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Ernest Hemingway, one of the most quintessential American writers of modern literature, spent much of his career living and traveling abroad. As an expatriate artist in bohemian Paris, a soldier in three wars, and an adventurer who wrote from such exotic locales as Spain, Italy, Cuba, Africa, and China, he created a celebrity persona of almost mythical proportions. But the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of such canonical classics as The Old Man and the Sea and The Sun Also Rises also had deep and lifelong love affair with a special place back home. Where? Our own northern Michigan.
I had the opportunity to chat with Mike Federspiel, president of the Michigan Hemingway Society and executive director of the Little Traverse Historical Society. Federspiel, an expert on local Hemingway history, told me about the Chicago-born author’s ties to the Petoskey area, which began at the age of six weeks. Nearly every summer for the next twenty years, Hemingway would travel to northern Michigan with his family, where he spent time at their summer cottage on Walloon Lake. In 1921, he married his first wife in the nearby town of Horton Bay, and the pair moved to Paris shortly after their wedding, never to return. However, it seems that Hemingway, throughout his world travels, could never shake Michigan from his soul.
“What’s unusual,” says Federspiel, “is that Hemingway didn’t just spend time in Michigan when he was young. He continued to write about it throughout his entire career.” He explains that Hemingway’s first novel, The Torrents of Spring, takes place in Petoskey, and many of his best short stories, particularly those about the semiautobiographical character Nick Adams, describe the places and people in northern Michigan that Hemingway knew and loved.
Federspiel continues by telling me that references to Michigan show up in numerous other Hemingway writings, and that in his memoir about living in 1920s Paris, A Moveable Feast, the author discusses how one cannot write about a place until he is away from it. Says Federspiel, “It’s said that when Hemingway was in Paris, he wrote the Nick Adams stories in his writing room with a map of northern Michigan tacked on the wall.” Considering the nostalgic way that he describes Michigan in stories such as “Up in Michigan” and “Summer People,” it seems that amidst a glamorous life of endless parties, love affairs, and exotic places, Hemingway still longed for the cool waters and lush forests of his Michigan boyhood memories.
Every year, Hemingway fans make the literary pilgrimage to northern Michigan to visit the sites where the famed author spent so many summers, which are also the places that appear in his beloved stories. There is also a permanent exhibit on Hemingway at the Little Traverse History Museum in Petoskey. If you’re interested to learn more about Hemingway’s Michigan connection, you can explore the vast amount of research that has been done by both the Michigan Hemingway Society and the Clarke Historical Library at CMU.
Ernest Hemingway’s work left an irrevocable impression on American literature,
and not just because he led such a dramatic, adventurous life. Says Federspiel, “His writing really did change the entire style of literature at the time. He wrote with robustness; his short, crisp, aggressive prose was so different from earlier, more embellished styles. The definition of ‘good’ literature would never be the same after Hemingway.” And, it seems, much of Hemingway’s literature would never have been the same without his cherished memories of Michigan.