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Writings about Michigan

Ernest Hemingway didn't always know he would be a writer. As a young boy he had done the type of writing all children do and there are several pieces of his writing remaining. When it came to a career, the family presumed he would follow his father into medicine. His parents had great concerns when he showed no interest in this and about his apparent lack of any direction after graduation from high school.

He did know he enjoyed writing and began to write both journalism and fiction at Oak Park High School. He wrote stories in his personal notebooks and he was a reporter for the school's paper, the Trapeze. He also contributed three stories to the Tabula, Oak Park High School's literary magazine. Two of these (Judgment of Manitou and Sepi Jingan) were set in Michigan.

Hiawatha PhotoWhile in high school he also wrote an unpublished play titled "No Worse Than a Bad Cold" that was based on a reenactment of Longfellow's Hiawatha tale that the Hemingway family saw performed by Native American actors at Round Lake near Petoskey, Michigan. Sponsored by the Grand Rapids and Indiana railroad company, these actors traveled from Canada annually putting on this play for summer resorters. Ernest's play was a blend of the actual production he witnessed with the Native Americans he personally knew from his summers in Michigan.

When he decided to try to write and publish fiction he turned to Michigan for inspiration. At Potter's Rooming House in Petoskey he wrote sketches of local people that hinted at the unique style that was to make him famous. When he and his wife moved to Paris in 1921 he focused on writing about what he knew well - the places and people of northern Michigan. The stories were based on reality but he was always quick to point out that his goal was to take the real and make it "even more real" by changing details to better describe settings or people.

Three Stories and Ten PoemsHis short stories began to appear in literary magazines published in Paris. Indian Camp and The Doctor and the Doctor's Wife first appeared in the Transatlantic Review, and The Big Two Hearted River in This Quarter. He published two small books that were collections of short pieces before publishing his first novel, Torrents of Spring in 1926. This satirical work was set in Petoskey and was written to poke fun at a recent romantic book published by his mentor, Sherwood Anderson. While it is not among Hemingway's best works, readers will find interesting descriptions of this northern Michigan town.

Eventually, Michigan would be the setting for many of Ernest's best short stories. Up in Michigan, The End of Something and Three Day Blow took place at Horton Bay. Walloon Lake is likely where the action in Indian Camp, The Doctor and the Doctor's Wife, and The Last Good Country took place. Other stories took place around Kalkaska (The Battler and The Light of the World) and in Ten Indians he describes a wagon ride from Petoskey to Walloon Lake.

Hemingway would for the rest of his life make references to Michigan and his youth. In A Moveable Feast he describes writing about Michigan while sitting in Paris cafes in the twenties. In True at First Light he remembers from Africa the sweet taste of cider pressed at Horton Bay and in Islands in the Stream the lead character is asked when he had been most happy. He recounted days at the lake as a boy. Clearly Hemingway might have physically left Michigan but its memories never left him.