Between the Lines: Michigan's Ink Trails

Dec 30, 2016

Historic photo of Ernest Hemingway's boyhood summer cottage "Windemere" near Walloon Lake in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
Credit Courtesy Jack & Dave Dempsey

Dave Dempsey jokes that, after a few initial fist fights over which authors to include, he and brother Jack Dempsey strengthened their brotherly bonds while working together on Ink Trails I and II: Michigan’s Famous and Forgotten Authors. While Dave, the author of six conservation books, brought his interest in Michigan ecology to the collection, Jack used his expertise as an attorney, and his love of history.

“Jack visited a lot more of the authors’ homes than I did,” Dave Dempsey says. “Most of my work was research through archives, online research, and some interviews.”

“A lot of the sites we identify in the books that are associated with these authors, I’d say we made visits to many of those,” Jack Dempsey says. “Some we’ve been familiar with for years anyway, so it wasn’t a matter of going back to Port Huron or along the St. Clair River. Online research is amazing — there’s so much material that you can read or order through MEL, the Michigan Electronic Library system.”

As for the criteria for choosing which authors to include in Ink Trails, the Dempsey brothers agree that they could easily fill several more volumes — and may yet do so. The first consideration for inclusion, Jack Dempsey laughs, is that the author be dead.

Credit Michigan State University Press

“We want to have their whole body of work in front of us,” he says. “Plus, as a lawyer, I prefer not to be sued by someone for something we might say.”

While some authors were immediately identifiable, the Dempseys also chose others who are less well known.

“Our other criterion was that they either wrote about Michigan or spent part of their lives in Michigan,” Dave Dempsey adds. “We don’t usually think of Carl Sandburg as a Michigan author, but he wrote a good chunk, if not all, of his Abraham Lincoln biography while sitting in a house on the dunes of Southwest Michigan along the Lake Michigan shore.”

Dave Dempsey says, “I’m sure many of these writers died thinking their work was forgotten and unimportant. But there’s always a chance someone will stumble upon it, especially these days with the Internet, and bring it back to the attention of the public.”

The brothers say Michigan often comes through as a character in the works of these authors, whether famous or not.

“Michigan is a great setting for writing, because it’s so varied and rich in natural resources,” Dave Dempsey says. “Water particularly influences a lot of the writers that I read about.”

Jack Dempsey is an avid historian, two-term president of the Michigan Historical Commission, and award- winning author. His writing focuses on the Civil War, the history of Michigan, and cultural heritage. He is a partner in the Ann Arbor law office of Dickinson Wright, PLLC, and lives in Plymouth, Michigan.

Dave Dempsey is a policy advisor for the International Joint Commission on the Great Lakes. A graduate of Western Michigan University, he served as environmental advisor to former Michigan governor James Blanchard. He also writes novels that often have a conservation slant.

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