The Power of Literature
Drive slowly along Route 16 through Dorchester County, past Cambridge, Church Creek, and Madison, then swing down to Blackwater and Bucktown and take in the fields, marshes, forests, creeks, and farmhouses of this Eastern Shore landscape little changed over time. And while you are there, take a moment to listen to the landscape and the stories it tells.
In a recent public meeting hosted by the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, in partnership with Dorchester Citizen’s for Safe Energy, the Dorchester County Department of Tourism and the Dorchester County Council, residents were asked to reflect on the land; to listen and learn the stories of the generations of people who lived here making their living working the fields and the waters of this Eastern Shore community. This Speaker Series featured Tonda Williams from the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Scenic By Way and Elizabeth Beckley from Preservation Maryland. Tonda Williams began the evening with a presentation on Dorchester native Harriet Tubman, Dorchester’s important role in the Underground Railroad, and the status of the scenic byway and national park dedicated to interpreting this story. Organizers urged citizens to consider the history of the county in light of the current debate on the Mid-Atlantic Power Pathway Project (MAPP) and the proposed power lines to be built in Dorchester. (See www.powerpathway.com/overview.html for the map).
In his book, Song Yet Song, James McBride tells a story rooted in this very landscape through which the proposed power line will run. McBride’s characters are complex—the story is one of human cruelty and compassion, of neighbors banding together and turning against each other, of people who live close to the land and the water. This landscape, so richly evoked, is an important character in this book. Song Yet Sung is the Council’s One Maryland One Book selection for 2009. The goal of One Maryland One Book is to bring diverse people in communities across the state together to have the shared experience of reading the same book as a springboard to discuss critical issues in their communities. While participants may gain a deeper understanding of the power of literature, they also learn to understand one another in the process.
What role can the humanities—in this case, literature and history—play in helping us understand the history and values that underlie current public discourse? As we debate important issues such as land use and health care, MHC believes that the humanities provide an important vehicle for community conversations and a lens through which to view contemporary public issues.