Literate in Maryland

Vol. 8, No. 27
July 6-12, 2000
Current Issue
Literate in Maryland
Dock of the Bay
Letters to the Editor
Burton on the Bay
Earth Journal
Not Just for Kids
Good Bay Times
What's Playing Where
Music Notes
Sky Watch
Bay Classifieds
Behind Bay Weekly
Advertising Info
Distribution spots
Contact us
The ABCs of Home-Grown Summer Reading
By Kim Cammarata with Sandra Martin

You may want to go away from home for vacation, but there’s no need to go away from Maryland for authors and books to keep you company in your idle hours. Our state claims so many fine writers that you can read your way through the alphabet and not be done with authors born or shaped in Maryland.

That’s just what happened to writer Kim Cammarata and editor Sandra Martin. Devising “Read a Maryland Writer” for one of Bay Weekly Summer Guide’s “101 Ways to Have Fun on Chesapeake Bay,” they found themselves wandering through a literary alphabet, from Anne Tyler to Rebecca York.

Anne Tyler (1941): novelist

Tyler was born in Minneapolis and raised in North Carolina, but Baltimore has been home for much of her adult life. Tyler’s affection for her adopted home’s townspeople and their rituals shines in many of her novels, which are set in and around Charm City.

Tyler’s 14 novels feature ordinary people beset with life’s tragedies both great and small. With her imperfect but likeable characters, Tyler humorously challenges the idealized vision of the American family and shows that ordinary need not equal boring.

The Accidental Tourist (1985) reappeared as a 1988 film starring William Hurt and Kathleen Turner. Breathing Lessons won the 1989 Pulitzer Prize in fiction:

So here she was alone. Well! She brushed a tear from her lashes. She was in trouble with everybody in this house, and she deserved to be; as usual she had acted pushy and meddlesome. And yet it hadn’t seemed like meddling while she was doing it. She had simply felt as if the world were the tiniest bit out of focus, the colors not quite within the lines — something like a poorly printed newspaper ad — and if she made the smallest adjustment then everything would settle perfectly into place.

Barth, John (1930): novelist

A native of Dorchester County born in Cambridge in 1930, Barth writes satiric, humorous and increasingly experimental novels.

Barth is also notoriously silent about both himself and his writing. It’s a tenet of literary criticism that novelists are no nearer their books than parents their children. As that doesn’t stop anybody from looking for the signs of one in the other, let’s see what we can extrapolate from Barth’s 1987 tome The Tidewater Tales: A Novel.

Ahha! Peter Sagamore, Barth’s blocked writer-protagonist, was born “in historically poor lower Dorchester County.” Both novelist and character have also combined writing with an academic career.
Barth taught writing at Pennsylvania State University and State University of New York at Buffalo.

At 70, he is a professor emeritus of the Johns Hopkins University writing seminars. His latest is The Friday Book, a 1997 collection of essays on writing.

“Once upon a time there was a storyteller who hit the ground running in his twenties with a fine fat novel of the sort blurb writers describe as ‘sprawling with life’ … as if the book were a sloppily toped-up petri dish.” Barth shot like a skyrocket into the literary heavens with his first novel, The Floating Opera. The year was 1956. He was 26.

Admittedly, The Floating Opera is ectomorphic compared to The Sot-Weed Factor (that’s 18th century for tobacco merchant), which is a fine fat novel sprawling with life. No kidding. In it Barth — who, like Sagamore is as much craftsman as artist — perfected his mastery of the form invented in the 18th century by writing an 18th-century novel. No matter that his was written in the third quarter of the 20th century, it is indubitably 18th century not only in its subject matter — a British versifier who immigrates to the Virginia colony to become poet laureate of something — but also in its picaresque and episodic style. This satire will not only entertain you but also teach you a right lot about the Tidewater in colonial days.
(Continued at T.)

Cain, James M. (1892-1977): reporter, editor, novelist, screenwriter

Cain’s Maryland roots seem too gentile to have flowered in books banned in Boston — as was The Postman Always Rings Twice, his first novel, published when he was 42.

Cain was born July 1 in Annapolis at the Paca-Carroll house on the campus of St. John’s College, where he would graduate at 17 and later teach journalism. He grew up in Kent County at Washington College in Chestertown where his father was president. (He died in another Maryland college town, College Park.)

But Cain was clearly more than a professor: He worked as a reporter in Baltimore, at both Baltimore American and The Sun; as editor of his army company newspaper in France; as an editorial writer for the New York World under the legendary commentator Walter Lippmann; and, briefly, as managing editor of ever-prestigious The New Yorker.

He would have had to be quick-witted and unbowed by conventional pieties, for he assisted the iconoclastic H.L. Mencken on the age’s preeminent literary magazine The American Mercury. As a writer, Cain was a competent, versatile pro for to all these credits, he added screen writing, making his living, as did Dashiell Hammett, in Hollywood in its golden between-war era.

The 1890s must have been a tough decade in Maryland, for in those years our state gave birth to two men who would, in their prime, define the hard-boiled literary style. Writing in the 1920s and ’30s, Dashiell Hammett and James Cain defined the poles of the style. Hammett, credited as its creator, took the high road, leaving the slippery slope for Cain.

Cain’s dark, amoral characters set foot on that road rather by accident. But, as we all know, one step leads to another, and soon they’re killers. The pattern hardly varies: united by chance, they’re caught in an irresistible attraction that boils over in murder. Then, the hunters become the hunted. With the woman always taking the first bite, it’s Adam and Eve all over again.

Cain’s novels, wildly popular in their day, were reincarnated as equally popular films. Both genres regained late-century popularity.

Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961): detective, novelist

Born in St. Mary’s County on a tobacco farm, the great Hammett preferred city life, which he reflected in the genre he created in 1923 with The Continental Op: the hard-boiled detective story. The title comes from Baltimore’s Continental Building, where Hammett worked as a Pinkerton detective in his and the nation’s teens.

The man is hard, the woman perfidous, the world treacherous and the sentences short. But Hammett’s nameless private detective, though a man for hire, lives by a code.

Maybe I do” [love you], he said. What of it? … Listen. You’ll never understand me, but I’ll try once more and then we’ll give it up. [First] when a man’s partner is killed he’s supposed to do something about it. It doesn’t make any difference what you thought of him. … And eighth — but that’s enough. All those on one side. Maybe some of them are unimportant. I won’t argue about that. But look at the number of them. Now on the other side we’ve got what? All we’ve got is the fact that maybe you love me and maybe I love you.”

What is, is. Like it or not, you’ve got to obey it. That’s the precept — almost Old Testament in its simplicity — that inspired both writer and writing. So the Op and later Sam Spade hammer at surfaces till bedrock is exposed. So the tall, lean and handsome Hammett — tubercular after catching influenza in his service, near Baltimore, in the ambulance corps in World War I — enlisted at 48 in World War II. An American communist, in the ’50s he defied Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s Committee on un-American Activities. For his principles, he served five months in prison and was blacklisted in Hollywood, where he made his living as a screen writer.

Hammett’s protégé and partner for 30 years was equally radical playwright Lillian Hellman. He died of lung cancer in 1961 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Both his first and last names live on in St. Mary’s County.

Hammett wrote the novels and stories that became movies, radio series and part of the cultural consciousness — The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man among them — in one productive decade: the 1920s.

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849): mystery and suspense writer, poet

Poe wasn’t born in Maryland, but his literary career was. At 20, he came to Baltimore — a city where his great-great-grandfather settled when it was just a village of 25 houses. During six years there, Poe wrote many poems and tales that suggested even greater work to come, and — helped by his patron and fellow writer John Pendleton Kennedy (see below) — received recognition as a writer.

He also invented detective fiction in Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841). Poe’s formula has changed little to this day: the inimitable and eccentric detective, the fawning foil, the benevolent but bumbling law officers, the unjustly accused suspect, the staged ruse to flush out the culprit, the surprise ending and the detailed explanation of the detective’s psychological deduction after the case is solved. Arthur Conan Doyle credited Poe’s example for inspiring the character Sherlock Holmes.

The police have fallen into the gross but common error of confounding the unusual with the abstruse. … In fact, the facility with which I shall arrive … at the solution of this mystery, is in the direct ratio of its apparent insolubility in the eyes of the police.

Learn more, read Poe online:

Frederick Douglass (1817-1895): writer, orator, abolitionist

Born into slavery on a Talbot County plantation, Douglass secretly learned to read as a boy. After escaping slavery and settling in New York, Douglass became an articulate and dignified spokesman for abolition. His autobiography, The Narrative of the Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself, was published in May 1845. It became a best seller and gained Douglass international fame. Today it remains an affecting indictment of slavery and is considered the most important slave narrative in American literature:

Sunday was my only leisure time. I spent this in a sort of beast-like stupor, between sleep and wake, under some large tree. At times I would rise up, a flash of energetic freedom would dart through my soul, accompanied with a faint beam of hope, that flickered for a moment and then vanished. I sank down again, mourning over my wretched condition.

Read it online:

Douglass also published The North Star (later known as Frederick Douglass’ Paper and Douglass’ Monthly), a newspaper that covered the anti-slavery movement. He recruited black soldiers for the Union army and, through his personal relationship with Abraham Lincoln, helped make emancipation a goal of the Civil War. Two of Douglass’ sons served in the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, which was made up entirely of African American volunteers. The regiment was featured in the 1989 film Glory.

Growing Up, by Russell W. Baker (1925): journalist, memoirist

This 1983 autobiography about coming of age in Virginia, New Jersey and Baltimore during the ’30s and ’40s won the Pulitzer Prize.

My words! He was reading my words out loud to the entire class. What’s more, the entire class was listening. … Then somebody laughed, then the entire class was laughing, and not in contempt and ridicule, but with openhearted enjoyment. … I did my best to avoid showing pleasure, but what I was feeling was pure ecstasy at this startling demonstration that my words had the power to make people laugh.

Baker moved to Baltimore as an adolescent. After graduating from Johns Hopkins University in 1947, he went to work as a police reporter for The Sun. He moved on to the paper’s London bureau and then covered the White House.

In 1954 he switched to The New York Times, covering the White House, State Department and Capitol Hill. Baker stayed at the Washington bureau until 1962, when he began penning a regular column, “Observer,” for which he won the 1979 Pulitzer Prize for Distinguished Commentary. This column still runs on Tuesday and Saturday on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times.
In addition to his autobiography, Baker has written 13 other books.

Horse-shoe Robinson, by John Pendleton Kennedy (1795-1870): novelist, politician

This 1835 historical novel re-creates the American Revolution through the experiences of an old soldier.

In 1838’s Rob of the Bowl, Kennedy wrote about religion, politics and 17th-century Maryland:
This open country was diversified by woodland, and enlivened everywhere by the expanse of navigable water which reflected sun and sky, grove and field and lowly cottage in a thousand beautiful lights. Indeed, all the maritime border of the province, comprehending Calvert, St. Mary’s and Charles, as well as the counties on the opposite shore of the Chesapeake, might be said, at this date, to be in a condition of secure and prosperous habitation.

Read it online:

Born October 25 in Baltimore, Kennedy excelled both in literary and political pursuits. His first literary efforts were gossipy satires of social mores. He then penned three historical novels and a political satire. As a descendant from an aristocratic Tidewater Virginia family, Kennedy had strong ties to the South; his romantic nostalgia for the old Southern ways permeate his novels.

In 1820, Kennedy entered Maryland’s House of Delegates, where he served two more terms before moving on to Congress. At this point, he ended his successful career as a novelist to focus on public service.

After three terms in the House of Representatives, he returned to Maryland’s House, serving as Speaker. In 1852 he was appointed Secretary of the Navy. Later he assisted with planning and design for The Peabody Institute. Kennedy rests now at Baltimore’s Green Mount Cemetery.

Iola Leroy, by Frances E.W. Harper (1825-1911): poet, novelist, abolitionist, orator

In this 1892 novel, Harper explores racism, sexism and classicism in late 19th-century America. Iola Leroy is one of the first novels published by an American black woman.

Harper was born September 24 as a free woman in slave-holding Baltimore. She lived there for the next 26 years until she left to teach in Ohio. Harper used her natural talents for writing and speaking to campaign for abolition and then, after the Civil War, for woman’s suffrage and temperance. She also worked on the Underground Railroad.

During Iola’s stay in the North, she had learned enough of the racial feeling to influence her decision in reference to Dr. Gresham’s offer. Iola, like other girls, had had her beautiful day-dreams before she was rudely awakened by the fate which had dragged her into the depths of slavery. … But in her lonely condition, with all its background of terrible sorrow and deep abasement, she had never for a moment thought of giving or receiving love from one of that race who had been so lately associated in her mind with horror, aversion, and disgust.

Read it online:;hf=0

The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair (1878-1968)

This 1906 novel about the plight of the working man and the conditions in a turn-of-the-century meat-packing factory was so shocking that it pushed the enactment of the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act.

The passage of these two acts showed that writers could help change laws, thus encouraging the growth of investigative journalism.

It was necessary for the packing machines to grind till late at night to provide food that would be eaten at Christmas breakfasts; and Marija and Elzbieta and Ona, as part of the machine, began working fifteen or sixteen hours a day. There was no choice about this — whatever work there was to be done they had to do, if they wished to keep their places; besides that, it added another pittance to their incomes. So they staggered on with the awful load.

Read it online:

Karl Shapiro (1913-2000): poet, editor of the celebrated international literary quarterly Prairie Schooner 1956-63

Born in Baltimore, Shapiro wrote poetry from an early age but gained acclaim as a poet while serving in the army during WWII. During his service, he wrote V-Letter and Other Poems, for which he won the 1945 Pulitzer Prize in poetry.

Shapiro wrote of everyday things and events: Washington’s National Cathedral, cars, barber shops, the soldier’s life. He published more than 20 books of poetry and essays and won more than a dozen awards. In 1946 he served as consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress, a position now known as Poet Laureate of the United States.

To learn more:

In the beginning, at every step, he turned
As if by instinct to the East to praise
The nature of things. Now every path was learned
He lost the lifted, almost flower-like gaze.
Of a temple dancer. He began to walk
Slowly, like one accustomed to be alone.
He found himself lost in the field of talk;
Thinking became a garden of its own.

“The Sickness of Adam”

Leap into Darkness, by Leo Bretholz (1921): memoirist, bookseller, and Michael Olesker: journalist

Leo Bretholz’s past was nobody’s business for 15 years. Then, he began to talk and couldn’t stop. He spoke of crossing forbidden borders. Surviving bombing raids, forced labor, forced idleness and prison. He spoke of Houdini-like escapes. By squeezing out a window and leaping from a moving train, the teen-aged Bretholz defied the odds, joining the one percent of 80,000 who survived the death trains running from Paris to Auschwitz.

Sun columnist Michael Olesker, a regular at Bretholz’s Baltimore bookstore, listened and urged his friend to write his story.

The result is Leap into Darkness, a collaboration between Bretholz, who spent those Seven Years on the Run in Wartime Europe, and Olesker, who made the memories into a coherent, compelling story.

My mind raced for thoughts of escape. As early morning light slipped through our little windows, I saw the ashen faces of fellow passengers. I saw an old woman with a crutch, her leg amputated at the knee, holding a small child who did not seem to be her own. … I heard the woman’s voice saying ‘If you jump, maybe you’ll be able to tell the story. Who else will tell this story?’

Leap into Darkness was published in 1999 by Baltimore’s Woodholme House. Bretholz calls his work homage to all those who did not survive Hitler’s Holocaust. “Perhaps even,” he says, “I was supposed to be here to tell the story so that the young will learn.”

McDermott, Alice (1954): novelist

McDermott has adopted Maryland as her own, having been raised in Long Island and having lived in San Diego and Pittsburgh along the way. She now lives in Bethesda, in Montgomery County, with her husband and three children.

Of her four novels, 1987’s That Night was a finalist for the National Book Award, the PEN/Faulkner Award and a Pulitzer Prize. Her next book, 1991’s At Weddings and Wakes, was also a Pulitzer finalist. McDermott’s most recent novel, Charming Billy, won the 1998 National Book Award for fiction. Charming Billy begins at Billy’s funeral, then meanders through his life as loved ones reminisce. Their stories don’t recall hard facts of Billy’s life; rather, they show how these people perceived him.

They’d thought her courageous all along … living with Billy as she did; but now, seeing her at the head of the table, Billy gone … her courage, or her beauty, however they chose to refer to it, became something new — which made something new, in turn, of what they might say about Billy’s life. Because if she was beautiful, then the story of his life, or the story they would begin to re-create for him this afternoon, would have to take another turn.

Nightmare Town, edited by Kirby McCauley, Martin Harry Greenberg (Knopf: 1999)

This is a collection of 20 Dashiell Hammett stories that were published in pulp magazines in the 1920s and ’30s. Unless you were around then, you may not, no matter how great your devotion to Hammett (see H), have read these stories: Many are reappearing for the first time. Here are introduced two of his now famous detectives: Sam Spade in “A Man Called Spade,” and Nick Charles in “A Man Named Thin” and “The First Thin Man.”

The Thin Man became Hammett’s best-known work, appearing as short story, novel, and both radio and movie series. As you learn in the introduction to this new volume, Nick Charles’ partner and wife, Nora, was based on Hammett’s own partner Lillian Hellman.

Oysterback Spoken Here (1998), The Oysterback Tales (1994), by Helen Chappell

Eastern Shore tale-teller Chappell is irrepressible, overflowing with romance novels, mysteries and local history. From her home in rural Easton, she’s written 14 Harlequin-style romances as Rebecca Baldwin and five as Caroline Brooks. She’s written four mysteries, all featuring detective Hollis Ball and her dead ex Sam Wescott: Slow Dancing with the Angel of Death; Dead Duck; Ghost of a Chance; and Giving Up the Ghost. Helen’s straightest book is her most recent and only, so far, nonfictional one: The Chesapeake Book of the Dead: Tombstones, Epitaphs, Histories, Reflections and Oddments of the Region. So you see that even at her straightest, Helen Chappell is anything but straight laced.

But our favorites are still those we found first, laughing out loud at what we’d discovered on the back pages of The Sun: these enchanting, outrageous, down-home stories from the mythical Shore village of Oysterback. Many have since reappeared in Bay Weekly.

Oysterback is the leprechaun kingdom of Maryland’s Eastern Shore: It’s there, all, right, to all who have eyes to see it. Among its citizens are Desiree Grinch, proprietor of the Blue Crab Tavern; Deputy Sheriff Johnny Ray; Doreen Redmond, proprietor of the Curl Up And Dye Salon de Beaute; Buck Willis, the Nude Crabber; and the Boone Brothers of We Fix and Road Kill Cooked Here Café.

Among its sight-seers is Maryland eco-journalist and local historian Tom Horton who paddled into it in his canoe. Of course anybody from Elvis to Edgar Allen Crow (you-know-who reincarnated) shows up from time to time. We plan to retire there.

Even the usually silent John Barth couldn’t keep quiet about Oysterback: “Helen Chappell is not, as has been alleged, the Garrison Keillor of Maryland’s Eastern Shore. She is this gently sinking peninsula’s Helen Chappell, and that is praise aplenty,” he said.

The Postman Always Rings Twice, by James M. Cain

“A good, swift, violent story,” said fellow Marylander Dashiell Hammett. As usual, Hammett hit the nail on the head.

In a couple of can’t-put-it-down hours, you’ve traced the twice-fatal course of Cora Smith and Frank Reynolds’ attraction.

“God is up there laughing at us,” says Cora.

“The hell he is,” snaps back Frank. “Well we’re laughing at him, too, aren’t we? He put up a red stop sign for us, and we went past it. And then what? Did we get shoved off the deep end? We did like hell. We got away clean, and got $10,000 for doing the job. So God kissed us on the brow, did he?

Then the devil went to bed with us, and believe you me, kid, he sleeps pretty good.”

Cain’s quick amoral self-consciousness in a world whose rules don’t apply inspired the great French existentialist Albert Camus to his novel The Stranger.

Cain (see C) does just as well at the movies. This sizzling, classic black tale of greed and lust was twice dramatized on the big screen. The 1946 version starred Lana Turner and John Garfield, and the 1981 remake stared Jessica Lange and Jack Nicholson.

Q.E.D., by Gertrude Stein (1874-1946): writer

Stein identified herself as a Baltimorean even though she only lived there from 1892 to 1903. She later studied medicine at Johns Hopkins University but dropped out in her final year. She lived the rest of her life in Paris.

Stein’s Paris apartment was a magnet for such artists and writers as Ernest Hemingway, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Thornton Wilder. She made her mark on 20th-century culture as much by her free-spirited personality and patronage of modern art as by her writing.

Much of Stein’s prose experiments with narrative forms. For this reason, readers tend to love her writing or hate it. She is best known for The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (it’s her own autobiography), which is an easier and more enjoyable read than many of her other books.

Q.E.D. was inspired by a romantic disappointment suffered during her time in Baltimore.

The last month of Adele’s life in Baltimore had been such a succession of wearing experiences that she rather regretted that she was not to have the steamer all to herself. It was very easy to think of the rest of the passengers as mere wooden objects; they were all sure to be of some abjectly familiar type that one knew so well.

Rachel Carson (1907-1964): writer, biologist, ecologist

Carson was born May 27 in Pennsylvania where her mother nurtured the future biologist’s lifelong passion for nature. She first came to Maryland around 1930 to complete graduate studies in zoology at Johns Hopkins University.

In 1936 she began working as a biologist for the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, the first woman to take and pass the civil service test. During her 15 years there, she became chief editor of all publications for the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service while also writing feature articles on natural history for The Sun and completing four books of observations on sea life. In 1952, she retired from federal service to write full time.

Silent Spring, Carson’s 1962 book alerting readers to the dangers of pesticide abuse, spurred the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and incited passage of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and more than 40 state bills regulating pesticide use. Today, Carson is regarded as the mother of environmentalism.

There was a strange stillness. The birds, for example — where had they gone? … The feeding stations in the backyards were deserted. The few birds seen anywhere were moribund; they trembled violently and could not fly. It was a spring without voices.

Carson died April 14 at home in Silver Spring, in Montgomery County.

To learn more:

Salamanca, J.R. (1924); novelist, UMD professor

If you were reading novels in the early ’60s, you likely loved or hated Salamanca’s 1961 novel Lilith — and a 1964 film version starring Warren Beatty — about a sensitive young man’s enchantment with a young woman patient at the mental institution where he works. Lilith will be reprinted in August.

Salamanca’s out-of-print novel Embarkation (1976) evokes the flavor of Chesapeake Country:

Poppa and Mr. Floyd ... got in an argument about who could eat the most raw oysters, so they decided to have a contest ... Well, my God, Poppa ate five dozen, I couldn’t believe it. ... I’d set down a fresh plateful and he’d get to work on them, not too fast, slow and businesslike, real professional, and then smack his lips and take a big swig of beer and say, “O.K. Aaron, I need stoking up, boy,” and push his plate over to me again. ... Poppa won easy, Mr. Floyd gave up halfway through his fourth dozen and said, “Well, Joel, I give. I just barely got room left to pick my teeth.”

It’s a tale about a Solomons Island boat builder, Joel Linthicum, who’s possessed by desire to create beautiful boats. Nothing stops him, even when he and his family are threatened with destruction.

Salamanca is Professor Emeritus of English at University of Maryland. UM students can still enroll in Prof. Salamanca’s summer session of “Introduction to the Novel,” which begins July 17.

Salamanca’s first novel in 14 years, That Summer’s Trance, comes out in July.

The Tidewater Tales: A Novel, by John Barth (and, some editions say, Mary Johnston)

In this 1987 stories-within-a-story novel, a married couple becalmed on Chesapeake Bay entertain each other by telling tales. She is eight and one half months pregnant, and giving birth is the plot of the “fine fat novel … ‘sprawling with life, teeming with characters, overflowing with narrative abundance.’”

As Katherine Sagamore, teeming with who knows what all life, grows larger, Peter’s stories grow smaller. In Barth’s words “that fine fat novel … had been succeeded by a lean … Came then twin slim novellas; after them a landmark story entitled ‘Part of a Shorter Work’ …” Shrinkage continues until his latest short story, “The Olive,” is nothing more than its title. Unsatisfied, the writer shortens that to “Olive.”

Suffice it to say that The Tidewater Tales, all 655 pages of it, was Barth’s (see B) first big fat novel in some time.

It is also a story about Chesapeake Bay, full of facts and lore and spirit of the waters, as: son of monotonous marshes stretching sky to sky, he thrives upon silence, sparseness. But as in fact those wetlands teem and nurse the elsewise lifeless oceans, so at Peter’s center is … a certain hard tireless dedicated energy, like a quasar blazing X-rays in the universe’s crawlspace.

Upton Sinclair (1878-1968): novelist, reformer

Born Sept. 20 in Baltimore, Sinclair moved to New York with his family at age 10, often returning to Baltimore to visit relatives. By 15, he was writing potboilers for pulp magazines. The precocious teen became a prolific adult: Sinclair published nearly 100 books.

Sinclair won the 1942 Pulitzer Prize in fiction for Dragon’s Teeth, a novel about the rise of Nazism. Dragon’s Teeth was one of Sinclair’s Lanny Budd series of 11 contemporary historical novels. Lanny Budd, the hero of the series, is an American secret agent who travels the world and always finds himself in the middle of significant historical events.

Sinclair used fiction as a means of bringing about social and economic reform. (see J) After moving to California in 1915, he tried to change the world in other ways, too, by helping found the American Civil Liberties Union in the ’20s and twice running (unsuccessfully) for governor of California.
He died Nov. 25 and rests at Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

The Vintage mencken (1955), gathered by Alistair Cooke

This anthology of Mencken essays aims, says editor Cooke, “to give to the new Mencken reader a running account of his life as he wrote and lived it.”

Newspaperman, humorist and literary critic Henry Louis Mencken (1880-1956) was Maryland’s — and the nation’s — most prominent voice in his day thanks to his witty, unsparing criticism of overzealous moralizers — “wowsers,” he called them — as well as wealth, authority and privilege.

Mencken was born, raised and educated in Baltimore, and he lived and worked there his entire life (including 38 years writing and editing for The Sun). He wrote more than 3,000 columns, edited several magazines and penned 30 books, including the classic The American Language, a guide to American expressions and idioms. As a literary critic and editor, he fought censorship and promoted new writers.

Man, at his best, remains a sort of one-lunged animal, never completely rounded and perfect, as a cockroach, say, is perfect. If he shows one valuable quality, it is almost unheard of for him to show any other. … In all my years of search in this world … I have never met a thoroughly moral man who was honorable.

From “The Good Man,” first published in 1923 in The Smart Set, a magazine that Mencken edited from 1914-1923.

Weems, Mason Locke (1759-1825): writer, Episcopal preacher, traveling book salesman

Born Oct. 11 at Marshes Seat near Herring Bay in Anne Arundel County, Weems wrote The Life and Memorable Actions of George Washington around 1800, shortly after the first president’s death. This fictionalized biography, which focused on Washington’s honesty, patriotism, piety, wisdom and work ethic, popularized the following story of the cherry tree and became this country’s first bestseller.

When George … was about six years old, he was made the wealthy master of a hatchet of which … he was immoderately fond, and was constantly going about chopping everything that came in his way. One day, in the garden … he unluckily tried the edge of his hatchet on the body of a beautiful young English cherry-tree … The next morning the old gentleman, finding out what had befallen his tree … asked for the mischievous author … Nobody could tell him anything about it. Presently George and his hatchet made their appearance. “George,” said his father, “do you know who killed that beautiful little cherry tree yonder in the garden?” This was a tough question; and George staggered under it for a moment; but quickly recovered himself … He bravely cried out, “I can’t tell a lie, Pa ... I did cut it with my hatchet.” Cried his father … “run to my arms … you have paid me for it a thousand fold. Such an act of heroism in my son is more worth than a thousand trees.”

Read a selection of chapters:

Learn more about Weems:

Exodus, by Leon Uris (1924): novelist, screenwriter

This 1958 novel chronicles founding of the nation of Israel. Exodus is also the name of the Maryland-built steamboat, formerly the President Warfield, that attempted to carry 4,500 Jews through the British blockade of Palestine, a passage chronicled in Uris’ novel.

Son of immigrant and first generation Russian-Polish Jews, Leon identified with not only Zionism but also freedom movements around the world — though his leftist sentiments may have been influenced as much by writer John Steinbeck as by his family. His sprawling novels recount many such fights for freedom, ranging throughout the world from the Polish Ghetto to Berlin to Ireland. But his first, Battle Cry, was based on his years with the U.S. Marines in World War II. In that tradition, he researched his novels long and hard on the scene. He also worked as a journalist, breaking in with a piece in Esquire, and screenwriter, with credits including 1957’s Gunfight at the OK Corral.

But, some say, the greatest story of them all was Exodus:

Barak resigned his position with the Zion Settlement Society, sold his apartment in Tel Aviv, and led twenty-five pioneer families out to the Huleh swamplands to build a moshav. … In that first scorching summer, they worked day after day, week after week, and month after month in hundred-degree heat, in waist- and neck-high water, slogging away the muck to start drainage channels.

The movie starred Paul Newman as Ari Ben Canaan.

York, Rebecca. York is a pen name shared by Ruth Glick and her friend and sister-Maryland writer Eileen Buckholtz

Together they collaborated on Harlequin Intrigue’s 43 Light St. series of suspense romances set in Baltimore. In 1998 the two ended their collaborations but agreed that each could continue using their pen name as long as future publications also featured the author’s true name on the cover.

When not writing novels, Buckholtz is a computer expert with the Department of Defense for 20 years. Last year, she co-authored the electronic book Y2K Run to Save Your PC from the Year 2000 Bug, which offered easy-to-understand advice about avoiding the chimera of Y2K computer problems. To learn more, visit

Raised in the Baltimore area, Glick now lives in Columbia. Her 1998 and 2000 solo novels Nowhere Man and Shattered Lullaby received positive reviews from Washington Post literary critic Michael Dirda. Glick has also written more than a dozen cookbooks including Simply Italian: 100 Zesty Italian Favorites Ready to Eat in Minutes and Skinny One-Pot Meals. Visit Ruth Glick’s Home Page at

Z stands for zero …

the price tag assigned to crime by Maryland’s hard-boiled storymakers Dashiell Hammett and James Cain. Lured by lust and greed to rewards that seem theirs for the taking, their characters invariably find that the big payoff is something else indeed. Here’s a sample, meted out by Hammett through the Continental Op in “The Golden Horseshoe”:

“I can’t put you up for the murders you engineered in San Francisco, but I can sock you with the one you didn’t do in Seattle — so justice won’t be cheated. You’re going to Seattle, Ed, to hang for Ashcraft’s suicide.”

And he did.

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly