Delmarva chroniclers share stories behind the stories

Ed Okonowicz and Ann Foley.

Ed Okonowicz and Ann Foley.

Written by David Healey

Three of Delmarva’s finest chroniclers and storytellers gathered in Easton to share their knowledge from decades spent documenting the people who make the region so unique.

The authors’ panel, sponsored by the Eastern Shore Writer’s Association, was held on Saturday, January 29, 2017, at the Easton Library.

Sharing their experiences were Ed Okonowicz, perhaps best known for his ghost tales and his book Disappearing Delmarva; Gary Crawford, columnist for the Tidewater Times; and Ann Foley, author of Having My Say: Conversations with a Chesapeake Bay Waterman.

Moderated by outgoing ESWA president Mindie Burgoyne, the authors’ discussion was at times poignant, but mostly humorous, as they shared everything from an encounter with world famous decoy carvers to muskrat trappers to old-time watermen.

While they might be “Come Heres” in the Delmarva sense, all three have spent decades writing about the uniquely Delmarva way of life.

“I used to like to sit and listen to the stories people had to tell, even before I was a writer,” Foley said.

Ann Foley and Gary Crawford.

Ann Foley and Gary Crawford.

Some of their advice to writers when interviewing others included get a couple people together so that that start having a conversation and build off each other. All three also make a point of meeting their interview subjects in their homes, or workshops, or boats, where people will be comfortable talking. That interview approach sometimes takes early mornings, long drives, making friends with dogs, and hours of listening.

While these writers check their information carefully with exhaustive research, Crawford said that ultimately writers have to be willing to take that final leap and get their work into print.

“I would recommend that you not be too shy about putting yourself out there to ridicule,” Crawford said.

He said that the hardest writing assignment he gave himself was to write an account of the sinking of the Hay Russ IV in 1979, in which five Tilghman Island men, all of the same family, were lost.

Okonowicz had this bit of tongue in cheek advice for writers: “I avoid young people at all costs. You have to go to people who have lived and experienced good stories to get good stories.”

Listening to the inside scoop from three of Delmarva's best storytellers.

Listening to the inside scoop from three of Delmarva’s best storytellers.

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