The Walter Houk Collection of Ernest Hemingway is now open and available to researchers.
The Manuscripts Division recently received a gift of five boxes of manuscripts, correspondence, stenographer’s notebooks, photographs, and nautical charts from Walter Houk. The papers document the friendship between Walter and his wife Juanita Jensen Houk and the Nobel Prize-winning author Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961) in Havana, Cuba, where Hemingway was writing his last major works, Across the River and into the Trees (1950) and The Old Man and the Sea (1952).
Juanita Jensen Houk, an employee of the American Embassy in Havana, received government clearance to work as Ernest Hemingway’s secretary from 1949 to 1952. In 1952, she married Walter Houk, a diplomatic officer at the Embassy. Their wedding reception was held at Finca Vigía, the Hemingways’ house near Havana. The couple were frequent visitors at the finca, where they used the library, swam in the pool, went fishing on Hemingway’s boat Pilar, and drank daiquiris with him at the Floridita bar.
The collection offers a multifaceted view of the author during a particularly prolific and creative period. Juanita Jensen Houk’s stenographer’s notebooks, with typed transcriptions, of over a hundred of Hemingway’s dictated letters include letters not only to his friends and family but also to publishers and agents. He reported on his book’s progress to Charles Scribner and wrote to A. E. Hotchner about serializing Across the River and into the Trees in the magazine Cosmopolitan. In letters to Malcolm Cowley, he discussed fellow authors such as Saul Bellow, Truman Capote, Gertrude Stein, and Eudora Welty. In addition, the collection contains the Houks’ own correspondence with the Hemingways, including nine letters by Ernest Hemingway and fourteen by his wife Mary, photographs of the Hemingways and Houks on the Pilar, and Walter Houk’s manuscript memoirs about Hemingway and Havana.
Walter Houk’s reminiscences of his friendship with Hemingway during the Havana years form key parts of Paul Hendrickson’s new biography, Hemingway’s Boat: Everything He Loved in Life, and Lost, 1934–1961 (Knopf, 2011). The book reassesses Hemingway’s creative life and personal relationships through his attachment to his cherished boat Pilar. According to Hendrickson, “The archive where I have spent the most time in these last seven or so years of research and writing is Firestone Library at Princeton. The university is an hour and ten minutes from my front door; the car knows the way.” He calls the Princeton University Library’s Archives of Charles Scribner’s Sons, which contains some 2,000 pieces of correspondence between Hemingway and his editors, and the Carlos Baker Collection of Ernest Hemingway “my centripetal research force. Nearly all the letters I quote from or make reference to in this book I have sat and held and read in the chapel-like Dulles Reading Room at Firestone.”
The Walter Houk Collection is a robust addition to the Library’s Hemingway materials. Other related collections include the Ernest Hemingway Collection, Hemingway/Lanham Correspondence, Patrick Hemingway Papers, Farrar & Rinehart, Inc., Files of Hemingway and Pound, Ernest Hemingway Documents and Tax-related Papers, and Ernest Hemingway and Milford J. Baker Correspondence.