Author and humorist Mark Twain (middle) sits with noted American Civil War correspondent and author George Alfred Townsend (left), and David Gray, editor of the Buffalo Courier (right). (Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

With scenic landscapes and a rich cultural history, the Chesapeake Bay watershed has been home to a flourishing cultural scene for centuries, particularly inspiring writers. Whether they were influenced by its lively landscapes or simply found it a productive place to put the pen to the page, the Chesapeake Bay watershed has been home to some of history’s greatest literary figures over the years.

Mark Twain sits at his writing desk in 1880. Twain was well known as a humorist and essayist, as well as for his two major American classics: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. (Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

1. Mark Twain

The writer who is famous for his vivid depictions of life on the Mississippi River did much of his writing from a very different watershed: the Chesapeake Bay.

Born under the name Samuel Langhorne Clemens, the writer better known as Mark Twain spent his summers at Quarry Farm, his family’s summer home in Elmira, N.Y. During his long summers stays in Elmira, Twain would work from a secluded study overlooking the breathtaking Chemung River Valley, a tributary of the Susquehanna River. It was in this study that Twain wrote many of his riverside classics, including The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Life on the Mississippi.

Edgar Allan Poe, the 19th-century poet and short story writer, is pictured on November of 1848, just eleven months before his death in Baltimore, Md. (Photo courtesy W.S. Hartshorn/Wikimedia Commons)

2. Edgar Allan Poe

Widely considered to be one of America’s darkest and most iconic literary voices, Edgar Allan Poe spent much of his career as a writer traveling the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Poe was a prolific writer and soon became well-known for his distinct voice and profoundly dark storytelling. He traveled frequently between Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia in search of work and publishing opportunities. However, Poe struggled with financial instability and fragile health throughout his life. Following the tragic death of his wife, Poe became very ill. He died in Baltimore, Md., where he is buried today.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie accepts the PEN Pinter Prize at the British Library on October 9, 2018. (Photo courtesy English PEN/Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

3. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, recipient of the 2008 MacArthur Foundation “genius grant,” is a Nigerian novelist perhaps best known for her novel Americanah and her TED talk, “The danger of a single story.” However, Adichie does most of her writing from Maryland, the state she calls “her American home”.

After briefly studying medicine and pharmacy at the University of Nigeria, Adichie moved to the United States to continue her education in communications and political science before going on to complete a master’s degree in creative writing at Johns Hopkins University. Today, she splits her time between Nigeria and her home in Columbia, Md. Both places play important roles in Adichie’s stories, as she keenly observes the cultural differences between Nigerian and American life.

Author Tom Clancy attends a book signing in 1989 at Burns Library at Boston College. Clancy was known for his thrilling "Jack Ryan" series, which follows the Annapolis-based spy as he carries out missions around the world. (Photo courtesy Gary Wayne Gilbert/Wikimedia Commons)

4. Tom Clancy

Known for his page-turning thrillers, the Baltimore-born spy novelist wrote most of his famous “Jack Ryan” series from his home in Calvert County, Md.

Tom Clancy’s fictional protagonist––the adventurous and always-daring Jack Ryan––is himself a Maryland native, and begins the series teaching history at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. Whether he’s grappling through Venezuelan jungles or preventing a royal kidnapping in London, Ryan always finds his way back to his Maryland home. In fact, Ryan’s mansion is largely based on Clancy’s own 80-acre estate in Calvert County, which offers a panoramic view of the Chesapeake Bay.

Francis Scott Key wrote the poem, "Defence of Fort M'Henry", while attempting to secure the release of his friend from a British ship. The poem was eventually set to the tune of a popular English drinking song called “To Anacreon in Heaven” and was renamed "The Star-Spangled Banner." (Photo courtesy Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog)

5. Francis Scott Key

Observing the British bombardment of Fort McHenry while detained on a British vessel in 1814, Francis Scott Key wrote the poem that now sings itself into the hearts of every American: O say can you see / by the dawn's early light…

Born in Frederick, Md., the man behind "The Star-Spangled Banner" was a lifelong resident of the Chesapeake Bay region. After attending St. John’s College in Annapolis, Md., Key went on to spend most of his life at his Georgetown home in Washington D.C. Key considered himself an amateur poet, and primarily made his living in legal work. In 1833, he was nominated by President Andrew Jackson to be the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia. Today, you can visit Key’s grave at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Frederick, Md.

Francis Scott Fitzgerald is pictured in 1937. Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, which today is considered a classic American novel, in fact sold poorly during Fitzgerald's own lifetime. (Photo courtesy Carl van Vechten/Wikimedia Commons)

6. Francis Scott Fitzgerald

High school reading lists across the country will know this American classicist by his shortened name: F Scott Fitzgerald. However, his name was no coincidence; the author behind The Great Gatsby was himself a distant cousin to Francis Scott Key.

Though he is best known for his work on The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald began work on his debut novel, This Side of Paradise, while visiting a friend in Charles Town, W.Va. Though he traveled throughout much of his life, Fitzgerald would come back to the Chesapeake Bay often—usually when his health or finances were failing him. Today, him and his wife, Zelda Fitzgerald, are buried together at St. Mary’s Church Historic Cemetery in Rockville, Md.

Toni Morrison is pictured in 1998. Morrison, who passed away on August 5, 2019, was the Nobel Laureate in literature and recipient of the 1977 National Book Critics Circle Award. (Photo courtesy John Mathew Smith/Wikimedia Commons)

7. Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison, the Nobel laureate in literature whose groundbreaking novels celebrate as well as mourn black identity throughout American history, began her literary career at Howard University in Washington D.C.

Morrison graduated from Howard in 1953 with a bachelor’s degree in English and a minor in classics, returning to the college as a faculty member in 1957. Morrison joined the college’s on-campus writers’ group where she began work on what was to become her first novel, The Bluest Eye. Morrison’s historical fiction novels, such as A Mercy, offer vivid depictions of the geography and ecology of the Bay region, while telling honest stories about slavery and colonialism that made up the early history of America.

Author James Albert Michener attends an observance commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Michener was well known for his fictional, family-focused sagas that followed generations of people growing up in a particular geographical region, such as the Chesapeake Bay watershed. (Courtesy photo Robert Wilson/Wikimedia Commons)

8. James Michener

Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist James Michener is responsible for what is perhaps the most well-known history of the Chesapeake Bay and its residents.

James Michener’s 1978 novel, Chesapeake, ambitiously follows the lives of a diverse cast of families living in Maryland and Virginia over the span of centuries. Its subjects range from indigenous Americans in 1583 to the end of the Watergate scandal in 1974.

Do you have a favorite author from the Chesapeake Bay? Let us know in the comments!

Comments

Peg Lynch

Just published in Winter 2020, "Arpeggio of Redwings, Chesapeake Seasons: A Guide to Joy" is a collection of nature essays by Maryland writer Audrey Y. Scharmen, taken from her prize-winning nature columns of the bay area. A chronical of the year’s unfolding seasons in 60 essays that are wry, acute and lyrical observations connecting readers to nature’s daily miracles.

Stanaforth Hopkins

Definitely should include Tom Horton. He is a long-time activist and naturalist for the Bay.

Ned Tillman

I would certainly include John Barth, Tom Horton, William Warner, Anne Tyler, Taylor Branch, Michael Chabon, and Ta-Nehisi Coates.

A. Foley

For election year 2020, a reading of "What It Takes" might be in order. Richard Ben Cramer produced this nonfiction political masterpiece from Horns Point on the Choptank River in Dorchester County.

Elgin Perry

And John Dos Passos who lived his later years at Spence Point on the Potomac and is interred in Yeocomico Churchyard Cemetery in Cople Parish, Westmoreland County, Virginia,

S Gibb

Mr. Reynolds:

I enjoyed the eight literary figures from around the bay piece but stumbled on some poor and preventable editing problems. It seems like this piece could have used one more cycle through the editing wash.

Issues:

1. The book title "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" is not italicized like Tom Sawyer and the rest.

2. The sentence beginning "Clancy was well known for his" is never finished.

3. Likewise, under the Morrison entry "A Mercy" is not italicized.

4. The exclusion of John Barth

FWIW,

-SKGibb

Lyle Spatz

I believe Anne Tyler and Laura Lippman should be included.

Kat

Please change Allen to the correct Allan, for Edgar A. Poe.
Though he did not get along with his foster father, Mr. John Allan, he did take the surname as his middle name...however he didn't use the entire name in his signature.

Charles Craft

Perhaps "Eight literary figures", but if you include Clancy, it's seven writers and a hack. Incredibly, there is no mention of John Barth.

Matthew Newberg

My favorite Chesapeake author is Gilbert Byron (1903-1991) from Chestertown, who wrote 14 books including the regional classic "The Lord's Oysters".

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