Maybe what speaks best to Annie D'Souza's devotion to living in the Midwest is the place she left behind.
San Diego, anyone?
D'Souza moved to Minneapolis — back to Minneapolis — in February after a year and a half of the California life, and defending her homeland. "Talking about where I was from, I kept finding myself compulsively defending Minneapolis and the Midwest. And that feeling of 'No, it's really cool.' "
That resolve spun into something more tangible. D'Souza is coming up on the one-year anniversary of her blog, The Midwestival — as the site says, "We love the Midwest and we won't shut up about it."
D'Souza, 31, grew up in Woodbury, went to college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and, as she said, "spent the better part of the last 10 years in Minneapolis."
There is a minimalist feel to her clean, elegant blog (www.themidwestival.com), but there is depth, too: rich photography and a distinct Midwest sensibility from her stable of storytellers. Readers find everything from an insider's guide to Duluth restaurants and a recap of the Eaux Claires Music Festival to an ode to hot tenting on Lake Superior.
Recently, D'Souza expounded on The Midwestival, on what inspires her, and on summers at her grandmother's cabin near Taylors Falls:
On defending the Midwest
Creating The Midwestival was reflex from that. This place of frustration and pride. Wanting to change some of the preconceptions that people have about this area of the country.
On her contributors
Some are friends. The original contributors that helped me get the site off the ground are mainly friends. After that, people would find us in whatever way and something would speak to them, and they would want to contribute. It's mainly people reaching out to me. For the most part it's people who have a story to tell or have something in mind.
On the aim of the blog
At its heart is to celebrate and challenge (the idea of the Midwest). Even some of the stories we tell, I wonder, is this too Northwoods-washed? Or, is this the real Midwest? I think that is what's great about having multiple voices from multiple places. … Maybe if I had my way it would be all cabins in the woods and whatever, but that's my Midwest, that's not everyone's Midwest.
On the blog's content
There is clearly an outdoors focus to it. Honestly, it's pretty organic. It's definitely shaping itself.
On a personal go-to outing
(My husband and I) are big road-trip fans. That's been a fun section of the site, dedicated to road trips. Whether it's a trip for The Midwestival or just a weekend in California, we take a lot of road trips. … We love just exploring parts of the country that way. Even for our honeymoon, we road-tripped and camped around Iceland. I think there is just something special about getting to experience the spaces in between. You run into different things.
On her affinity for her home state
As a Minnesotan, we are so lucky to have that lake culture. There are 22 lakes in the city alone. I grew up going to my grandma's cabin, which is near Taylors Falls, almost every weekend in the summer. I feel like a day does not go by where I don't try to see a lake.
On how the blog has evolved
It started as this travel-lifestyle blog. … It has just started to feel like this two-way street, which is really cool. It's exactly the kind of thing you want to happen. When you start a project like this, you see conversations happening about it, and this community going around it; 27,000 people have used #themidwestival. That's crazy in a year. … It's also because people send us ideas, and the driving force of it has been this great photography and exploration.
On time commitment
So much. I do it because I love it. It's clearly something that people were hungry for, so I have hope that it might be a legit business. At this point, I do it for the love of it. Everybody else does, too. □