Walloon Lake celebrates Ernest Hemingway's ties to Michigan via virtual literary series

Greg Tasker
Special to The Detroit News

Ernest Hemingway spent every summer of his childhood at his family’s cottage on the shores of Walloon Lake, exploring the rivers, lakes and woods of northern Michigan. 

 That idyllic landscape would later become the setting of some of Hemingway’s most well-known short stories, published over the years and finally compiled in a collection, “The Nick Adams Stories,” in 1972, more than a decade after Hemingway’s death. 

 As part of Walloon Lake’s year-long Hemingway Homecoming celebration, “The Nick Adams Stories” are getting some attention. 

On Thursday the village kicks off "Walloon Lake Reads: The Nick Adams Stories," a multi-week virtual series to encourage Michiganians and others to read the collection of Hemingway stories. Through virtual discussions, readers will learn about the Hemingway family and their summers on Walloon Lake, background on how the Nick Adams stories came to be, where they were written, and focus on individual sections of the story collection. The series will be moderated by educators, historians and others well-versed in Hemingway’s work. 

A young Ernest Hemingway fishes on Walloon Lake.

 “While many have read this book or the individual stories over the years, there are still those who have no idea how Nick Adams and ultimately Ernest Hemingway were influenced by the woods and waters in and around Walloon Lake,” says Dianna Stampfler, who is helping coordinate many of this year’s events focused on Hemingway in Walloon Lake. 

 The literary series is part of a year-long calendar of activities and special events in honor of Hemingway’s connections to the region and Walloon Lake, a village that lies south of Petoskey on the lake of the same name. The writer was just 3 months old when he made his first trip with his family to the lake, where his parents, Clarence and Grace, had purchased property along the north shore. Hemingway would spend part or all of his summers in northern Michigan until he was a young man. The cottage, Windemere, is still owned by Hemingway descendants. 

Ernest Hemingway in 1950

 The Hemingway Homecoming culminates over Labor Day weekend with a reception on the 100th anniversary of Ernest’s wedding to Hadley Richardson in nearby Horton Bay and the unveiling of art and historical installations focused on Hemingway in the village of Walloon Lake. Family-friendly events will be held on July 21 to mark Hemingway’s birthday. 

 The inspiration for the literary event comes from the 2008 Great Michigan Read of "The Nick Adams Stories," which was organized by the Michigan Humanities Council. The reading program aims to inspire a humanities discussion and connect state residents through a book that is either a Michigan story or takes place — in part —in the state. A statewide panel of teachers, librarians, community leaders and book lovers selects the Great Michigan Read every two years. 

"The Nick Adams Stories," by Ernest Hemingway

 “What I hope is that when people read these stories, they embrace a little more about Hemingway,” says Chris Struble, who is president of the Michigan Hemingway Society and will kick off the virtual series. “Hemingway has this macho persona of being a womanizer, a drinker, a braggart … ‘The Nick Adams Stories’ are the good years, prior to ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ hype. What I’m doing is telling a different story of Hemingway than what he perpetuated.” 

 Struble, who also is the founder of Petoskey Yesterday, which offers guided historical tours related to Hemingway and local history, says “The Nick Adams Stories” are significant because the book’s publication marks the first time the autobiographical stories were placed in the chronological order of the protagonist’s life. The stories, many of which were published in various collections while Hemingway was alive, chronicle Nick’s life from boyhood through war to marriage and children. In all, “The Nick Adams Stories” has 24 stories and sketches, including one of Hemingway’s earliest stories, “Indian Camp,” and one of best known, “Big Two-Hearted River.” 

Coincidentally, the literary series kicks off at the same time as the premiere of a new Ken Burns documentary about Hemingway. The three-part, six-hour documentary explores the visionary work and turbulent life of Hemingway. It airs April 5 on PBS. 

Ernest Hemingway once described Michigan to a friend: “It’s great northern air. Absolutely the best trout fishing in the country.”

 “People are surprised about the Hemingway connection to northern Michigan. When I take people out to Horton Bay, they’re always surprised these places still exist,” he says, referring to the rural locale that was featured in stories such as “The End of Something.” “These places still exist. They’re about as authentic to his time as they can be — maybe the trees are bigger but these spots have avoided being commercialized or being turned into suburbs.” 

 Virtual discussions on individual sections of “The Nick Adams Stories” will follow on successive Thursdays. Among those leading a discussion is Jennifer Tianen, an English teacher and founder of the Literary Garden at West Bloomfield High School. Tianen is slated to moderate a discussion of four of the stories under the heading “A Soldier Home,” on April 29. 

Tianen, who is also the secretary of the Michigan Hemingway Society, teaches some of the Nick Adams stories in her Honors American Literature and World Literature classes. Her students, she says, are often surprised by Hemingway’s connections to northern Michigan. A lot of them can relate to the stories because they, too, spend time at places in the region. 

 “I absolutely think they’re more invested in these stories as a result,” she says. “They had no idea such a famous author had these ties to Michigan.” 

As a side note, the Literary Garden at West Bloomfield houses plants collected from the homesteads, museums and gravesites of American authors, as well as plants that feature prominently in their narratives. As a tribute to Hemingway, mint from Horton Bay has been planted in the garden, which is situated in the school courtyard. Mint is noted at the beginning of “Summer People,” a story too risque to teach to high school kids, she says, but a plant that piques their interest and attention in Hemingway and his summers here. 

“I’m hoping this renewed interest in Hemingway with the Ken Burns documentary and this Walloon Lake Reads event that they will increase awareness of Hemingway’s time in Michigan,” Tianen says. “If it gets people reading and talking and having conversations — communication, after a year of COVID. I think that’s great. It’s great to bring people together and talk about Hemingway and his stories from so many different angles and perspectives.” 

 A finale event will be held in mid May and is expected to include a driving tour of sites around Walloon Lake and Horton Bay featured in the stories. A virtual event will be held if the public cannot be hosted because of state restrictions pertaining to the pandemic. 

Walloon Lake Reads: The Nick Adams Stories

Virtual Zoom Series

7 p.m. Thursdays, April 1 through May 6

Advanced registration required for all virtual discussions: