of the board of directors of the Finca Vigia Foundation. Can you tell me a bit about the joys and the challenges of this project?

MP: I have recently stepped down from the board. Being from the West with the bulk of the organization’s activity being on the East Coast and in Cuba, I found it difficult to be as involved as I would have liked to have been. The foundation is really a remarkable organization. It is co-chaired by Jenny Phillips, the granddaughter of Ernest Hemingway’s long-time editor Maxwell Perkins, and Bob Vila, a Cuban native who was the long-time host of This Old House on PBS. The greatest challenge that the foundation has faced has been extremely difficult obstacles placed by the US Government in the way of individuals and organization that have an interest in working on projects in Cuba. These obstacles make is extremely difficult to raise money from US sources and also difficult to provide equipment and materials to assist in the Finca Vigia restoration efforts.

The real joy of this project has been the opportunity to visit Cuba and see first-hand the incredible progress that has been made with the restoration of the Finca. The differences over the last 7-8 years have just been amazing.

AB: What are some of your favorite artifacts in or from the Finca?

MP: My favorite artifacts in the Finca are Idaho related. On other side of the doorway in the dining room are pronghorn heads. These came from a hunt that Hemingway was on in Idaho and I was able to provide the Finca with photos of Hemingway on the hunt and posing with the bodies of the two antelope. There are also several Idaho artifacts in his study, including his Idaho liquor permit and family photos.

AB: How difficult is it for Hemingway scholars to be granted a Visas to visit Cuba?

MP: They must be licensed through the Office of Foreign Asset Control at the Treasury Department. There are numerous obstacles to obtaining a license. For information, go to the OFAC website.

AB: Is there any hope that Americans will be able to visit Cuba more easily in the future?

MP: There is currently legislation pending in both the US House of Representatives and the US Senate that would open Cuba to travel by US citizens. I think it is only a matter of time – maybe sooner rather than later – that the current restriction will go away.

AB: What were the circumstances in Cuba that led to Hemingway’s relocation to Idaho? How did he decide on Idaho specifically?

MP: Hemingway first came to Idaho at the invitation of Union Pacific and the Sun Valley resort. He liked what he saw, made friends and kept coming back.

In 1959, he and his wife Mary wanted to escape the tropics during the hurricane season, which just happens to be the same as upland game bird season in Idaho. He was also concerned about what the humid tropical climate was doing to his massive collection of manuscripts, photographs and correspondence and though that the Idaho climate would better help preserve them. And then there were his Idaho friends – people such as Lloyd and Tilley Arnold, Bud and Ruth Purdy, Chuck and Floss Atkinson, Pete Hill and Duke McMullen.

AB: Could you please describe Hemingway’s relationship to Idaho?

MP: Hemingway was always looking for the last frontier. He found that in the west during his visits to Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. He loved the out-of-doors, the climate, the people and the fact that he could get away from his celebrity in Idaho. But there are also some puzzles to this relationship. Such as the letter he wrote a friend encouraging him to come and visit Ketchum. “You’ll like Ketchum. It’s a lot like Venice.” Go figure!

AB: You live in Idaho and have been involved in the restoration of the Hemingway House in Ketchum. Is it open to the public? Can you tell us about the condition of the house?

MP: I was heavily involved with the restoration of the Idaho Hemingway house for a number of years. The House is owned by the Nature Conservancy is they are doing a wonderful job of restoring it. The exterior restoration is essentially complete and now they have begun work on the interior. Unfortunately, the house is not open to the public and likely never will be. There are a number of reasons for that, most having to do with the house being located on a private road and the four neighbors who share that road have threatened extensive legal action if the house is opened to the public. At one point one of them said that he was prepared to litigate until the owners of the house have nothing left to litigate with. Fortunately, I think relations between the neighbors and the house owners have improved considerably in recent years. Primarily because the house remains closed to the public.

AB: How many people visit Hemingway’s grave each year? Who takes care of his grave?

MP: The grave is in the Ketchum municipal cemetery and is maintained by the City of Ketchum. It is one of the significant tourist stops in Ketchum and you can generally find people visiting the gravesite, where they deposit such things as coins, bottles of liquor and any number of other things. Read up on Hemingway’s life in Idaho and you will be able to locate the graves of many of his closest Idaho friends near to his.

AB: What resources are available in Idaho for those interested in Hemingway – museums, etc. . . ?

MP: The best resources are in two locations. The Ketchum Community Library has an extensive Hemingway collection, including recorded oral histories with several of his friends. The BSU library has the John Bittner Hemingway collection, which is the most extensive collection of books by and about Hemingway in Idaho. John as a professor at the University of North Carolina and a terrific Hemingway scholar. His wife now lives in Boise and donated the collection to BSU.

AB: Can you tell us about Hemingway scholarship in Idaho?

MP: The University of Idaho is probably the major focus of Hemingway scholarship in Idaho. It publishes the international scholarly journal, The Hemingway Review, in conjunction with the Hemingway Society. They also have begun hosting and annual week of Hemingway related activities in conjunction with their MFA Creative Writing program. But I would also say that the person who is probably the state’s leading Hemingway scholar is Rena Sanderson, a professor at BSU. She is heavily involved in the editing of Hemingway’s letters.

AB: Do you have a specific area of focus in your Hemingway studies?

MP: Hemingway in Idaho.

AB: You are a presenter at this years’ Hemingway Society Conference this coming June. Can you tell us a little bit about your topic?

I had planned on delivering a paper titled The Influence of Ernest Hemingway on US Foreign Policy at the International Hemingway Conference in Switzerland in June. However, there is going to be a proposed constitutional amendment on the Idaho general election ballot in November to allow the University of Idaho to charge tuition. I am the lead person on promoting that amendment and, as a result, am going to have to stay in Idaho rather than going to Switzerland.

AB: How did you become friends with Jack Hemingway?

I met his step mother, Mary, at a congressional hearing on the establishment of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area in 1970 when I was on Senator Frank Church’s staff. I boldly asked her if she realized that her testimony was much the same as (State) Senator Cecil Andrus’ testimony. She said she had liked what Andrus had to say and I responded by saying that he was running for Governor and would she like to throw a fund raiser for him. She said that she would if she could get help from her stepson Jack and his wife Puck. They agreed to help and that is how I became friends with the Hemignway family.

AB: In one of your lectures, you mention a party you attended in 1971 to celebrate Hemingway’s birthday. Can you talk about that?

MP: For several years in the 70s Mary threw a party to celebrate Ernest’s birthday and invited his friends from around the world. In 1971 she invited me and I stayed at Jack and Puck’s place and escorted Puck and their daughters, Mariel, Margot and Muffet. Jack was in Denmark fishing.

AB: Carlos baker was Hemingway’s official biographer – has the material about Hemingway changed since his book was published? Is Hemingway regarded differently since then? Have scholars come up with new thoughts, ideas, and points of view?

MP: Baker did the first really extensive Hemingway biography and today it remains a bench mark. But in subsequent years more materials have become available for biographers and the pre-eminent biographer became Mike Reynolds from North Carolina State University. He passed away several years ago, but his five volume EH biography remains the best that has been done.

AB: Do you think new material will surface that will change the way we think about, or know EH?

MP: There seems to be no end to new Hemingway material. I’m unsure as to what may surface in the future that will change the way we look at Hemingway, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens. It may be that when the Hemingway letters project and its anticipated ten volumes of Hemingway correspondence is published, there will be some changed in perceptions about various aspects of Hemingway and his life.

AB: What was your favorite period in Hemingway’s life?

MP: Probably the 1920s in Paris.

AB: What is your favorite Hemingway book? Why?

MP: In Our Time, a 1925 collection of fifteen short stories. They are among the best that he wrote. The collection includes my favorite piece of Hemingway writing, Big Two Hearted River. It was also Hemingway’s personal favorite.

AB: As you research Hemingway, how did you feel about him? Did it change as you get older?

MP: He was a very complex person. I have been fortunate to know a number of his closest friends, including Renee Villarreal, who managed the Finca Vigia for him in Cuba for many years. From them I have gotten to see the deeply personal side of Hemingway and it is somewhat different from the masculine bravado side that we usually think of with Hemingway. Sadly, I also come to recognize his serious physical and mental condition in his later years.

AB: Was there an exact moment when Hemingway became a persona, rather than simply a writer? What cultural needs did his persona fulfill?

MP: There will be many opinions on this. I would suggest it came with the publication of The Sun Also Rises. If his cultural persona fulfilled and cultural needs it was probably that he was able to do things that other men only dreamed about. Not unlike Hugh Heffner or Jimmy Buffet.

AB: What were some of the most pivotal moments of EH’s life?

MP: There were many. Some of the most significant were:

· Working for the Kansas City Star

· WWI ambulance service and his combat injury

· Getting to know Maxwell Perkins

· His first visit to Pamplona and seeing the bull fights

· Divorce from Hadley and marriage to Pauline

· His father’s suicide

· Working in Europe as a journalist

· Living in Key West

· Visiting and then living in Cuba

· Shock treatments at the Mayo Clinic

· His first unsuccessful attempt at suicide

AB: What friendships do you think were most important to EH personally, and as a writer?

MP: Hemingway didn’t retain many long-time friendships. Family and friends were often disposable. Sherwood Anderson’s friendship didn’t last long, but it opened the doors to Gertrude Stein and the Paris expatriates. Maxwell Perkin’s friendship helped make him the popular publishing success that he was. Hadley Mowrer continued to be a friend even after they divorced. Ezra Pound’s friendship was a complex one, but EH stood by him through thick and thin. Sylvia Beach, the owner of the Shakespeare and Company book store in Paris helped to guide his reading.

AB: As a scholar, you must surely encounter parts of EH’s life where the truth is uncertain. How do you handle this?

MP: EH was a writer of fiction and, as a result, also had great fictions in his personal life. It was part of his persona and without those fictions we might never have heard of him.

AB: Online Communities dedicated to Hemingway are thriving– how do you account for the continued interest in EH?

MP: He is one of the few authors who has sold more books in death than in life. His writing is timeless and with each new generation comes a new audience.

AB: If you could ask EH one thing, what would it be?

MP: Would you introduce me to Martha Gelhorn? Or, maybe, would you take me out into the Gulf Stream to fish on the Pilar? The first question if I were young and single. The second at my current point in life.