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Exploring Hemingway's Michigan

by Daniel Skora

Michigan recently played host to the 15th Biennial International Conference of The Hemingway Society, an organization founded in 1980 and dedicated to the study of the works and the life of the late writer Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway spent his formative years vacationing with his family at Windemere Cottage, a summer residence located on Walloon Lake, about six miles south of Petoskey.

As a boy and a young man, Hemingway’s summers in northern Michigan were carefree days spent fishing, camping, and hunting for small game. Though his literary career did not begin seriously until he had moved to Europe and become identified with American expatriates known as the Lost Generation, Hemingway’s memories of the woods and streams and small towns of Northern Michigan stayed with him. Those memories provided the foundation for many of his best short stories, stories such as Indian Camp, The Battler, and The Three Day Blow. Hemingway himself can be seen in the fictional character Nick Adams, who appears in many of these stories, and the landscapes of the places Michiganians call “up north” serve as a vital part of those writings.

Every two years, The Hemingway Society holds its conference in a city where Hemingway either spent significant time or that was influential in his writings. Some of the past conferences have been held in Pamplona, Spain; Key West, Florida; Paris; and Sun Valley Idaho. It was an honor for Michigan to be chosen as the site for this year’s conference, which was held in Bay View, a seasonal community located just north of Petoskey overlooking Little Traverse Bay.

Bay View was founded in 1875 by Methodists as a place for perpetuating the intellectual, scientific, and religious principals of its community. It’s a quaint assemblage of nearly 450 Victorian- style cottages, 30 public buildings, and 2 inns. A designated national landmark, it’s one of the oldest Chautauqua’s in the United States. It boasts the longest running music festival in the U.S., and its lectures, recitals, and seminars are open to the public.

The Hemingway conference took place the week of June 17th. It was attended by over 300 academics, independent scholars, and Hemingway aficionados representing 28 states and 12 countries. The Conference consisted of lectures on a wide variety of Hemingway-related topics. Over 100 papers were delivered with themes ranging from the topical (“Hemingway and the Railroads of Northern Michigan”) to the epicurean (Watch Out How that Egg Runs: Hemingway and the Rhetoric of American Road Food”) to the offbeat (Woody Allen and Hemingway”). The panels ran daily from 9 to 5, with evenings reserved for special events, like a concert by the Petoskey Steel Drum Band, and Hemingway exhibits at the Little Travers Historical Museum and the Carnegie Library in Petoskey.     

During the conference, attendees had the opportunity to take a number of side trips to places significant in the Hemingway saga. There were tours of Windemere Cottage, Horton Bay, the setting for Hemingway’s story “Up in Michigan”, and parts of the upper peninsula, which figured prominently in Hemingway’s famous story, “Big Two-Hearted River”. Like all good conferences, there were times to socialize. Attendees were able to take a sunset cruise under the Mackinac Bridge, and the closing conference dinner was a gala event held at the Bay Harbor Yacht Club.

Playing a vital role in the success of the conference was the Michigan Hemingway Society, one of the most active of the regional Hemingway groups. With goals similar to the International Society, they hold a weekend conference once a year in Petoskey in the fall. Michael Federspiel, a professor at Central Michigan University and author of the book “Picturing Hemingway’s Michigan”, currently serves as its president. Information about the international Hemingway organization can be accessed at while the Michigan organization can be found at               


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