Libraries’ Hemingway research potential grows through new Bruce Collection

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State University Libraries has expanded its robust scholarly research potential of one of America’s foremost 20th-century writers through the acquisition of the Toby and Betty Bruce Collection of Ernest Hemingway. Now housed in the University Libraries’ Eberly Family Special Collections Library, the collection includes unpublished writing, manuscripts, handwritten letters and notes, more than 1,000 photos, other documents and memorabilia and provides new insight into the author’s writing process and his personal life from childhood onward.

“The acquisition of this archive of some of Hemingway’s unpublished stories, manuscript drafts and correspondence will provide a wealth of new material for studying a pre-eminent writer,” said Faye A. Chadwell, dean of University Libraries and Scholarly Communications. “The Toby and Betty Bruce Collection of Ernest Hemingway is a significant addition to our holdings in the Eberly Family Special Collections Library at Penn State University Libraries, strengthening our reputation for fostering research at all levels.”

The collection, which was acquired in October 2021 through donor support, positions Penn State in the top tier of repositories of Ernest Hemingway scholarly material, along with the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston and Princeton University Library. The collection, which has now been described in detail in the University Libraries online catalog, holds several remarkable discoveries, as noted in exclusive articles in The New York Times, from his first story written in childhood to a “three-page meditation on death and suicide — 35 years before he took his own life.”

After Hemingway’s death in 1961, his widow, Mary Hemingway, was called to retrieve the materials stored since 1939 at Sloppy Joe’s Bar in Key West, Fla., one of Hemingway’s favorite hangouts in the 1930s. She enlisted the help of the Bruces, who had remained Hemingway’s lifelong Key West friends, to help sort through the towering piles of his papers, including the items she gave them in gratitude, representing this collection. The collection passed to their son, Benjamin C. “Dink” Bruce, who stored it in ammo cans and plastic bins on the family’s Key West property. The New York Times first wrote about the collection in 2017.

Sandra Spanier, Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of English and Women’s Studies and general editor of the Hemingway Letters Project, became familiar with the collection’s contents several years ago and persuaded Dink Bruce that it ought to come to the University Libraries. She leads a team of scholars in producing a comprehensive scholarly edition of Hemingway’s letters, now preparing the sixth of a planned 17 volumes. Several items in the collection were also included in Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s three-part documentary about the author.

“I’m delighted that this vast and exciting collection of Hemingway materials has made its way from a private residence in Key West to the Penn State Libraries, where it will be safe from the elements, well cared for and heavily used,” Spanier said “Lucky for us, Hemingway was a pack rat. He saved everything from bullfight tickets and bar bills to a list of rejected story titles written on a piece of cardboard. The collection adds texture and nuance to our understanding of one of the most influential writers of the 20th century, and will be a valuable resource for scholars, students and aficionados.”

Verna Kale, associate editor of the Hemingway Letters Project, said, “The collection will be especially valuable to Penn State students as a learning opportunity. This is another reason that it’s wonderful the collection has come to a research library intact rather than ending up in private hands. I think that Betty Bruce, as a former librarian, would have been pleased to know that the papers she and Toby saved ended up here.”

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