Editor of Genius / A. Scott Berg

Max Perkins | Synopsis

Maxwell Perkins—surely no one in American literature remains so important yet so unknown. As the man who discovered an astounding number of major talents—Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, and many others—he changed our culture. His very name is synonymous with the word “editor”; his dedication to his authors and their books is legendary. But although the lives of his celebrated writers became public, Perkins himself stayed in the background, avoiding attention. Few knew this complex and mysterious man.

Here at last is the first biography of Maxwell Perkins. It is full of hitherto untold stories about the great literary careers he nourished—the boom-and-bust fortunes of Scott Fitzgerald, the real person within the Hemingway myth, the tormented Tom Wolfe and his betrayal of his editor. But it also reveals the fascinating Perkins himself. It tells of his Yankee boyhood and the crucial incident that permanently fixed his character. It recounts his stormy marriage; his secret twenty-five-year romance with the ethereal Elizabeth Lemmon; his struggles with other women including Zelda Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe’s lover Aline Bernstein. It portrays his endearing eccentricities and shows him coping with his sometimes even more eccentric authors—among them Ring Lardner, Edmund Wilson, Erskine Caldwell, Sherwood Anderson, John P. Marquand, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, S. S. Van Dine, Taylor Caldwell, Alice Roosevelt Longworth, Alan Paton, and, finally, James Jones—serving variously as their critic, moneylender, psychoanalyst, career manager, father-confessor, lovelorn adviser, friend.

This book is the story of a man who slowly gives up his life in behalf of others, feeding them his strength, absorbing their difficulties, all in the cause of talent, of good books. Max Perkins is intriguing in countless ways but not least because without ever trying to impress anyone he nevertheless had great effect on people, the charisma of integrity. To read about him is to love him as his authors did.

In writing this biography Mr. Berg relied almost entirely on primary source material—interviews with Perkins’s friends, family, authors, and colleagues; manuscripts he edited; and tens of thousands of letters Perkins wrote and received, including a hundred handwritten letters to Elizabeth Lemmon, which no one else knew existed, letters in which the private man poured forth his innermost feelings.

Max Perkins | A Timeline

Maxwell Evarts Perkins


F. Scott Fitzgerald was Perkins's first important discovery. With the publication of his first book, This Side of Paradise, Fitzgerald became the spokesman for "The Jazz Age." The book was critically acclaimed and a huge commercial success—leading to such later works as The Great Gatsby and Tender Is the Night.


Fitzgerald introduced his friend Ernest Hemingway to Perkins; and Scribners published Hemingway's works for the rest of his life. Hemingway liked nothing more than getting Perkins to join him on fishing expeditions, such as this one in Key West.


Perkins's greatest challenges as an editor came in his work with Thomas Wolfe, seen here with just one of three crates of manuscript that Perkins helped whittle down to Of Time and the River.


Over the course of his career, Max Perkins changed the nature of a book editor's job and changed the course of American literature, working not only with Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Wolfe but also Ring Lardner, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Erskine Caldwell, Edmund Wilson, John P. Marquand, Alan Paton, and James Jones, among scores of others.


Max Perkins | Archives


"Don't ever defer to my judgment. You won't on any vital point, I know, and I should be ashamed if it were possible to have made you, for a writer of any account must speak solely for himself."

—to F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1921


"Your talent seems to be a truly great one, and that sort requires to be disciplined and curbed."

—to Thomas Wolfe, 1929


"Make every person a character and make every action an event. . . . Don't tell us what you don't know; tell us what you do know."

—to Alice Roosevelt Longworth, 1931


"Writing a novel is a very hard thing to do because it covers so long a space of time, and if you get discouraged it is not a bad sign, but a good one. If you think you are not doing it well, you are thinking the way real novelists do. I never knew one who did not feel greatly discouraged at times, and some get desperate, and I have always found that to be a good symptom."

—to Nancy Hale,1931


"Many of {your metaphors} are brilliant, but . . . sometimes they seem to me to be too bold and interesting because then they have the effect of concentrating attention upon them for their own sake instead of for the illumination of the things they are meant to reveal."

—to Zelda Fitzgerald, 1932


"All you have to do is close your hand, and you have your novel."

—to Thomas Wolfe, 1933


"Four-letter words have a suggestive power for the reader which is quite other than that which they have to those who use them; and therefore they are not right artistically. {Words} should have exactly the same meaning and implication which they have when uttered."

—re Ernest Hemingway, 1933


"A book must be done according to the writer's conception of it as nearly as perfectly as possible, and the publishing problems begin then. That is, the publisher must not try to get a writer to fit the book to the conditions of the trade, etc. It must be the other way around."

—to Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, 1937


"My impression was that you asked for help, that you wanted it. And it is my impression too that changes were not forced on you . . . but were argued over, often for hours. . . . I believe the writer anyway, should always be the final judge, and I meant you to be so I have always held to that position and have sometimes seen books hurt thereby, but at least as often helped. The book belongs to the author."

—to Thomas Wolfe, 1937


"Editors are extremely fallible people, all of them. Don't put too much trust in them."

—to Taylor Caldwell, 1937


"Just get it all down on paper and then we'll see what to do with it."

—to Marcia Davenport, 1940


"It is always better to give a little less than the reader wants, than more."

—to Ray Stannard Baker, 1940


"You won't have lost time {by taking a holiday from writing}, for the rest will have made you younger, so to speak. And turning things over in your mind, and reflecting upon them and all, is something that a writer ought to have to do in quiet circumstances once in a while. That is one of the troubles with writers today, that they cannot get a chance, or cannot endure to do this. Galsworthy, who never overrated himself as a writer but was one of great note in fact, always said that the most fruitful thing for a writer to do was quiet brooding."

—to Nancy Hale, 1941


"You have to throw yourself away when you write."

—to Elizabeth Lemmon (a friend), 1942


"Genius can break any law and indeed always does..."

—to Jack Woodford, 1943


"Anybody can find out if he is a writer. If he is a writer, then he tries to write, out of some particular day, he finds in the effort that he can recall exactly how the light fell and how the temperature felt, and all the quality of it. Most people cannot do it. If they can do it, they may never be successful in a pecuniary sense, but that ability is at the bottom of writing, I am sure."

—to James Jones, 1945


"Generalizations are no use—give one specific thing and let the action say it. . . . When you have people talking, you have a scene. You must interrupt with explanatory paragraphs, but shorten them as much as you can. Dialogue is action. . . . You tend to explain too much. You must explain, but your tendency is to distrust your own narrative and dialogue. . . . You can't know a book until you come to the end of it, and then all the rest must be modified to fit that."

—to Marcia Davenport, 1947


"A deft man may toss his hat across the office and hang it on a hook if he just naturally does it, but he will always miss if he does it consciously. That is a ridiculous and extreme analogy to writing, but there is something in it."

—to James Jones, 1947

The Hunt for Hemingway - Vanity Fair - A. Scott Berg - October 1, 2011

In an epic life of perpetual motion—Paris, Pamplona, Mount Kilimanjaro, Key West, etc.—one place was truly home to Ernest Hemingway: the Finca Vigía, his rustic estate outside Havana. It was kept by the Cuban government as a shrine in the half-century since his suicide, and its full contents remained a mystery until 2002. One of the American team that finally gained access, A. Scott Berg, shares the discovery of a literary treasure trove to celebrate the publication of thousands of never-before-seen letters now to be included in the forthcoming volumes of Hemingway's collected correspondence.

His earliest short story—five action-packed sentences—displayed several markings of his later works. “My First Sea Vouge” (1911) was a maritime adventure about two boys and their father voyaging from Martha's Vineyard to Sydney, Australia; its centerpiece was the spearing of a porpoise, excising its liver, and frying it for dinner. Beyond the virility of the 11-year-old author, the story also foreshadowed his budding nomadic nature. Fifteen years later, in his novel The Sun Also Rises, one of his characters would say, “You can't get away from yourself by moving from one place to another.” But Ernest Hemingway spent his life trying.

Growing to disdain his father and despise his mother, Hemingway left Oak Park, Illinois, at 18 to begin his career as a journalist at The Kansas City Star. From that moment on, he was in perpetual motion, spinning tales of his travels into two dozen books and scores of stories. Along the way, he married four times, fathered three sons, caught marlin, fought bulls, bagged big game, reported wars, chased Nazi U-boats, skied, hunted, survived a plane crash only to read his own obituary, and became the fifth American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Stories of his daring life intertwined with those he invented on paper, until he became as famous for his macho exploits as for his writing. Even more than his (sometimes two-dimensional) characters and his (sometimes creaky) plots, Hemingway's strength was in capturing locations, his remarkable ability to re-create settings, to bottle their ambience, to recall—as he said—“how the weather was.” As a result, Hemingway put more places on the map than any writer of his time.

He wrote what he knew: the big Two-Hearted River country of his boyhood summers up in Michigan; Northern Italy, where he drove ambulances during the Great War; the Lost Generation's Paris of the early 20s, in which he was lucky enough to have lived as a young man with his first wife, Hadley; the Spanish town of Pamplona, where they ran the bulls through the streets; the green hills of Africa, over which loomed snowcapped Mount Kilimanjaro; a pine-needled forest floor in Spain's Guadarrama Mountains during the nation's Civil War; Harry's Bar in Venice at the close of World War II; Sloppy Joe's in Key West; Bimini; the fishing waters where the Gulf of Mexico swirls into the Atlantic. His brisk style—suggestive, staccato, and deceptively simple—influenced much of the American writing that followed, transforming him into a national icon and an international celebrity, the most famous writer of his day. Ironically, few of his works are set in the United States, and the one house that remained his home longer than any other was in another country—the Finca Vigía, in Cuba.

Although he had stopped over on a few occasions, Hemingway didn't truly discover Havana until 1932, when he crossed the Straits of Florida from Key West. He went for the fishing and stayed for the quality of life there. He lodged at the charming Ambos Mundos Hotel, in La Habana Vieja, a particularly colorful part of the capital city, with its colonial architecture, plazas, and narrow streets leading to the Malecón, a great curving esplanade outlining the seafront. For those who could afford to get away from the United States at the start of the Depression and the end of Prohibition, Havana was a glamorous destination with drinking and gambling and plenty of sunshine.

In 1939, Hemingway left his house in Key West and his second wife, Pauline, for a striking writer named Martha Gellhorn. Thirty-one to his 40, she had looks and brains and deeper political convictions than he. At her urging, they had both covered the war in Spain and were moving in together in Cuba, where he would write his magnum opus about that war. Looking to share more than a hotel room, Martha found a tumbledown but private estate 15 kilometers to the southeast of Havana, up in San Francisco de Paula. Because of its hilltop view of the city and the sea, it was called Finca Vigía—generally translated as “Lookout Farm,” though nothing about it felt especially agricultural. Hemingway didn't love the place at first sight, and so Martha returned on her own, paid to clean it up, and brought him back for a second look. They promptly moved in, and, upon their marriage in 1940, Hemingway purchased the Finca for $12,500.

But Martha was even more footloose than Ernest, and she would soon move on. (As she told me when I interviewed her in 1972 for a biography of the legendary Maxwell Perkins, who had edited each of them, “He was entering this great ‘Papa' phase, and I wasn't looking for a Papa!”) In the meantime, he had met in London another blonde reporter, one Mary Welsh. “Funny,” he wrote Perkins, “how it should take one war to start a woman in your damn heart and another to finish her.” Upon their respective divorces, they married; and Hemingway yearned for home. “We stayed in a lot of places,” Mary told me, also in 1972, “but we lived at the Finca.”

Hemingway's love for Cuba deepened. He presented his Nobel gold medal to the Cuban people, donating it to the country's patron saint, the Virgin of Charity, to be kept at her shrine in El Cobre Basilica, outside Santiago de Cuba; and he told a crowd of reporters that greeted him at the Havana airport in 1959 that he considered himself Cuban. Few Americans would have claimed as much at the time, as the United States government was already shunning the new Cuban leader, Fidel Castro. Then, during a prolonged Stateside visit in 1960, depression overcame a long-troubled Hemingway. After receiving electroshock treatments at the Mayo Clinic, conditions worsened. By the time he kept his appointment with a double-barreled shotgun in Ketchum, Idaho, on July 2, 1961, diplomatic ties between the two countries had been severed. Castro forces had repelled an American-backed invasion at the Bay of Pigs; Cuba had been expropriating foreign-owned properties on its soil; and the United States responded to the totalitarian Communist regime by imposing an embargo.

Cuba's Minister of Foreign Affairs telephoned Mary to announce that his government wished to acquire the Finca, intending to turn it into a Hemingway museum—un monumento. With that, either the Cuban government seized the house or the Hemingway Estate offered it to his adopted homeland, depending upon which side of the Straits one hears the story. In a respectful diplomatic gesture under hostile political circumstances, Cuba permitted Mary to revisit the house to retrieve some of the possessions there. She was able to empty a bank vault of her late husband's manuscripts and reclaim several works of art—including two Juan Gris paintings and a Paul Klee—as well as some personal papers and items. But the bulk of the Finca's contents—drawers and shelves and boxes with thousands of pages of accumulated correspondence and manuscripts—quietly became the property of the Republic of Cuba.

Forty years later, I received a call from Jenny Phillips, a psychotherapist from Massachusetts who is also a granddaughter of Max Perkins. She and her husband, Frank, the statehouse bureau chief for The Boston Globe—both of whom I had met years earlier—had recently visited the Finca Vigía. During their tour, Jenny explained to me on the phone in January 2001, an innocent query had turned into a quest. She had asked if the museo had any letters from her grandfather in its possession. So impressed were her hosts by this proximity to Hemingway's most trusted literary adviser, they surprisingly said yes, but they kept deflecting her requests to see them. They referred the Phillipses to the Ministry of Culture, a response that only added intrigue to their curiosity.

Upon their return to Boston, they visited the John F. Kennedy Library, which has long housed the bulk of the Hemingway Archives. Authorities there explained the situation to the Phillipses, how scholars had long presumed there was a wealth of Hemingway material in Cuban custody, but nobody there was willing to admit as much, for fear of American claims on his property. While Mary herself had spoken to me of all that she had left behind, and scholars had bemoaned the gaps that existed in his collected papers, nobody ever expected to get past the political blockade. Now the Phillipses were on a mission.

Putting her professional training to work, Jenny devised a shrewd approach to the Cuban government. Rather than suggest that she wanted something from the Hemingway Museum, she proposed giving them something. She was assembling a small team to rescue whatever Hemingway papers existed in Cuba—not to remove them but to preserve them, asking only that copies of everything be sent to the United States. The Phillipses would even raise enough money to pay for the operation. Good psychology, I thought.

They approached Congressman Jim McGovern, a Democrat from central Massachusetts, a human-rights advocate with a particular interest in re-establishing relations with Cuba. He secured a meeting with the Cuban Minister of Culture and found a receptive enough audience for Jenny to proceed with her plan. She recruited two conservators from the Northeast Document Conservation Center in Andover, and she enlisted Sandra Spanier from The Pennsylvania State University. A professor of American literature and the wife of Penn State's president, Spanier had recently been named general editor of the Hemingway Letters Project, an ambitious effort to publish all the author's extant letters—some six thousand of them, maybe more if they hit pay dirt in Cuba. Jenny Phillips hoped to add me to the team, knowing that I had mined a lot of Hemingway material for my biography of her grandfather—with whom the author had maintained the longest and most substantive correspondence of his life. She knew that if we were granted limited time with any papers, I could immediately help identify what they were.

In fact, my association with Hemingway's papers was greater than she knew. At Princeton, where my biography had begun as a senior thesis, I had been a disciple of Carlos Baker, Hemingway's official biographer, the first writer to have been granted access to his archives by Mary Hemingway herself. For many years—before the J.F.K. Library had been built and the Hemingway archives had a permanent home—much of the author's original correspondence had been stashed in Professor Baker's office in McCosh Hall. To incentivize my undergraduate research, he dangled these private letters, allowing me to borrow a folder at a time under the condition that I didn't tell anybody—“because if Miss Mary finds out, she'll kill you ... if I don't get to you first.” Several afternoons a week, I rapped on the door of McCosh 33 and swapped one folder for the next, sometimes without saying a word, as though we were trading nuclear secrets. I became proficient in deciphering Hemingway's handwriting, which for long periods at a time slanted heavily downhill.

Jenny's offer in 2001 was hardly irresistible, as she made this trip to Cuba sound like a steeplechase, full of hurdles and hazards. Obtaining permission to travel to Cuba had not been easy in the last four decades, and the new Bush administration was making it even harder; and if we should gain entry, there were no assurances that the Cubans would give us the necessary access to the Finca; they still had not acknowledged that they had any significant archive in their possession; and if they did, there was still no permission to inspect it. Jenny suggested that we might very well find ourselves spending an entire week sitting in an office wooing government workers without ever seeing anything. Meanwhile, a travel agent informed me that, even with proper documents, one could fly all the way to Havana and still be refused admittance. After many phone conversations, extensive travel arrangements, and constant Congressional patience and prodding—one year later—Jenny and Frank Phillips, Sandy Spanier, and I (coming from Los Angeles via Cancún) converged upon Cuba. We would have four full days in which we hoped to meet our simple goal of seeing Papa's papers.

We were, of course, at the mercy of what I quickly gathered were suspicious hosts. Our first day—Tuesday, March 12, 2002—was heavily scheduled and largely ceremonial. We visited a journalism school and visited an English class; and we also met the vivacious Gladys Rodríguez Ferrero, the first curator of the Museo Hemingway and president of the Instituto José Martí, then conducting a Hemingway convocation. We listened to several writers and teachers, who spoke of different aspects of the author's life and work, and we met several people from Oak Park on a study tour. Gladys spoke repeatedly of amistad, and she expressed nothing but support for our mission. In the afternoon, she escorted us to the office of Marta Arjona Pérez, the president of the National Council of Cultural Heritage. Staring long and hard at each of us, she appeared to be a grim bureaucrat, especially alongside the animated Gladys. But at the end of our meeting—conducted in Spanish, with Gladys translating the bits we did not understand—she spoke of this “momento histórico” between our two nations and invited us to spend Wednesday at the Finca. Our team found a small outdoor restaurant for dinner in Old Havana, where music poured out of every other window. Moonlight bathed the dilapidated and overcrowded buildings enough to make us see how the city had once been “the Paris of the Caribbean.”

It took 20 minutes to get to the Finca—as we drove up the gentle rise to San Francisco de Paula, and then farther up a long approach. Atop several large terraced steps perches the gracious cream-colored house, with its small, square-columned portico and its windows trimmed in white. Big palms across the property fanned an azure sky on what was already a hot morning, and dark-green areca fronds cascaded at the entrance. Each day the Finca receives 150 visitors, who are not allowed inside the house; but many of them were already walking its perimeter, getting a look into every room, as each featured a large window. Gladys and the museum staff welcomed us, letting us past the rope at the front door.

The Cubans obviously consider the house a shrine, and they have frozen it in time. The floors were polished, the windows were immaculate, and any sudden movements toward a piece of furniture excited guards into motion. The large, breezy living room was without pretense, with Papa's favorite reading chair and its mate dominating the salon. Between them sat a small table, with provisions for cocktails exactly as Hemingway had left them—bottles of Schweppes Indian Tonic, Gordon's gin, Old Forester bourbon, Campari, Bacardi rum, and El Copey Agua Mineral. A few other chairs and small tables filled the rest of the room; bookcases, paintings, bullfighting posters, and trophies from Africa and the American West covered the walls. The musical tastes of our absent host—as evidenced by the record collection—could not have been more mainstream: Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, and Glenn Miller; Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms; Granados from Spain and Lecuona from Cuba.

All the other rooms in the house were barely adorned, and each provided insights. The workroom that was part of his bedroom suite, for example, showcased the Royal typewriter on which he had hammered out much of his work from 1939 on. The connecting bathroom had a doctor's scale, and on one of the walls, Hemingway had recorded his weight daily. It ranged from 242 pounds on February 21, 1955, to 190 1/2 pounds five years later.

The most revealing items throughout the house were the books—almost 9,000 of them, many with marginalia. A copy of the Oxford Book of English Prose caught my eye, as I had suddenly remembered a letter Hemingway had sent Max Perkins in April 1940, when he was looking for a title for his nearly finished novel about Spain. He liked to leaf through anthologies of English literature, and upon reaching John Donne's “Meditation XVII”—the one that said, “Never send to know for whom the bell tolls”—he had written that he had found his title. Or, he asked Perkins, would people think of tolls as long-distance charges and Bell as the telephone company? I asked one of the guards if I might inspect the book. In an act of great trust, he removed it from its place and carefully handed it to me. I thumbed through the pages until I found the passage—circled.

After touring the house, we asked when and where we might see Hemingway's papers. Gladys Rodríguez suggested only that we explore the grounds. We visited the four-story tower Mary had built for her husband (hoping he might use the top floor as his workroom, which he did not); we ambled down the palm-lined paths among the nine acres to the shed that housed his cruiser, the Pilar; and we saw the emptied swimming pool, which in its splashier days had hosted a number of actors from film adaptations of his books—Spencer Tracy, Errol Flynn, Gary Cooper (who had brought Patricia Neal), and Ava Gardner, who had famously skinny-dipped there. Seeing the sights was informative and perfectly pleasant, but as we baked in the hot sun outside the unattached garage, Frank Phillips grumbled, “We still haven't seen any papers.” He believed we were sitting but yards from our treasure trove—right there, he imagined, in the basement of the garage.

Another day had passed without any indication that we would be seeing any documents. We dined at El Floridita, “the cradle of the daiquiri” and a favorite haunt of Hemingway's. Gladys Rodríguez joined us, along with Enrique Cirules, a celebrated Cuban author, who had written about Hemingway. He spoke with a pronounced Cuban accent, which dropped a lot of consonants and made him difficult to understand. I thought at first that the problem was the rustiness of my Spanish after a few decades of disuse, but Sandy Spanier said she had trouble comprehending him as well. But after dinner, we all strolled toward the Malecón as Cirules held forth on Hemingway and Havana. And suddenly, Sandy—a few rum drinks for the better, I presumed—was not only gabbing away with him but also understanding every syllable, simultaneously translating for the rest of us.

The next day, I was separated from the pack and sent to meet administrators of the Instituto Cubano del Libro. Officials of the publishing industry asked if I would return to Cuba to attend some literary conferences, and did I want to speak to the press that day about America's policy toward Cuba? While I felt 40 years of malignant neglect had done nothing to bring Castro down and seemed only to make every Cuban I encountered even more patriotic, I thought it best to keep my opinions to myself. Later that morning, Enrique Cirules and I spent time interviewing each other about our respective lives and careers. (“We are a Third World country,” he affirmed, “but the best in the Third World.”) And as the authorities at the Hemingway Museum still had said nothing about our seeing any papers, I spent the afternoon visiting museums and walking through El Parque Central, where locals flock every day to argue about baseball. As the next day was our last opportunity to see any papers, our team strategized over dinner, deciding that I should bell the cat.

By morning, however, that seemed unnecessary. We were summoned to the Finca and told that we would be seeing documents. To our surprise, we were taken to a shed by the pool, where doors were opened, revealing stacks of papers. We were elated ... until we realized they were not Hemingway's. They were, in fact, detailed inventories of the museum's holdings—handwritten by curators over the years. A description of each document was recorded on a separate sheet of cheap paper, many of which literally crumbled in our hands. Clearly, there had been some great misunderstanding. Sandy and I were grateful to see this much, startled by all that seemed to have been stored; but Jenny and Frank groused that we still did not know for a fact where the actual documents were and when we would see them. The clock was ticking, especially as we had a four-o'clock appointment with Marta Arjona that afternoon. Sometime around noon, I approached Gladys and thanked her for all the hospitality she had extended, but I explained that our trip really was a squandered opportunity unless we could see some papers immediately. I believe each of the others had similar conversations with her.

A little after one, Gladys escorted us back to the garage, but this time through the low gate marked acceso limitado. There, at the rear of the building, a small door opened to steep stairs down into a basement. I guess the room was about 15 by 30 feet, and I'm sure it was a hair over six feet high, as my head brushed against the ceiling. Frank had to stoop the entire time we were there. Under the watchful eyes of two overseers, we four filed in.

It was a clean, badly lighted place. Five bulbs illuminated the space from above; a sixth had burned out. The curators took pride in having been good custodians, pointing out the dehumidifier in the room and two Samsung portable air conditioners, which ran 24 hours a day. But one couldn't help noticing an opening in a wall that had been boarded over, through which light passed. That meant insects and rain and dust could permeate as well; but the shortage of time kept us from dwelling on such problems. From the inventory, Sandy and I especially had compiled lists of must-see items, core samples that would indicate the breadth and depth of this collection.

The cellar was jammed with file cabinets as well as firearms and horned animal heads and photographs; and while the interests of my colleagues ranged from correspondence to curios, I used most of my time to comb through folders that pertained to Hemingway's writing career, anything that might illustrate the author's creative process. In an instant, I felt as though I had entered King Tut's tomb; literary riches abounded. There was a five-page fragment that ended up in Death in the Afternoon and a five-line exchange of dialogue intended for Islands in the Stream that had not seen the light of day; there was a snatch of World War II-vintage dialogue that Hemingway had hunt-and-pecked on his Royal typewriter—raw stuff which he had evidently meant to spin into fiction but which he ultimately judged “too frank”; galley No. 10 of Across the River and into the Trees bore author's revisions; pristine pages of The Old Man and the Sea did not.

I remembered from my research that Hemingway had had second thoughts about the ending of For Whom the Bell Tolls, how at the last minute he thought it should include an epilogue accounting for the supporting players. Perkins had read the proposed coda, and, knowing Hemingway's preference for minimalism, he had urged the author to drop the pages. He had backed his opinion by citing his daughter Peggy, with whom he had shared the manuscript. She had said the book had ended perfectly without it. Perkins had evidently returned those final pages to the author, because they did not exist among his papers Stateside. But there in an old file in the basement of the garage at the Finca Vigía remained a 12-page pencil draft of those very pages. As I quickly related that publishing anecdote, I handed the folder to Jenny Phillips, Peggy's daughter.

With an eye on the clock, because of our appointment with Marta Arjona, I frantically sprinted through a few folders of personal material, which proved to be as revealing as anything I had ever seen relating to the Hemingways' marriage. In my notebook, I scribbled some passages from love letters Ernest had sent to Mary during the war; and then, in another folder, I found a startling statement written less than 10 years later: “Right now the question is whether I should accept Mary as a scold and give up another illusion,” it said. “Or whether I should ride along and learn not to give a damn.” Oddly, Ernest had appended a note to Mary, saying he had jotted these thoughts to “clarify something in my head.” Then, even more astonishing, he added, “Please return them.”

Time was up—before I could study the folder of letters from Adriana Ivancich, the young Venetian aristocrat who had served as the model for the hero's inamorata in Across the River and into the Trees ... or Hemingway's instructions for the cook on how to prepare his salads ... or his letter to Ingrid Bergman, whom he hoped would play Maria in the film of For Whom the Bell Tolls ...

We had come to Cuba hoping to find a few literary artifacts. Instead, we found ourselves amid a most significant literary dig, surrounded by “wonderful things.” We had already identified enough significant pieces of quotidian life at the Finca to begin to understand Hemingway's 20 years there. As we drove back to Havana to report our findings and discuss the future of the documents, I could think only of the serious and solitary artist who lived there, not the swaggering figure of myth. “Writing at its best,” Hemingway had confessed in his Nobel acceptance speech, “is a lonely life.” I had never fully appreciated how that sentiment applied to him until I had processed all that I had seen at the Finca Vigía—from the tower top to the basement.

Now, 50 years after Hemingway's death, the Finca is being rehabilitated and its holdings are being protected. More than 3,000 pages of documents from the cellar have already been conserved, scanned, digitized, and made accessible to the public through the J.F.K. Library. And documents from that archive can now be included in the long-anticipated volumes of Hemingway's collected letters.

Their value cannot be overstated. Where Hemingway's published works had all been so deliberate and painstakingly chiseled, his letters were free-form and expansive—unsanded and unvarnished. “I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there,” he famously said of the process he had applied to a lifetime of literary efforts. In the final analysis, however, his letters may prove to be the most honest log of Hemingway's fascinating life-voyage, the truest sentences he ever wrote.

The following letters, none of which has been previously published, are from The Letters of Ernest Hemingway: Volume 1, 1907–1922, edited by Sandra Spanier and Robert W. Trogdon. The remaining 15 volumes will be released over the next 20 years. Though adapted for the magazine, Hemingway's misspellings and punctuation have been preserved.

In this letter to his father, Dr. Clarence Hemingway, 18-year-old Ernest detailed the joys and pains of hard work at The Kansas City Star. Having brushed off the prospect of attending college, he was seeking instead to pursue the career in journalism he had started at the Trapeze, his high school's weekly newspaper. Though he would be at The Star just six months, he adopted a style of terse declarative prose that would stay with him the rest of his life. (Notes by Jaime Lalinde)

To Clarence Hemingway

April 16 1918

Dear Old Pop:

How are you?... This is the way things are lined up at present. I have been down here about seven months, granted. Until lately I have neen making not enough to live on. See High Cost of Living figures. I am only a kid of nearly 19 granted, and have been hitting the pace pretty blame hard. Working in competetion with men with threee to ten years more experience than I have. I have had to work like sin and have concentrated about three years work into one. Through good luck and some natural ability I have been able to get onto the game pretty well. In fact I have been having better assignments than a number of men from three to 8 years older than I am. and according to the way they are letting my stuff get by I am making good. I am now drawing $75 per month, the Star by a rule layed down by Col. Nelson [publisher of the Star], only gives one raise a year. If I stayed intil mext April 1st I would get another raise of 15 or 20 beans. Making at the most $100 per month. Well I have an opportunity to go to Dallas at $30 a week, to Topeka at $30 a week and to St. Louis at $30 a week or to start as an out side man for the United Press at $25 a week. And every fellow on the staff tells me that I am a fool to stay here. I have had a lot of valuable experience and have done some good work and have hit it pretty blame hard. And now Pop I am bushed! So bushed that I cant sleep nights, that my eyes get woozy, and that I am loosing weight and am tired all the time. I'm mentally and physically all in, Pop, and there isn't any body Knows it better than myself. Look at it this way. It is as though I had gone to college and been under the strain of cramming for an examination for seven months straight. For that is the way it is. Responsibility, absolute accuracy, thousands of dollars hinge on your statements, absolute truth and accuracy. A middle initial wrong may mean a libel suit. And allways working under a strain.

This is what makes you mentally fagged. Having to write a half column story with every name, address and initial verified and remembering to use good style, perfect style in fact, an get all the facts and in the correct order, make it have snap and wallop and write it in fifteen minutes, five sentences at a time to catch an edition as it goes to press. To take a story over the phone and get evrything exact see it all in your minds eye, rush over to a typewriter and write it a page at a time while ten other typewriters are going and the boss is hollering at some one and a boy snatches the pages from your machine as fast as you write them. How long would a lot of people I know last at that before going wild. Or work from 8 am sat staright through to 1 sunday morning and then be so bushed you cant sleep. And remember Pop Ive been down here seven months and hadnt ever done anything more strenuous before in the line than have five or ten hours to ge[t] up a trapeze story.

I've got to have a vacation or bust and so on the first of May I am leaving on the Santa Fe [Railway] for Chicago. If you folks want me to I will be glad to spend a couple of days in O.P. [Oak Park]. And see youall again and all my old pals. But I cant stay more than a couple of days in Oak Park for I'm going way up North and work with my hands and rest and go fishing and give my buszing, cracking, bushed high tension, twin six brain a rest. When I get rested and all back I'm coming back. I can always come back to the Star and may get more money. They may not pay more because of their hide bound old policy but there are other papers in the country that will pay me what I am capable of earning. There is the greatest dearth of newspaper men now such as there never was in the world. A man with any experience can go into any paper in the country and go right to work. After the next draft there is going to be a still worse lack of men. I am not telling you just my own opinion but the facts from dozens of men. And when I am telling you about my ability to work on other papers I am quoting the men in the office, the city editor of the Times, Hopkins, Meyer of the Globe Dmocrat St. Louis said I could have a job down there whenever I wanted it. It seems blame funny that I that was writing for the Trapeze, bunk and bull should be doing some of the things I am now at my age. But it is so, and I am not telling you this because I think that I am any star or anything of the kind but just so you see the situation.

So Dad I hope to see you the second of May. Good luck and much obliged for the papers. Let me have a letter.


I'll write Mother soon.


Though the United States formally entered W.W. I in April 1917, Hemingway's bad left eye disqualified him from service. While at The Kansas City Star, he learned he could volunteer as an ambulance driver for the American Red Cross—which he did in March 1918. On the Italian front, he was hit by an Austrian trench mortar that left 200 pieces of shrapnel in his legs before a machine-gun round went through his right knee. Wounded, he carried an injured Italian soldier to safety and, soon after, he recuperated in the American Red Cross Hospital in Milan.

To the Hemingway family

ARC. Hospital
August 4th [1918]

Dear Folks—;

Mothers letter of July 8th, the day I was wounded, came day before yesterday. There isn't a blame thing to write about because I'm still in bed and will be for a month or so.

The surgeon says that my leg is coming on very good and he plans now to operate on the knee and right foot on August 15th. I sure wish he would hurry up because it is very tiresome waiting in bed with the legs in splints. There was a big parade last Sunday and they took me out with my legs strapped to a board.

With a body guard of about six Italian officers I sat on the plaza and reviewed the troops. The crowd cheered me for about ten solid minutes and I had to take off my cap and bow about 50 times. They threw flowers all over me and every body wanted to shake my hand and the girls all wanted my name so they could write to me. The master journalist was known to the crowd as the American Hero of the Piave. I'm nothing but a second Lieut. or Soto Tenente but all the Captains saluted me first. Oh it was very thrilling. I tried to act very dignified but felt very embarrased.

I heard today that I had been recommended for the valour medal of the Duke of Aosta who is the brother of the King. That is the in addition to the silver medal which I have also been recommended for. The silver medal is next to the highest Decoration that any man can receive. I think it carries a pension with it but I'm not sure. Only 9 men have the highest decoration. The silver valour medal is corresponding to the Victoria Cross. It is higher than the French Croix D'Guerre and Medaille Militaire and ranks with the Legion of Honor they say.

I hope I am up and out soon so I may receive the one I have been recommended for. Usually they are presented by the King.

The rainbow trout up in Horton Bay [Michigan] can thank the Lord there is a war on. But they will be all the bigger next summer. Gee I wish I was up there fishing off the old dock ...

Here's looking at you all,

Lots of love to all and kiss Dessie [Leicester, Hemingway's youngest sibling] for me.


In the months following his injury, Hemingway was in and out of hospitals; he fell in love with, and had his heart broken by, Agnes von Kurowsky, an American nurse he met in Milan and the model for Catherine Barkley in his 1929 novel, A Farewell to Arms; and he returned to the U.S. a war hero, hailed as the first American wounded in Italy.

He spent the summer of 1919 fishing and hunting in Michigan. Among his companions there was Howell Jenkins, a midwesterner with whom he had served in the Red Cross. The great outdoors, particularly in northern Michigan, would play an important role in Hemingway's 1925 short-story collection, In Our Time, which concluded with “Big Two-Hearted River.” The narrative concerns a troubled young man who returns to the Michigan wilderness, where he uses the rituals of camping, Hemingway would later confirm in A Moveable Feast, to recover from the obscenities of war.

To Howell Jenkins

July 15, 1919

Dear Jenks,

I'm darned sorry I haven't shot you a letter before but we have been tearing around so darn much and you know what a rotten correspondent I am. Bill [Smith, a childhood friend] and I were sure glad to know that you can come up in August. In regard to the boat way of coming the S.S. Manitou leaves from the municipal pier and comes direvt toCharlevoix [Michigan] where we will meet you. You can get the dope on the Manitou from the Northern Michigan Transportaion company agency at the Congress Hotel. You get the dope and then write us when you will be here and we will be at the dock. How does it seem to have Chicago dry [a reference to Prohibition]? It must be funny as hell—but then it will be wet again the first of October. Hope so anyway.

We have just been on a peach of a fishing trip for about a week over on the Pine Barrens. Fishing the Black River and camping. We went for five days without seeing a house or a clearing. Wild as the devil. Saw a bear on the Pidgeon River. That is where we want to go for a trip when you come up. We have all the fishing tackle so you don't need to bother about anything of that kind. We took all the trout we wanted to eat and then on the last day we were there we caught 64 to bring home[.] Some of them were hellers [a wet fly used for fishing] too. We sure will have a good time there as there are swell camping places along the river. The river is all clear—no brush and fast as the deuce good wading all the way. And I believe it is the best trout fishing in the states. We can guarantee you all you want to catch.

There are some deer and some [b]ear and if you want to bring up your Austrian Carbine with some shells it might be a good hunch. It would be a darn good thing to have around camp if we did pipe another bear. There are lots of partridges and I have my twenty guage shot gun and a twenty two rifle. Anche [also] a 22 cal. Automatic pistol that is a whang.

We can fish the rainbow around the bay here for a while and swim and have a good time and trk over to Walloon lake and see my folks and then we can put in a week on the barrens. I think we can guarantee you a pretty good time. The Corp [nickname for Carlton Shaw, a fellow ambulance driver] wants to come up and I think we can get him for the barrens trip. YOu and I and Bill and the Corp wouldn't make a bad gang?

If you can bring some grog up do it. Because I believe there is no danger. There is no search made aboard the boat and none at Charlevoix. Better bring up a couple of quarts.

We sure will be glad as hell to see you Jenks and Bill and I both and my family all send you their best.

Let me hear from you,


Back at his family's summer home, in Petoskey, Michigan, Hemingway was soon kicked out for drinking and a suspicious moonlit picnic he held. He moved to Chicago, where he boarded with boyhood friend Yeremya Smith, whose sister, Katy, would introduce Hemingway to 28-year-old Hadley Richardson, a Missouri native in town after the death of her ailing mother. Hemingway and Hadley began writing each other and, by December 1920, they were exchanging letters almost daily; during their short, happy courtship, their correspondence would amount to more than 1,000 pages. The following letter, though missing at least one prior page, represents the earliest record of Hemingway writing to Hadley—as she burned most of his letters to her after their divorce, in 1927.

To Hadley Richardson, December 23, 1920

I'd be much happier too Hash [one of Hadley's nicknames] Darling—but I can't come— You see I hate and loathe and despise to talk about seeds [money] but I haven't been home since 1915 I think and so I more or less threw a fairly decent Christmas for the kids and am consequently broke— Embarrassing of course. Could have much easier lied to you and mentioned acceptance of half a dozen New Years dates—all of which I'd have thrown out in a minute for a sight of you—but have always had this beautiful truth talking habit with you—

You can make me jealous—and you can hurt most awfully—'cause my loving you is a chink in the armour of telling the world to go to hell and you can thrust a sword into it at any time—

Hate to think of you going to the party with Dick [the brother of one of Hadley's friends] instead of me—but I'm broke because of the Lord's birthday! S' Not a question of regard for seeds or anything you know—but why go into it?

Feel terribly bad—but I've shot my Toronto check—wont have another till the 15th of January—am in the intervening ones with Six members of the famille—

At present there's someone or other snoring in the big bed—we threw quite a party to speed Saltzenbeck south. Gin hacks—Don [Wright, a friend] corked his Christmas Scotch and a bottle or so of port. I hate gin! Onct it done me wrong.

Saw tragedy tonight. I was in a drug shop opposite the Marigold Gardens [a beer garden on Chicago's North Side] and a girl was telephoning in a booth. She was kidding some one over the wire, lips smiling. And talking cheerily away and all the time dabbing her eyes with a handkerchief— Poor kid it was terrible bad whatever it was.

Dear Hash you can surely hurt me a lot when you want to. About the platform and the train [he had declined to kiss her before her train left]. Lord— I thot I was loving you— If I wasnt I never could and never would love any one. Guess I was thinking too much about how I didn't want you to go— Don't you believe I love you? Dunno how I can make you believe.

I didn't want to kiss you goodbye—that was the trouble— I wanted to kiss you good night—and there's a lot of difference. ' couldn't bear the thought of you going away when you were so very dear and necessary and all pervading.

Suppose when you tell me how nice Dick is and so on I ought to counter with how enjoyable it is to dance with Maydlyn and how nice she looks top-side of a horse and so on—but when I think of anyone in comparison with you it's like— You are so much dearer and I love you so much— that what odds kidding along about them.

' Course I love you— I Love you all the time—when I wake up in the morning and have to climb out of bed and splash around and shave— I look at your picture and think about you—and that's a pretty deadly part of day as you know and a good test of loving any one.

And in the evening— It's too much to stand— Sure go on—go to the party with Dick but maybe once pretend I'm there—

'Night my dearest Hash— I'd like to hold you so and kiss you so that you wouldn't doubt whether I wanted to or not—

Love you—

Sera [Night]


Eager to return to Europe, Hemingway had been trying to persuade the Toronto Star, where he was a freelancer, to send him to Italy as an overseas correspondent. But when he befriended Sherwood Anderson, in the spring of 1921, the American novelist advised him to go to Paris instead. Shortly after Hemingway and Hadley were married, on September 3, 1921, they sailed for France and, by the beginning of January, had found an apartment—financed with Hadley's small inheritance—on Paris's Left Bank.

To the Hemingway family, late January 1922

Dear Family—

Bones [another of Hadley's nicknames] and I are living up here at about 3,000 feet above sea level and having the most gorgeous time. Paris got sort of damp and rotten weather so we came down here in the Alps to get rid of our colds and get healthy. It is Les Avants, above Montreaux on Lake Geneva and wonderful mountain sports. We get an all day ticket on the little railroad and then coast down the mountain on a bob and take the train back up. With an all day ticket you can take as many rides on the train as you want. The Bob is only big enough for two and has a steering wheel and brakes and goes all the way down the mountain through the wildest country you ever saw. Black forests of Pine trees and gorges and the big mountain Dent du Jaman. Snow is forty inches deep but you are never cold. Wear only sweaters and the air is bracing. The bob gets a speed of sixty miles an hour on some of the streches and there isn't a single stop till you hit the railway s[t]ation at the bottom. You ought to see us come down with Hash steering. She thinks it is a sign of cowardice to ever put on the brake! I use it every once in a while on account of the fine way it makes the slivers of ice fly up. On the curves you have to lean straight out to keep from going over and you skirt sheer drop offs for miles. It is the greatest sport I've ever had I'm doing a lot of work too an this morning wrote two articles for the [Toronto] Star and sent them off while Hash was coasting with Dorothy Beck a nice American girl that is down here. We are staying at a place that is about like Dilworth's prices and all and have enormous meals twice a day. Drink lots of milk all the time and both Hash and I are getting into splendid shape. You leave Paris at 9 o'clock at night and are at Montreaux at ten the next morning. Montreaux, you remember, is right near the Chateaux Chillon. Both of you have probably been there Dad and Mother. All of you would be mad about the coasting. There is skiing too and mountain climbing and skating but the coasting is the most fun. We make a twelve mile run in about 14 minutes! Beck is the only American here—she came down with us—all the rest are English Lawds. Very nice and fun to hoot at as you race with the bobs.

Hash just came in and read this over my shoulder an says to send lots of love to you and tell you about our apartment. It is at 74 Rue duCardinal Lemoine. And is the jolliest place you ever saw. We rented it furnished for 250 francs a month, about 18 dollars and have a femme du menage [housekeeper] who cooks dinner for us every night. I think I wrote you about it, so I won't go on, You can send mail there and it will reach us. It is the most comfortable and cheapest way to live and Bones has a piano and we have all our pictures up on the walls and an open fire place and a peach of a kitchen and a dining room and big bed room and dressing room and plenty of space. It is on top of a high hill in the very oldest part of Paris. The nicest part of the Latin quarter. Just back of the Pantheon and the Ecole Polytechique. It has a tennis court right across the street and a bus line ends in the square around the corner so that you can get anywhere in the city. We were having an awfully good time in Paris, [b]ut the weather was so rotten that we were glad to come down here. It;s only seven dollars away from Paris. We came down here two days after we got settled and everything unpacked in the apartment so that we could go back to a place with no packing and work. For this trip we only brought rucksacks and a big suit case. Had some knickers made for Bones at the best man's tailor in Paris and they fit her wonderfully. She has a big white sweater with a roll collar and a white tam with an orange stripe. I put all that in for the females in the family.

You would be amazed how warm you are when it is so cold. We haven't had coats on since we were here and none of the men, hardly, wear hats. It is the healthiest and the nicest place you ever clapped a dead light on.

Bones and I both send you our love and to Grandmother, Grandfather, Aunt Grace and all of Uncle George's family. Hope to get some letters from you soon.


Ernie and Hadley

[Hadley adds:]
P.S. Dear Family:—

Here we are filling our lungs with the cold dry air of the Swiss Alps and hiking and bobbing all day long—at night we are so weary we tumble into our beds, pull up the immaculate white feather beds—and drop off into the deepest sleep that doesn't break till they come in to light the stove and lamp at 8 o'clock in the morning. Breakfast in bed! Then a little reading or talking then out on the roads again or shopping in Montreux. We are feeling fitter each day— Hope to hear a little gossip about the family doings soon.

Always devotedly


Shortly before the couple set off for Europe, Anderson had provided Hemingway with letters of introduction to the city's celebrated expatriate elite—Shakespeare and Company owner Sylvia Beach (who was first to publish the entirety of James Joyce's Ulysses, in February 1922), Gertrude Stein, and Ezra Pound. The following letter places Hemingway's first meeting with Stein earlier than previously believed.

To Grace Hall Hemingway

February 14 [and 15] 1922

Dear Mother—

Dads letter of Feb 2 came today—a very fast crossing. It must have made the [ocean liner] Aquitania. What boat a letter comes on makes any amount of difference in the time we get it. Hash had a lovely letter from you that she is going to answer soon. She's in a great spell of working on the piano now and isnt writing at all. She is very well and strong and healthy.

Lately I've had a rotten cold and have been feeling very foul but as soon as we get some spring here it will clear up. We know a good batch of people now in Paris and if we allowed it would have all our time taken up socially; but I am working very hard and we keep plenty of time to ourselves. It is fun living in this oldest quarter of Paris and we have a wonderful time. Paris is so very beautiful that it satisfies something in you that is always hungry in America.

I have such a cold in my head that it is quite impossible to think or write consecutively. That stuffed out moist but stupid feeling you know.

Gertrude Stein who wrote Three Lives and a number of other good things was here to dinner last night and stayed till mid-night[.] She is about 55 [Stein was, in fact, 48] I guess and very large and nice. She is very keen about my poetry— My Corona typewriter is being repaired. The femme de menage knocked [it] off my writing table while she was cleaning and I dont get it until tomorrow

Next day—

Madame came in yesterday while I was writing to clean the room and so I had to stop. Got the typewriter today again. Lunched this noon at the weekly luncheon of the Anglo-American newspaper men's association. Tomorrow I'm getting four stories off to the Star and will have to work hard all day. Hash, who is now called Binney, is going shopping for a spring hat and a fur piece for her neck to we[a]r in the spring eith a suit and dresses as soon as she leaves off her coat.

Tell Dessie and Nubbins [Carol, Hemingway's youngest sister] that we are living just two blocks away from the Jardin des Plantes which has the largest zoological gardens in the world. There are hundreds of animals and birds Oinbones has never seen before. Mountain goats from the Atlas mountains with horns that are curl three feet long and funny whiskers on their front legs. All sorts of hawks and eagles from South America and Africa and all sorts of South African animals. There is a big cage too full of Condors that have awful naked heads and red eyes and black wings twelve feet wide. It is the most wonderful collection of birds and animals I have ever seen and all thr cages are outdoors. There is a snake house that is as big as the largest building in the Lincoln Park Zoo.

Friday we are going to tea at Ezra Pounds. He has asked me to do an article on the present literary state of America for the Little Review. Binney [Hadley] is reading Lytton Strachey's Queen Victoria while I am writing this. You will enjoy it if you have not read it all ready.

I am sorry to write such dull letters, but I get such full expression in my articles and the other work I am doing that I am quite pumped out and exhausted from a writing stand point and so my letters are very commonplace. If I wrote nothing but letters all of that would go into them. You know what [Gustave] Flaubert said, “The artist must [the actual quotation reads, “One should”] live like a bourgeois and think like a demi-god.”

I hope you are very well and haveing a good time. Give my love to Dad and all the kids and the family. I'm writing Dad shortly. The stamps on this are for Carol with my love.

Ever so much love,


Ezra Pound and Hemingway met over tea in the poet's home on the Left Bank in the spring of 1922. The two struck a deal in which Hemingway would teach Pound how to box in exchange for Pound sending some of Hemingway's poems for consideration to The Dial, a prestigious literary magazine. Pound's patronage was of little help, however, and after repeated rejections from The Dial and pretty much everywhere else, Hemingway's first significant publication—a fable entitled “A Divine Gesture”—came in the May 1922 issue of The Double-Dealer, a New Orleans journal, and another piece in the following issue—a short poem that ran beside a piece by a promising southern writer named William Faulkner.

To Ezra Pound, November 8, 1922

Wednesday Night—

Dear Ezra—

I was tricked into a very childish position by being forced to defend my journalese, which I recognize is journalese, from the charge of being journalese. It was all silly.

I assed myself beautifully trying to save Steffen's [Lincoln Steffens, a muckraking journalist] feelings by standing up for the weaknesses in my stuff which Steff admires because they are what he has always been shooting at. There is little gained being snotty to sweet old men.

I'm quitting the sheet [the Toronto Star]. (This is between us.) I know what I'm after in prose, now anyway, (meaning for the present) and hope to give you a couple of samples of it at the end of six months. If it is no fucking good I'll know it and praise by Steffens, Mrs. Butler, George Horace Lorimer, Paul Rosenfeld, Bill Bird, Warren G. Harding, H.L. Menken, Pussyfoot Johnson, Dave O'Neil, Eugene O'Neil, Florence O'Neil, Rose O'Neil, Mother MacCree, Rudyard Kipling, Clare Sheridan, Max Eastman, John Quinn, John Drew, John Wanamaker, Malcolm Cowley, or Leticia Parker will cut no bloody ice.

Meantime I appreciate that you stuck me on the Three Mountains [Press] dodger out of friendship and think I ought to leave you know that I will not attempt to crab the act, bust up the show or detonate in any other way if you now regret having publicly backed some one who you realize has nothing worth printing and want to yank me out of the sextette.

You have my blessing Missou [monsieur]. I still think you are the only living poet altho. I am glad to read Herr Elliot's adventure away from impeccability [reference to T. S. Eliot's “The Waste Land”]. If Herr Elliot would strangle his sick wife, buggar the brain specialist and rob the bank he might write an even better poem.

The above is facetious.

See you tonight—


Over the next year, Hemingway would publish Three Stories and Ten Poems, his first short-story collection. In the summer of 1923, upon Gertrude Stein's suggestion, he would travel with Hadley to Pamplona for the running of the bulls, the festival that would serve as the milieu for his first novel, The Sun Also Rises, published in 1926.

Max Perkins | Excerpt

Shortly after six o‘clock on a rainy March evening in 1946, a slender, gray-haired man sat in his favorite bar, the Ritz, finishing the last of several martinis. Finding himself adequately fortified for the ordeal ahead, he paid the check, got up, and pulled on his coat and hat. A well-stuffed briefcase in one hand and an umbrella in the other, he left the bar and ventured into the downpour drenching mid-Manhattan. He headed west toward a small storefront on Forty-third Street, several blocks away.

Inside the storefront, thirty young men and women were awaiting him. They were students in an extension course on book publishing which New York University had asked Kenneth D. McCormick, editor-in-chief of Doubleday & Company, to conduct. All were eager to find a foothold in publishing and were attending the weekly seminars to increase their chances. On most evenings there were a few latecomers, but tonight, McCormick noted, every student was on hand and seated by the stroke of six. McCormick knew why. This evening’s lecture was on book editing, and he had persuaded the most respected, most influential book editor in America to “give a few words on the subject.”

Maxwell Evarts Perkins was unknown to the general public, but to people in the world of books he was a major figure, a kind of hero. For he was the consummate editor. As a young man he had discovered great new talents—such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Thomas Wolfe—and had staked his career on them, defying the established tastes of the earlier generation and revolutionizing American literature. He had been associated with one firm, Charles Scribner’s Sons, for thirty-six years, and during this time, no editor at any house even approached his record for finding gifted authors and getting them into print. Several of McCormick’s students had confessed to him that it was the brilliant example of Perkins that had attracted them to publishing.

McCormick called the class to order, thumping the collapsible card table in front of him with the palm of his hand, and began the session by describing the job of editor. It was not, he said, as it once had been, confined mainly to correcting spelling and punctuation. Rather, it was to know what to publish, how to get it, and what to do to help it achieve the largest readership. At all this, said McCormick, Max Perkins was unsurpassed. His literary judgment was original and exceedingly astute, and he was famous for his ability to inspire an author to produce the best that was in him or her. More a friend to his authors than a taskmaster, he aided them in every way. He helped them structure their books, if help was needed; thought up titles, invented plots; he served as psycho-analyst, lovelorn adviser, marriage counselor, career manager, money-lender. Few editors before him had done so much work on manuscripts, yet he was always faithful to his credo, “the book belongs to the author.”

Max Perkins | Press


"The interest in this book lies not in Perkins’s literary or commercial acumen but in his private life. He is revealed as a man of painfully repressed passion, but of great tact and nearly heroic steadiness of character. Decency was his art. A. Scott Berg has told this story unobtrusively and with great feeling, and he has (perhaps just in the nick of time) rescued Perkins from permanent obscurity."


"In the history of American publishing there is no more legendary—and elusive—figure than Maxwell Evarts Perkins….Now the mystery has been solved in Scott Berg’s exhaustive, penetrating, and wholly satisfying biography…Scrupulous, thoughtful, touching, memorable, and eminently rewarding."

“A labor of love, one pursued by Berg with a single-minded devotion…The result, a long and comprehensive but never tedious book, completely justifies all the effort…A very large accomplishment.”


"Talented, intelligent, and marvelously researched…A work that does honor to the subject." 


“Berg’s whole narrative is first-rate—filled with humor and feeling. Max would have published it in a minute.” 


“A fully achieved biography of a man whose career and life were marvels of self-effacement. It gives a wealth of insight into the creative process.”


“A welcome biography…a definitive work.”


“A. Scott Berg’s biography is, surprisingly, the first major study of this legendary figure, and it would thus be welcome for that reason alone. But this superb book is so meticulously researched, so richly detailed, so beautifully ‘cultured,’ that it will undoubtedly become an indispensable account of modern literary life in America, as well as a highly rewarding portrait of a man previously hidden behind the scenes…While lamenting a lack of space to describe fully the incredibly fascinating detail that marks so much of this outstanding book, we must recommend A. Scott Berg’s biography of Max Perkins as one of the most important, most readable books of the year.” 


“Beautifully written…an exciting portrait of an era.”


“A delightful biography, rich in literary anecdotes, and a mine of advice for writers and editors.” 


“It is a pity that Perkins could not see the manuscript of his biography. He enjoyed finding promising young writers, and Berg, 28, is one of that small group…Although Perkins would have been embarrassed by the attention, Berg’s tribute would have touched him. 


“A. Scott Berg’s Max Perkins: Editor of Genius seems such a natural that it makes you wonder why no one ever thought of writing such a book before. [Among] the virtues of this biography is that Perkins emerges from the shadows…The details enrich the legend.”


“Max Perkins was the best of the best. This book brings him back alive.”


“A book about Maxwell Perkins? Of course! Why didn’t someone think of it before?...Berg has done very well…It’s a fascinating and illuminating story.”


“As complete a Max Perkins as we will ever need. It’s an extraordinary vivid portrait…Berg documents the Perkins-Wolfe season in hell as no one else ever has.”


“All his life and since his death, Max Perkins has remained a kind of shadow figure…but now, with A. Scott Berg’s comprehensive and readable biography, he’s sure to come into his own…There’s not a speck of pedantry in Berg’s book and I for one thank him for it.”


“Berg has done a fine job of assembling and organizing a vast amount of fascinating material.” 


“Though he is not of Perkins’s generation, Berg has a real feel for it and for Perkins, and does justice to him and his geniuses.”


“Berg makes the major revelation of a long, discreet, and (perhaps regretfully) platonic love affair between Max and Elizabeth Lemmon…Their correspondence enriches the biography immeasurably…This is a significant book.”


“Extraordinary…Berg brings Perkins and his writers to life…With access to the most intimate and detailed files from the publishers, Berg has drawn together a massive book that Perkins would have been proud to edit. There is a good story about someone on nearly every page.” 


“Berg displays immense talent in his writing, keeping it dramatic, suspenseful and lively, yet never losing sight of the fact that this is a serious work. For those who are avid readers of biographies, this book will come as a delightful and rewarding surprise. For those students of literature and those who labor in it, the comments and writings of Perkins will stand out as beacons of light in a sometimes darkened world…With this book alone Berg now appears to be one of the major new literary talents of the last quarter of the 20th century.”


“Wolfe, Fitzgerald and Hemingway scholars will find this book a valued source of new information and a highly readable, warm and enjoyable biography. Those who are not scholars will find this biography flows like a novel.”


“One reads theses pages with awe and admiration for both their subject and for the remarkable young biographer.”


“Perkins turns out to have been as fascinating, dark, complex, and sad as any of his golden boys. A lovely book about the age of giants and the extraordinary man in the shadows behind them.”


“A. Scott Berg, who came to Perkins through an early enthusiasm for Fitzgerald, has gone deeply into his subject, and done so with attention to detail and something like love….Superb biography…Perkins’s fruitful and tortuous relationship with Wolfe is brilliantly described.”


“A sympathetic, full-bodied treatment of Perkins.”


“Nothing previously published will prepare the reader for this stunning new biography. Berg’s depth of research is simply astounding. He not only brings Perkins vividly on stage, but also all the major figures in an exciting and pivotal era of American letters…a sweeping, landmark biography….superb.” 


“Magnificent….Berg vividly demonstrates how Perkins changed the conception of an editor’s function and how he thereby came to influence American literary taste as no other man for 30 years.”


“Packed with diverting anecdotes.”


“Splendid…fills a gaping void in the history of American literature in the first half of this century….His greatest achievement, aside from showing us exactly how a truly great editor functioned, is to remind those of us who love books even remotely as much as Perkins, what we owe him.”


“[Berg] has marshaled much material to bring the editor to life, to prove that lonely, hard-drinking, eccentric Perkins was, as the book’s subtitle says, ‘an editor of genius.’”