Posts tagged ‘Sandra Spanier’



I’ve been thinking a lot about yesterday’s historic announcement that the U.S. and Cuba are taking steps to normalize relations. It’s huge news, on so many levels—not the least of which is tourism.

For decades, the U.S. prohibited its citizens from traveling to Cuba except under certain circumstances, such as academic research. (Penn State Hemingway scholar Sandy Spanier ’76g, ’81g and telecommunications expert John Spicer Nichols have who’ve been to Cuba many times, for example.) More recently, the U.S. government began allowing citizens to visit under specially licensed “people to people cultural exchanges.” I went on one such exchange in 2012 via the Santa Fe Photo Workshops, and the Alumni Association has offered several trips under a similar umbrella. Our former senior editor Lori Shontz ’01, ’13g went on one such Penn State trip and wrote about it here.

Basically, the people-to-people trips have a heavy emphasis on understanding the culture—on my trip, for example, we visited a dance school and a boxing academy, and interacted a lot with Cuban photographers. On other trips you might visit a school, an orphanage, or a tobacco farm. (I remember that on our trip there was talk of visiting a cockfight, and when some of us grimaced at the thought, the Santa Fe Photo Workshops guy chastised us, saying, “You’re here to experience, and photograph, what is uniquely Cuban.” He was right—but, nevertheless, I was glad when the cockfight plans fell through.)

Yesterday’s announcement doesn’t exactly throw the doors wide open for U.S. tourists. It’s not like you’ll be able to book a flight from Dulles to Havana on USAirways anytime soon. People-to-people cultural exchanges are still the only legal way to get there. But a few things will change: For one, you’ll soon be able to take your credit cards and ATM card with you. Currently, U.S. travelers have to figure out how much money they’ll need for everything—hotel, meals, taxis, admission fees, you name it—and take that amount in cash. That’s because U.S.-issued ATM and credit cards won’t work in Cuba; just one example of the embargo. That’s changing—although Cuba is still a pretty cash-oriented society anyway.

Another change is that Cuban cigars and Cuban rum will soon be legal in the U.S. Not that anyone will be selling them in retail stores, but people who visit Cuba can now bring back up to $100 in alcohol and/or tobacco products.


In the fishing village of Cojimar, east of Havana, a sign remembers the “Cuban Five.”

The backstory leading up to yesterday’s announcement is interesting, and familiar to anyone who’s already visited Cuba. We heard a lot when we were down there about the five-decade history of the embargo, about Fidel Castro, about the prospects that Fidel’s brother Raul might take less of a hard line with the U.S., about what everyday life for Cubans is like under communism. There was talk even back then that President Obama would move to normalize relations in his second term. We also heard a lot about Alan Gross, whose imprisonment in Cuba has been a huge bone of contention with the U.S.—and likewise about the “Cuban Five,” whose imprisonment in the U.S. has been a huge bone of contention with Cuba. Yesterday, Gross and the remaining three of the Cuban Five were all released.

Cuba estimates that 100,000 U.S. citizens already visit the island nation every year, and that number is sure to go up as the restrictions are eased. It’ll surely skyrocket if the travel embargo is eventually lifted completely. And I’m not so sure that’s a good thing. There’s something very special and unspoiled about Cuba, and hordes of U.S. tourists could easily change that. It makes me want to go back—and soon, before the place is changed forever. Whatever the case, it seems certain that a new era is about to begin.

Tina Hay, editor

December 18, 2014 at 12:13 pm 6 comments

The Penn Stater Daily — Oct. 22, 2013

Letter man: Back in late 2011, we told you about the first volume of The Letters of Ernest Hemingway, a collection of Hemingway’s private correspondence from 1907-1922, which hit bookshelves that September. The project’s general editor, Sandra Spanier ’76g, ’81g, talked to us about the letters — which she said show “a side of Hemingway most people have never seen.” Now, just over two years later, The Letters of Ernest Hemingway, Volume 2: 1923-1925 is out, this edition chronicling the author’s years in Paris, just before he hit it big in the publishing world.

Safe for work: A $600,000 federal grant is helping fund a Penn State program designed to protect young farmers. Safety in Agriculture for Youth, a collaborative project with Penn State and other universities, will help young farm workers stay safe and avoid accidents — which claimed the lives of 28 people last year in Central Pennsylvania alone. Says project leader Dennis Murphy, a distinguished professor of agricultural safety and health at Penn State: “By creating a comprehensive and coordinated resource, we hope to reduce these kinds of tragedies on the nation’s farms and ranches.”

Can’t argue with that: It’s been a good month for Penn State Dickinson School of Law. Two weeks ago, the school was named no. 24 on Business Insider’s list of top law schools in the country. And yesterday, Penn State Law announced on their Facebook page that grads received the highest bar passage rate in the state for the July 2013 exam, with 93.83 percent. The occasion called for a Nittany Lion photo-op, obviously.

The show, tonight: Looks like tickets are still available for former Tonight Show bandleader Doc Severinsen’s visit to Eisenhower Auditorium, tonight at 7:30. “Doc Severinsen and His Big Band” will perform swing, jazz, and pop classics. But the real question: what will Doc wear? Call 1-800-ARTS-TIX for more info, or visit to buy tix online.

Mary Murphy, associate editor

October 22, 2013 at 10:57 am Leave a comment

Mourning Joe Paterno, From Afar


A writing room at Finca Vigía, Ernest Hemingway's home outside Havana.

I’ve been absent from the blog—and the magazine—for the better part of the last two weeks. I have an unusual excuse: I’ve been in Cuba.

It was, admittedly, an awkward time to go off on vacation, with Joe Paterno having just passed away and the magazine staff working in fifth gear to put together a tribute to him for our next issue.

But I had already postponed the trip once: I booked the trip months ago and was originally scheduled to go in early December, but the Sandusky scandal—and our need to scrap our Jan-Feb issue in favor of an issue devoted to the scandal—scuttled those plans and caused me to rebook for the end of January. Rescheduling the trip yet again wasn’t an option, for a variety of reasons, mostly having to do with the complicated nature of traveling to Cuba.

(Incidentally, I went there under a U.S.-approved “people-to-people cultural exchange,” which is making it possible for more and more U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba legally. Here’s a Washington Post story from last Friday about such exchanges.)

So I ended up watching from a distance, with only spotty Internet access, as the Penn State family mourned Paterno’s death. I wasn’t able to watch the memorial service at all—though I’m told that (more…)

February 6, 2012 at 5:35 pm 5 comments

Our November/December Issue is on the Way

A couple of Saturdays ago, I arrived at the gym early, too early to snag my favorite bike for the 10 a.m. spinning class. So I ended up chatting with a couple of other early arrivals, and I mentioned how much I like 3:30 football games because I have more time to get in a workout before kickoff.

Turns out, they love any home football games. Because they can buy groceries, pick up whatever they need at Target—without having to wait in line. I was incredulous; in my three “tours” of State College, I’ve missed one home game. Under duress. “You never go to football games?” I asked. Turned out, they wouldn’t even think of it.

My spinning classmates aren’t alone. You can meet more people who ignore Penn State football—and learn what they do during the games—in our November/December issue, which should be making its way to your mailbox if it’s not there already.

We’ve got a couple of other good stories in this issue:

—English professor Sandra Spanier ’76g, ’81g talks about the first volume of The Letters of Ernest Hemingway, a project she’s spearheading, and recommends the one Hemingway book you should read if you’re going to read just one. (It’s not my favorite book, A Moveable Feast, but of course it’s an excellent choice. And, no, I’m not going to give it away here.) Still to come: about 15 more volumes of letters.

—And we’ve got a profile of Beverly McIver ’92g, an artist I’m ashamed to say I knew nothing about until I read the story. She paints beautiful portraits of herself and her loved ones, paintings that, as my colleague Ryan Jones writes, “offer unflinching takes on race, gender, and mortality.” You can get a sense of her work here, and the backstory in Ryan’s article.

Please let us know what you think!

Lori Shontz, senior editor

October 25, 2011 at 3:22 pm 1 comment

Two New Views of Hemingway

Ernest-HemingwayTwo books released just this week—both with Penn State connections—offer new insights into one of the most analyzed writers ever: Ernest Hemingway.

Cambridge University Press has just published the first volume of The Letters of Ernest Hemingway, 1907–1922, edited by Penn State English department faculty member Sandra Spanier ’76g, ’81g.

Our upcoming Nov-Dec issue includes a feature-length interview with Spanier on what it’s been like to track down Hemingway’s unpublished correspondence—thousands of letters, telegrams, postcards, short handwritten notes—and what those writings tell us about a very complicated man. That next issue won’t be out until the end of October, but in the meantime you can also hear Spanier talk about the letters in this four-minute video, which also includes a conversation with Hemingway’s son Patrick.

Here’s a news release from Penn State that offers more on how Spanier became interested in Hemingway (this is a career project for her—she tells us that there could be as many as (more…)

September 22, 2011 at 3:41 pm 6 comments

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