Local authors talk about Shore's influence

Tara Elliott shares some of her poems with the crowd Feb. 16 as part of the Queen Anne’s County Arts Council’s Heritage and History Lecture Series.

CENTREVILLE — Three local authors shared their stories with a crowd of 30 to 40 people at the Centre for the Arts Saturday night, Feb. 16. The free presentation, “A Place Called Home,” was the first in the Queen Anne’s County Arts Council’s Heritage and History Lecture Series.

Brent Lewis of Centreville was first to speak. Lewis grew up in Queen Anne’s County, where his family traces its roots back 10 generations. His books include the nonfiction “Remembering Kent Island: Stories from the Chesapeake” and “A History of the Kent Island Volunteer Fire Department,” and the novel “Bloody Point 1976.” He has written for newspapers, magazines and newsletters and publishes his own blog, eastershorebrent.

Lewis told how he became involved in learning and sharing the history of the region conducting oral history interviews for the Kent Island Heritage Society. He said it was a privilege to interview scores of members of the community, helping preserve their memories.

“Oral history is storytelling at its most ancient,” he said, adding he also enjoys the opportunity it offers for embellishment.

He gave a brief history of Kent Island — largest island in the Chesapeake Bay and third oldest settlement in the country. Lewis talked about how the Virginia colony sent William Claiborne to establish a trading post on Kent Island in 1631 and of Claiborne’s battle with Lord Baltimore, who eventually claimed the settlement for Maryland — though Claiborne challenged that claim until he died.

The first naval battles in the New World were fought over Kent Island, Lewis said. One skirmish resulted in four deaths, three of them Kent Islanders, and the survivors were charged with piracy.

He spoke briefly of how the Bay Bridge changed everything and touched on various bits of legend and lore, such as mysterious lights over marshes, UFOs in 1952 and “Chessie” the sea serpent reportedly sighted mostly in the 1980s.

Poet Tara Elliott was next up. She was born in New York but grew up in Kent County, spending her summers on a sailboat in the Bay, she said. Elliott is the founder and director of Salisbury’s Poetry Week and recently served as Poet-in-Residence for Freeman Stage. Her poems have been published in several journals.

She read a variety of her poems, including two in tribute to her father, “DNA,” which talks about him dying of cancer, and “True,” in which she compares her father to Ernest Hemingway, “you were each larger than life.”

She said her poems are in homage to the Shore. “St. Paul’s Churchyard Chestertown” talks about visiting the grave of actress Tallulah Bankhead, and “At Waterman’s Crab House” shares her experiences as a teenage waitress there.

Other poems were inspired by picking strawberries and eating popsicles with her son.

The final author to speak was Kenton Kilgore of Kent Island. Kilgore writes science-fiction and fantasy for young adults — and for adults who are still young, he said.

He is president of the Eastern Shore Writers Association. His previous books include “Our Wild Place,” “Dragontamer’s Daughters” and “Lost Dogs.”

Kilgore talked about his love for the community and the connectivity he feels here. He spoke of “good, sensitive, caring people you’d want to live next door to.” Queen Anne’s County is the setting for his latest sci-fi offering, “This Wasted Land.”

He read the first chapter of the book and an excerpt from further inside.

In the question-and-answer session that followed, the authors described how the Shore influences their writing.

“I’ve always found the Eastern Shore a place full of characters with character,” Lewis said. “The most unassuming person may have the most interesting story to tell.”

Kilgore seconded his sentiments, “The Shore is almost a character in itself.” He described it as an “undiscovered country.”

Elliott said, “I don’t think I could rip the Eastern Shore out of my poems. ... The Shore gets in your blood; you can’t get rid of it.”

They offered advice to beginning writers.

Lewis said he likes subverting the reader’s expectations.

“I think art should scare you a little,” he said.

Remember to edit, and you should know 10 times more than you tell, Lewis added.

“Give of yourself; build up goodwill. When it’s your turn, call in those favors,” he said. “Don’t get too hung up on the things that don’t matter.”

Elliott advised focusing on the celebration of life, the small details, and to read.

“Reading is so vital to being a great writer,” she said.

Kilgore said it’s important to pay attention to every word and “verisimilitude” — the story should sound real to the reader.

“You don’t write because you think it’s going to make you a lot of money,” Kilgore said. “You are a writer because you have to write; there’s a story in you that has to get out.”

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