21st Century Chesapeake Country
We may Be Poor on Crabs, But Were Rich on Writers
The Round Table of 1920s literati who gathered at New Yorks Algonquin Hotel has nothing on Chesapeake Country except a tony spot to lunch. Franklin Pierce Adams, Robert Benchley, Heywood Broun, Marc Connelly, Edna Ferber, Ruth Hale, George Kaufman, Dorothy Parker, Harold Ross, Robert Sherwood and Alexander Wollcott were the tables regulars, setting literary fashion for their generation and earning many a readers time eight decades later.
The Algonquin, newly remodeled, still stands, but you dont need to book a table there to rub elbows with the writers who are tackling the issues and engaging the readers of the 2000s. Here in Chesapeake Country, one or more of thems likely to live next door.
These days, we may be richer in writers than we are in crabs.
Why is that?
Partially, its because Chesapeake Country nurtures a classless society. The Round Table was an aristocracy, careful to keep on the top of their ladder by throwing taunts down on anybody who dared climb it. One of their regulars, Edna Ferber of Showboat fame, called them the Poison Squad.
Chesapeake Country has its titled heritage and grand plantations. But we have more working people, and many of them have had the good sense to realize theyre living history and so theyve written it down while still fresh and good. One of them is Glenn Lawson, whose book The Last Waterman we feature in this weeks Summer Guide to Maryland Reading.
If they didnt get around to writing their own stories, somebody else was sure to do it for them, as generations of workers escaped the cities to share in the bounty of Chesapeake Countrys waterways and folkways. What those newer neighbors saw was not only beautiful country and rich water but good stories. Thats how Bay Weekly, for example, came to be.
Many newcomers wanted nothing more than to give up their city jobs and write stories of Chesapeake Country. Mick Blackistone, Donald Shomette, William Warner, John Wennersten: They fell under the Chesapeakes spell and gave voice to its stories though it didnt stop them from doing an honest days work. Youll find their books, too, in this weeks feature.
Still others pay the bills by teaching school or writing for newspapers while they satisfy their souls by writing books and think themselves especially lucky if they found the freedom and inspiration to write a book on Chesapeake Country. Lucille Clifton teaches at St. Marys College and Sara Ebenreck taught there. Tom Horton, Bill Lambrecht, Marilyn Thompson all represented here are journalists. You can count Keith Walters in that profession, too, if you remember that hes retired and writes newspaper columns for fun.
Easy access to book publishing is another part of the answer to why writers are at least as numerous as crabs in Chesapeake Country. Chesapeake writers have a great resource in Tidewater Publishing, which is dedicated to Bay books. Desktop publishing is the other great liberator, so that special-interest and small-issue books can find form and readers.
So as summer gives you time, its time to get to know your neighbors.