What We’re Up To This Month:
It was wonderful to see so many of you at our kick-off event last month! More than eighty people gathered at the Academy Art Museum in June to hear fiction writer Rion Scott and historic preservationist Dale Green speak about their work. The presentations were illuminating and invigorating, and the Q&A got into some interesting questions regarding preservation vs. gentrification and the value of stories about ordinary African Americans. As Carlene Phoenix, one of the leaders of The Hill Community Project, put it to me, “I always knew about heroes like Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, but when I heard about the free blacks living in Easton, just going about their daily business, I could relate that to my own life.” If you missed it, the Chesapeake Heartland African American Humanities Truck exhibition also offered some incredible vintage photos of the old Vita Foods pickle factory in Chestertown, which you can also browse on their website.
I’m planning two more events at the Academy Art Museum for the fall and will have more to announce on that front soon. In the meantime, I’m hoping to connect with readers like you in the community. Are you in a book club? What kinds of books do you enjoy? What kinds of author events would you like to see more of on the Shore? Do you have any thoughts or feedback on our last event? As I’m considering various authors to invite to Easton, I’m eager to hear your perspective on which writers and books will resonate. If you have any feedback (or just want to say hi!), I’d love to hear from you via the “contact us” page of the Shore Lit website.
What I’m Reading:
In honor of Juneteenth last week and Independence Day next week, I’m handing over the “What I’m Reading” section of this month’s newsletter to our June presenters, all of whom know a whole lot more about American history and independence than I do. (If you really want to know what I'm reading each week, follow along @shore_lit on Instagram.) I asked each presenter to recommend one book about America everyone should read. Here’s what they said:
Dale Glenwood Green, Historic Preservationist and Morgan State University Professor:
How the Word Is Passed by Clint Smith*
“In light of America’s crisis to confront Critical Race Theory nationally, coupled with the ongoing paradox of navigating the history that made America versus the history that America made up, everyone should read Clint Smith’s book How the Word Is Passed. The author’s quote best sums it up: ‘The history of slavery is the history of the United States. It was not peripheral to our founding; it was central to it. It is not irrelevant to our contemporary society; it created it. This history is in our soil, it is in our policies, and it must, too, be in our memories.’”
*Editor’s note: Check out Clint Smith’s 2020 essay on Easton’s Frederick Douglass monument in the Atlantic.
Rion Scott, Writer and University of Maryland Professor:
A Nation on Fire: America in the Wake of the King Assassination by Clay Risen
“Clay Risen’s book connects the dots to show how much of our country’s present-day problems are just a logical continuation of all our original sins. It’s cinematically written and it’s a masterpiece.”
Pat Nugent, Historian and Deputy Director of the Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience at Washington College:
Slavery and Freedom on the Middle Ground by Barbara Jeanne Fields
Civil War on Race Street by Peter Levy
The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
“So hard to choose*, but if I were to focus on books that bring unique and important perspectives to bear on the history of the Eastern Shore, I'd recommend Fields for a data-rich history on the complexities of slavery and freedom in 19th century Maryland (searchable by town and county). Published in 1984, it still stands up today. Read Levy for a rare twentieth-century history of the Eastern Shore with particular attention to the role that local African American communities played in the larger civil rights movement. Read Coates for a fictional (and magically surreal) account of the Underground Railroad that crosses Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, based on William Still's firsthand accounts of the Underground Railroad published in 1872 (or check out the 2019 reprint of Still's Underground Railroad with an introduction by Coates). And read Butler for a fictional account of slavery on the Eastern Shore that traces its impacts across time and geography.”
*Editor’s Note: Never ask an academic to pick just one book rec…
What Else I’m Looking Forward to in July:
Short Attention Span Theater @ Garfield Center for the Arts, Chestertown
Through July 10
$20 General Admission, $10 Students
Ten-minute plays by local playwrights. Stop for a vermouth at Casa Carmen on the way.
Fine Art Book Exhibition & Sale @ Vintage Books, Easton
Friday July 15–Sunday July 24
In conjunction with Plein Air Easton, Vintage Books is curating a sale of second-hand art books: Frankenthaler, Hopper, Dali, Picasso, Degas, etc.
Twenty-Four Hour Video Race Screening @ Academy Art Museum, Easton
Friday, July 29, 6:00
Sponsored by AAM and the Chesapeake Film Festival, participants will have twenty-four hours to create a short film based on a single word; the results will be on view at this screening.