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References to Duluth in Popular Literature

Ernest Hemmingway - The Torrents of SpringErnest Hemingway’s The Torrents of Spring
“The foreman was a short, iron-jawed man. He had once made a trip as far as Duluth. Duluth was far across the blue waters of the lake in the hills of Minnesota. A wonderful thing had happened to him there.”

F Scott Fitzgerald - The Great GatsbyF. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby
“A few days later he took him to Duluth and bought him a blue coat, six pair of white duck trousers, and a yachting cap.”

Dalton Trumbo LettersDalton Trumbo’s letter to Guy Endore
“I’ve seen their faces in a miners’ union hall in Duluth on a night when the wind off the lake blew the snow so killingly and so deep that cars couldn’t be used and everybody walked to the meeting.”

Willa Cather - The Song of the LarkWilla Cather’s The Song of the Lark
“I must go now. I had to give my lesson hour this morning to a Duluth woman who has come on to coach, and I must go and play ‘On Mighty Pens’ for her. Please tell Mr. Harsanyi that I think oratorio is a great chance for bluffers.”

Stephen King - The StandStephen King’s The Stand
“In Duluth a man in khaki shorts and sandals walked up and down Piedmont Avenue with a large smear of ash on his forehead and a hand-lettered sandwich board hanging over his scrawny shoulders.”

David Foster Wallace - Infinite JestDavid Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest
“I don’t have to picture it. It’s what’s going on. The C.P.C.P.1 makes incursions against Montana like clockwork. There was that horrific jamming of InterLace pulses and substitution of porn-films for children’s programming around Duluth in June traced to that psycho quintet in southwest Ontario. The Interstates north of Saratoga are still supposed to be undrivable after sunset.”

Megan McDonald - Julie Tells Her StoryMegan McDonald’s Julie Tells Her Story
“‘Okay,’ said Dad, settling into his favorite chair. ‘When I was in the fourth grade, growing up in Duluth, Minnesota, money was tight and none of us could afford a bike. So, my buddies and I fished a real junker out of the trash and fixed it.'”

Neil Gaiman - American GodsNeil Gaiman’s American Gods
“‘Well,’ said Shadow, ‘you drove off with my white piece of shit. Where is it, by the way?’

“‘I traded it in in Duluth,’ said Wednesday. ‘You can’t be too careful. Don’t worry — you’ll get your share when all this is done.'”

Main Street by Sinclair LewisSinclair Lewis’ Main Street
“Calibree adumbrated, ‘They’re a good bunch. Good strong lodge. See that fellow there that’s playing the snare drum? He’s the smartest wholesale grocer in Duluth they say. Guess it would be worth joining.'”

(Main Street contains four other references to Duluth.)

David Carr - The Night of the GunDavid Carr’s Night of the Gun
“Aaron — the first person I advised in a program of recovery. A gorgeous kid with a fondness for heroin, he jumped off the Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge connecting Duluth, Minnesota, and Superior, Wisconsin.”

Wild by Cheryl StrayedCheryl Strayed’s Wild
“People like my mother did not get cancer. The tests at the Mayo Clinic would prove that, refuting what the doctors in Duluth had said. I was certain of this. Who were those doctors in Duluth anyway? What was Duluth? Duluth! Duluth was a freezing hick town where doctors who didn’t know what the hell they were talking about told forty-five-year-old vegetarian-ish, garlic- eating, natural-remedy-using nonsmokers that they had late-stage lung cancer, that’s what.

Fuck them.”

Jonathan Franzen - FreedomJonathan Franzen’s Freedom
“She picked him up in Duluth and debriefed him on his days with nature-loving millionaires, who had apparently opened their wallets wide for him.”

(Freedom contains two other references to Duluth.)

The Stories of John CheeverJohn Cheever’s short story “The Angel of the Bridge”
“Duluth and East Seneca are charming, and if they aren’t, just look away.”

Dan Harris - 10 Percent HappierDan Harris’ 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story
“I’d collect data points (Weir gets to cover the election of the new pope? Muir is filling in for Cuomo?), and immediately extrapolate to far-reaching conclusions (This means that x or y executive or anchor dislikes me → My career is doomed → I’m going to end up in a flophouse in Duluth). Sometimes, before I’d even thought it through, I’d find myself on the phone with an executive producer of one of our broadcasts, saying impolitic things.”

(Hawkins refers back to the “flophouse in Duluth” three more times in the book, the final time asking, “Do they even have flophouses in Duluth?”)

Laurence Gonzales - LucyLaurence Gonzales’ Lucy
“Amanda drove and let Jenny doze in the front seat while Lucy slept in back. They woke just south of Duluth. They spent the night in a little town called Superior. In the morning they stopped at the grocery store in Duluth to stock up for the week.”

(Lucy contains one other reference to Duluth.)

Josh Bazell - Wild ThingJosh Bazell’s Wild Thing
“Right after we passed Duluth, which turns out to be a bunch of freeway exchanges between new-looking paper factories, every one of them pumping smog as big and opaque as clouds out of its stacks, we stopped at a Dairy Queen for lunch.”

Max Brooks - World War ZMax Brooks’ World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War
“We were still talking about American soil, infested yes, but, hopefully one day to be liberated. ‘The last thing we needed,’ he said ‘was to come up against one of these ex-cons as The New Grand Warlord of Duluth.’ I thought he was joking, but later, as I saw the exact thing happen in other countries, as some exiled criminals rose to command their own isolated, and in some cases, powerful fiefdoms, I realized we’d dodged one hell of a speeding bullet.”

Brian Freeman - ImmoralBrian Freeman’s Immoral
“Stride lived in an area known as Park Point, a crooked finger of land jutting out between the southern tip of the lake and the calm inner harbors of Duluth and Superior, Wisconsin.”

(Freeman’s books are set in Duluth and therefore contain numerous references to the city.)

John Dos Passos - The 42nd ParallelJohn Dos Passos’ The 42nd Parallel
“‘Well, I’m headed for Duluth myself. That’s where my folks are …’ ‘So you’re from Duluth, are you?’ ‘Well what’s the big joke about Duluth?’ ‘It’s no joke, it’s a misfortune.'”

(The 42nd Parallel contains three other references to Duluth)

James Ellroy - Blood's a RoverJames Ellroy’s Blood’s a Rover
“The fuck-suck noise died out. Pay me, pay me noise replaced it. Crutch skimmed a library book. It was all about Cuba. Rebel raids, burning cane fields, the Bay of Pigs rout. He kept reading books. He kept calling the Frogman long-distance. Mesplede was still looking for exile turncoats Fuentes and Arredondo. They betrayed le sacre la Causa. They were heist men. They might be clouting department stores in Des Moines or Duluth. The Frogman was his no-shit mentor.”

William Kent Krueger - Heaven's KeepWilliam Kent Krueger’s Heaven’s Keep
“He headed past Grandma’s Saloon, across the Lift Bridge, and onto Park Point …  It was a nice piece of property, a two-story of modern design with an unobstructed view of the vast, frigid blue that was Lake Superior. He … stepped out into a stiff, cold wind that swept off the lake. He reached back inside for his jacket.”

Tony Hillerman’s Listening Woman
“Witover finished a pack of filtered cigarettes from his pocket, offered one to Leaphorn and lit up. He inhaled, blew out a cloud of blue smoke. ‘Then we started hearing about the Buffalo Society. There was a bombing in Phoenix, with pamphlets left scattered around, all about the Indians killed by soldiers somewhere or other. And some more bombings here and there. …’ Wiltover paused, tapping his fingertips on the desktop, thinking. ‘At Sacramento, and Minneapolis, and Duluth, and one in the South — Richmond I think it was.”

Richard Cecil’s “Internal Exile,” a poem from the book Twenty First Century Blues
“Although most people I know were condemned
years ago by Judge Necessity
to life in condos near a freeway exit
convenient to their twice-a-day commutes
through traffic jams to jobs that they dislike,
they didn’t bury their heads in their hands
and cry “Oh, no!” when sentence was pronounced:
Forty years accounting in Duluth!
or Tenure at Southwest Missouri State!
Instead, they mumbled, not bad. It could be worse …”

Maggie Stiefvater - ShiverMaggie Stiefvater’s Shiver
“It sounds stupid, but one of the things that I loved about Grace was how she didn’t have to talk. Sometimes, I just wanted my silences to stay silent, full of thoughts, empty of words. Where another girl might have tried to lure me into conversation, Grace just reached for my hand, resting our knotted hands on my leg, and leaned her head against my shoulder until we were well out of Duluth. She didn’t ask how I knew my way around the city, or why my eyes lingered on the road that my parents used to turn down to get to our neighborhood, or how it was that a kid from Duluth ended up living in a wolf pack near the Canadian border.”

(Shiver contains two other references to Duluth)

Alexander McCall Smith - The World According to BertieAlexander McCall Smith’s The World According to Bertie
“Matthew looked doubtful. ‘It seems a bit unlikely,’ he said. ‘Why should Johannesburg have a duke? And what’s all this about these clubs? Where’s the Gitchigumi Club for heaven’s sakes?’

“‘Duluth,’ said Pat. ‘That’s what it says there. Duluth.’

“‘And where exactly is that?’ asked Matthew.

“‘Duluth?’

“‘Yes. Where’s Duluth?’

“Pat thought for a moment. ‘Guess,’ she said. She had no idea, and could only guess herself. Minnesota?”

Fog Man by by Janet Vittorio Corica and Bill MeyerJanet Vittorio Corica and Bill Meyer’s Fog Man: A Superhero for All Ages
Lars surveyed his lab in the Canal Park area of Duluth, Minnesota. Locked cabinets stuffed with years of research gave no clue to the important studies he was conducting. Not even his wife knew his true work.

“I work on the effect of various creatures on the water quality of Lake Superior,” he told her.

Obligatory note about local authors:
Obviously numerous Duluth-area writers reference Duluth in their works — Connie Wanek, Barton Sutter, Louis Jenkins, Linda LeGarde Grover, Jim Johnson and so on. We focus here on the non-local authors.

Mark Twain in DuluthObligatory note about Mark Twain:
Mark Twain is rumored to have said the coldest winter he ever experienced was a summer in Duluth. This quote did not appear in print and has never been verified. Some people say he said it about San Francisco. Some people believe the attribution of the quote to Twain (whether referring to Duluth or anywhere else) is not accurate.

Less famously, Twain is also credited with saying that people who climb Duluth’s hills become like mountain goats, with one leg shorter than the other.

It should be noted that Twain did visit Duluth, speaking at First Methodist Church on July 22, 1895.

38 Comments

udarnik

about 10 years ago

OK, is it "famous literature" or "popular literature"? Brian Freeman's pulp mysteries take place in Duluth.

Paul Lundgren

about 10 years ago

The difference between "famous" and "popular" could become an argument all by itself. I think I'll just say Brian Freeman qualifies without getting into any of that.

Since his books are set in Duluth, there are obviously numerous references we could use. I think the thing to do is pick the best quote we can find and then note with an asterisk that there are many more. That ought to cover it.

akjuneau

about 10 years ago

There are several references to Duluth in Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (didn't he live in Duluth for a time?).

The full text of the book is available through Google; you can search for each mention of Duluth.

Among them: "To him motoring was a faith not to be questioned... His liturgy was composed of intoned and metrical road-comments: 'They say there's a pretty good hike from Duluth to International Falls.' "

The Notorious M.R.P.

about 10 years ago

While Gore Vidal's "Duluth" isn't technically about our city, its dust jacket has a funny joke about putting Duluth OFF the map.

edgeways

about 10 years ago

Wonder if any of these refer to Duluth GA rather than our beloved hometown.

Neil Gaiman mentions Duluth in passing in American Gods, something to do with the main character (I think) buying a used car here on the way to WI.

Barrett Chase

about 10 years ago

There's a reference to Duluth in David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest. In the novel, the U.S., Canada, and Mexico have all joined to become one nation. There's a group of Canadian terrorists who are against the union, who make strange strikes against the former U.S. in protest. At one point, a "substitution of porn-films for children's programming around Duluth" is mentioned in reference to the actions of these terrorists. (pg. 1019, for those who want to look up the whole passage.)

Calk

about 10 years ago

Not surprising Neil Gaiman would mention Duluth in his work. He lives in a super-secret rural area somewhere outside of the Twin Cities. I'm sure he's come up here on visits.

banjoteeth

about 10 years ago

This may not be lit, but I just saw 'The Great Outdoors' for the first time in forever and the disheveled, old guy that rents John Candy's family the cabin is wearing a shirt that reads: "I've been to Duluth."

He should be so lucky.

eco eco

about 10 years ago

I'm reading Heaven's Keep, the latest in a mystery series set in northern Minnesota by William Kent Krueger. This one has some Duluth scenes. Such as:

He headed past Grandma's Saloon, across the Lift Bridge, and onto Park Point. . . . It was a nice piece of property, a two-story of modern design with an unobstructed view of the vast, frigid blue that was Lake Superior. He . . . stepped out into a stiff, cold wind that swept off the lake. He reached back inside for his jacket.

udarnik

about 10 years ago

Well, here's a quote from the first book:

"Stride lived in an area known as Park Point, a crooked finger of land jutting out between the southern tip of the lake and the calm inner harbors of Duluth and Superior, Wisconsin."  

Immoral, by Brian Freeman

udarnik

about 10 years ago

I've never read it, but "Two Harbors" by Kate Benson is set partly in the Northland and (via books.google) mentions Duluth several times, including this one:

...[I] can't tell him, don't want to let on, that it's an open-ended ticket sticking out the side of my bag and that I've packed enough underwear for several Mondays. "Just be safe and all that, you know?" he says. "Hollywood's not Duluth. What I hear, anyway."

Mark

about 10 years ago

In "The Stories of John Cheever" there is a mention of Duluth in one of the stories. 

I'll have to go back and review to figure out which one it is, but I know that it's in there.

Perhaps a Cheever fan out there could help me out?

Beverly

about 10 years ago

From my post on Feb. 6, 2008:

The children's book publisher and doll manufacturing juggernaut American Girl released its newest girl late last year. She is Julie, who is growing up in 1974, and the six-book set of books is written by Megan McDonald. In Julie's book No. 2, "Julie Tells Her Story," Julie is interviewing her father for a school report. "'Okay,' said Dad, settling into his favorite chair. 'When I was in the fourth grade, growing up in Duluth, Minnesota, money was tight and none of us could afford a bike. ...'"

amy a.

about 10 years ago

I've read about 7-10 books that have nothing to do with Duluth, but Duluth has been mentioned. I could go through my library and try to remember for you Paul, but it might take awhile. 

Recently I read The Night of the Gun by an author with the last name of Carr who talks about Duluth a little bit. The new teen book Shiver has werewolves in Duluth. 

Duluth pops up in the most unusual places.

Bret

about 10 years ago

Babbit by Sinclair Lewis is set in the city of Zenith.  The book is based on Duluth, however.  He lived for a while at 2601 East 2nd Street.

Chris

about 10 years ago

@ Barrett Chase.  Pg 1019???  You poor bastard...I do admire your ambitious pick for your summer reading though.

Barrett Chase

about 10 years ago

It's actually in an endnote. The main text is "only" 981 pages long, with an additional 96 pages of endnotes. 

It's been a great, great read. I should finish in the next couple of days. Highly recommended.

wildgoose

about 10 years ago

Woody Guthrie 
Bound for Glory
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woody_Guthrie#Bound_for_Glory

anne

about 10 years ago

"Mavern of the Great North Woods" by Kathryn Lasky is a beautifully illustrated children's book that takes place during the 1918 flu epidemic in Duluth and follows a 12yr old boy to a lumber camp in Bemidji. No worries though, the child is thrilled when he returns to Duluth. It's based on the story of the author's father and is a good bedtime story.

History Guy

about 10 years ago

Steven King's book THE STAND mentions Duluth and Piedmont Avenue.

The movie BABY BOOM mentions Duluth,

The movie DROP DEAD GORGEOUS show a ficticious pagent contestant from Duluth.

The movie TOMMY BOY shows Chris Farley and David Spade driving by a Duluth road sign.

The movie FAR NORTH was filmed in Duluth and mentions Duluth.

The movie YOU'LL LIKE MY MOTHER was filmed in Duluth and mentions Duluth.

The movie IRON WILL was filmed in Duluth. 

The book CAPTAIN JUNIPER takes place in Duluth.

National TV shows like Dateline NBC, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, Unsolved Mysteries, Forensic Files, American Justice, The Louie Show, and Power Privilege and Justice have all filmed in Duluth.

Jessica

about 10 years ago

I just saw an old Looney Tunes cartoon in which Daffy sent Porky off on the express bus to Duluth. Then porky came back via the Duluth moving company truck.

And who was on Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous from Duluth?

bluenewt

about 10 years ago

Sinclair Lewis's Kingsblood Royal has several references to Duluth. He apparently was living here when he wrote it. It's about a middle class white guy in a fictional Minnesota town who learns he has African American heritage. It's kind of melodramatic, but still a fascinating look at race relations of the time.

Abbie

about 9 years ago

I know this thread died months ago, but I came across this great exchange last night while reading The World According to Bertie, the fourth book in Alexander McCall Smith's 44 Scotland Street series, which takes place in Edinburgh and was first published as a serial in The Scotsman newspaper.  

Two proprietors of an art gallery are discussing a business card that was left by a would-be buyer:  

"Matthew looked doubtful.  'It seems a bit unlikely,' he said.  'Why should Johannesburg have a duke?  And what's all this about these clubs?  Where's the Gitchigumi Club for heaven's sakes?'

'Duluth,' said Pat.  'That's was it says there.  Duluth.'

'And where exactly is that?' asked Matthew.

'Duluth?'

'Yes.  Where's Duluth?'

Pat thought for a moment.  'Guess,' she said.  She had no idea, and could only guess herself.  Minnesota?"

Edek

about 9 years ago

Duluth is also mentioned in the first book of  John Dos Passos' USA trilogy.

Scott

about 9 years ago

I'm researching a book on this topic (references to Duluth in pop culture), and have appreciated these and other PDD leads as well as a conversation with Paul Lundgren. The DNT ran a brief notice about it this week:

Duluth in pop culture

I started working on this a few years ago -- 

Duluth, MN allusions in American culture

-- and would remain grateful to hear from anyone as they come across further Duluth allusions.

Thanks --

Scott Newstok
newstoks @ rhodes.edu

Barrett Chase

about 8 years ago

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen is set largely in St. Paul and Grand Rapids and contains several offhanded references to Duluth.

Agnes

about 8 years ago

I'm surprised nobody mentions Jim Harrison (He grew up in the U.P.) Duluth is a wild and wooly  character with a racy past in almost all his stories. His companion novels Dalva and The Road Home were pretty good, as well as the newer one True North.  His recurring character Brown Dog, our hero, finds a mummified corpse of a Native American chief on the bottom of Lake Superior while diving and trouble ensues.

Agnes

about 8 years ago

Also, I've heard Edgar Sawtelle writes engagingly  about the cyclones on Lake Superior (and Duluth?!?), has anyone seen the cyclones yonder toward Port Wing?  Pretty amazing.

Claire

about 8 years ago

Peter Geye's Safe from the Sea is set in Duluth, it just came out this fall. He changed the name of the Saratoga to that of another Florida city. He & I had an argument about it, I didn't think he should change any names -- because we locals would know.

Claire

about 8 years ago

Agnes, I hear the author is working on another novel, also set in NW Wisconsin.

Scott

about 8 years ago

from a series of Richard Wilbur poems about opposites:

What is the opposite of July?
That's hard to answer, but I'll try.
In San Francisco and Quebec,
Duluth, Big Forks, Mamaroneck,
And every other city here
In the upper Western Hemisphere,
July can be extremely hot;
But far to southward it is not.
The month can be extremely chill
In Paraguay or in Brazil,
And furthermore, July can mean a
Blizzard or so in Argentina.
These unexpected facts are why
The opposite of July's July.

W.T.F

about 8 years ago

Just ran across this thread. John Mcdonald wrote a  series of books with Travis Mcgee as the main character. There are several in this series of  about 20 books that reference Duluth briefly. I cannot off the top of my head recall which ones. They all have names of a color in the title. The last one I read had a reference to "a very rich woman from Duluth who used to come down to Florida once a year to be driven around on her yacht." If I think of the titles I'll post them.

Ramos

about 8 years ago

"The fuck-suck noise died out. Pay me, pay me noise replaced it. Crutch skimmed a library book. It was all about Cuba. Rebel raids, burning cane fields, the Bay of Pigs rout. He kept reading books. He kept calling the Frogman long-distance. Mesplede was still looking for exile turncoats Fuentes and Arredondo. They betrayed le sacre la Causa. They were heist men. They might be clouting department stores in Des Moines or Duluth. The Frogman was his no-shit mentor."

James Ellroy, Blood's a Rover (2009)

David Beard

about 8 years ago

Does this bus go to Duluth?
No it goes "beep beep?"

David Beard

about 8 years ago

(I apologize.  I don't know what got hold of me.)

Claire

about 7 years ago

Brian Freeman's last couple of books have been set outside of Duluth. I had lunch with him last week and he told me he's going to return to Duluth, probably in the next book (after Spilled Blood, out in May).

Paul Lundgren

about 4 years ago

I've been informed via Facebook that Ernest Cline's Armada and Mary Kubica's The Good Girl also reference Duluth, but I haven't tracked down the quotes yet.

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