Book explores famous and forgotten authors of Michigan

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Capital News Service
LANSING — One was named Hemingway. The others weren’t.
A few are still widely remembered. Most aren’t.
They hailed from Grand Rapids and Detroit. They hailed from Mackinaw City and Ludington. They hailed from Traverse City and Mecosta. They hailed from Adrian and De Tour and East Lansing and more spots in the state.


Credit: Michigan State University Press.

They crafted poetry. They authored novels. They wrote history. They filled countless pages of magazines and newspapers.

Together, they were 18 Michigan writers who shaped American literature, culture and entertainment in the 1800s and 1900s.
Their life stories appear in the newly released “Ink Trails II: Michigan’s Famous and Forgotten Authors” by brothers Dave and Jack Dempsey (Michigan State University Press, $22.95). It’s the brothers’ second collective biography drawn from the state’s literary heritage. Their first won a Notable Book Award from the Library of Michigan.
Jack Dempsey is an Ann Arbor attorney. Dave Dempsey, a former environmental adviser to Gov. James Blanchard, is a policy adviser at the International Joint Commission.
Ernest Hemingway is the best known in the crew. A novelist and short story writer who spent summers at a family cottage on Walloon Lake, he set some of his tales — reflecting what the Dempseys call “the influence of Northern Michigan landscapes” — in the Upper Peninsula.

Poems by the prolific Edgar Guest — the one-time state poet laureate — sold millions of copies, were syndicated in hundreds of newspapers and were heard for decades on his Detroit radio show.
“Guest’s poetry may have been sappy,” the Dempseys wrote, “but Michiganders oppressed by gloom could escape through it, for a moment at least.”
His son, Edgar II — nicknamed Bud — took over the WJR show in 1946 and continued it until 1972.
Also remembered by many is Russell Kirk, the conservative national political columnist, historian and cultural critic who grew up in Plymouth and moved to Mecosta.
But others languish on the roster of the long-forgotten in “Ink Trails II.”
Among them is the post-Civil War poet Julia Ann Moore of Edgerton and Manton, whom Gov. John Engler proclaimed the “Sweet Singer of Michigan” in 1997 — 150 years after her birth — but whom critics assailed as syrupy and “perhaps the most famous bad poet in the history of American literature.”
High literature wasn’t a requirement for inclusion in the book. Being dead was.
Glendon Swarthout, who taught at both the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, earned his spot through Westerns such as the best-seller “They Came to Cordura” and novels that became the popular movies “Where the Boys Are” about college students on spring break in Florida and the John Wayne Western “The Shootist.”
Similarly successful in her day but not forever was Frances Margaret Fox of Bay City and Mackinaw City. She produced about 50 books for children, many set in the Straits of Mackinac region.
Not all were as prolific as Fox or Hemingway.
For example, John Nevill wrote only two books, one of them self-published through a vanity press. The ex-Marine-turned Detroit newspaper reporter-turned auto-industry publicist discovered his true calling when he moved to De Tour and started writing newspaper columns about the people and the land of the Eastern U.P.
As for Nevill’s second book, it told the story of the building of the Mackinac Bridge and was co-authored by the bridge’s designer. It appeared several months after Nevill’s death.
Jack Dempsey said he was fascinated to learn about Nevill, who was “not probably the greatest writer of all time” but was working successfully in Detroit, took a two-week family trip to the U.P. one summer and decided to move there — “move everything, move their lives, their homestead and starting to write about the area.”
The brothers learned about some writers from suggestions by readers of their first book. “It was a really cool thing,” Jack Dempsey said.
Among them was Fox, the children’s author.
“I’ve been in Mackinaw City many times and steps away from her home. It was a real stunner to discover here was this author and her house is still there. Her books are still available,” Dempsey said.
The brothers are starting work on a third volume, “and we expect more contributions from folks,” he said.

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