Anyone who lives in Minnesota knows the Midwest isn’t “flyover country.” Woodbury native and Minneapolis resident Annie D’Souza is challenging that false notion one blog post at a time. Her travel and lifestyle blog, The Midwestival, celebrates all things Midwest and has gained a dedicated following over the past two years.
D’Souza started the site in the summer of 2014 while she and her husband were living in San Diego for a couple of years. “It was strange,” she says. “California inspired me to write about Minnesota.” She’s since returned to Minneapolis, and found the time spent out West inspired her to connect with other Midwest enthusiasts. The blog mostly covers Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, showcasing off-the-map destinations, big cities and everything in between.
The Midwestival has grown from about five contributors to more than 20, and the community of readers has expanded rapidly. The blog’s popular Instagram page has more than 18,000 followers, and a search for #themidwestival on Instagram shows well over 55,000 posts tagged—and these numbers are increasing all the time. “The community that’s grown around it has actually been the most rewarding thing about the whole project,” D’Souza says. She gets emails constantly from people looking to get involved.
The site offers a window into the explorations of its contributors; each post helps stitch together a portrait of the region’s cultural identity and offerings. The site’s minimalist aesthetic allows the stellar photography to stand out. Topics include apple orchard adventures, camping tips, a guide to New Ulm, monkey bread and a history of the Wisconsin Old Fashioned. There’s poetry, photo essays, features, interviews with artists and posts chronicling road trips and flea market expeditions.
In addition to the blog and the Instagram community, The Midwestival also has a new pennant shop and puts on the occasional event. There’s The Weekender, a semi-regular Friday morning email that includes a fact that you likely didn’t know about the Midwest. For D’Souza, the most challenging part about running the blog is simply finding enough hours in the day for it. The Midwestival is a side project for her and the contributors, so they’re always itching to do more.
D’Souza has always had a love for her home state. She grew up in Woodbury, which she called “a pretty great place to be a kid in the ‘90s.” Her mom still lives there, along with her aunt and uncle. D’Souza enjoyed the quintessential Midwest cabin experience as a kid, going up north to her grandma’s cabin in Wisconsin every weekend. She says it wasn’t a luxury lake house, but “it was a wonderful place to eat barbecue chicken and learn how to water ski.”
Despite her Minnesota pride, D’Souza only has love for our cheese-loving neighbors to the east. Having attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she doesn’t partake in the rivalry between states. “I just can’t hate on anyone who can make a Bloody Mary like that,” she says.
As for memorable experiences with The Midwestival so far, D’Souza says an experience in Grand Rapids, Michigan last fall stands out. She wrote about Michigan House, an experimental pop-up space. While she arrived in Grand Rapids, she fell in love with the city and left with another favorite Midwest travel spot. “It was a reminder of why The Midwestival exists—to show off places and people that are chronically overlooked,” she says.