On January 24 at noon, Earl Swift will deliver a Banner Lecture entitled “Chesapeake Requiem: A Year with the Watermen of Vanishing Tangier Island.”
Tangier, Virginia, is a community unique on the American landscape. Mapped by John Smith in 1608, settled during the American Revolution, the tiny sliver of mud and marsh is home to 470 hardy people who live with one foot in the twenty-first century and another in times long passed. They are separated from their countrymen by twelve miles of often tempestuous water—water that for generations has made them a chief source for the rightly prized Chesapeake Bay blue crab and has lent the island its claim to fame as the softshell crab capital of the world. But the very water that has long sustained Tangier now erases it day by day, wave by wave, as the island sinks and the bay rises. Experts reckon that islanders will soon be forced to abandon their homes. Conservative and deeply religious Tangiermen ponder the end times. Earl Swift’s Chesapeake Requiem: A Year with the Watermen of Vanishing Tangier Island takes an intimate look at the island’s past, present, and tenuous future, and sounds a warning on the coming fate of countless coastal communities.
Earl Swift began writing for a living in his teens. In the years since, the Virginia-based journalist has written seven books and hundreds of major features for newspapers and magazines. His work has been nominated for the National Book Award, the National Magazine Award, and for a Pulitzer Prize. A former Fulbright fellow in New Zealand, Swift is currently a residential fellow of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities at the University of Virginia. His books include The Big Roads: The Untold Story of the Engineers, Visionaries, and Trailblazers Who Created the American Superhighways; Auto Biography: A Classic Car, an Outlaw Motorhead, and 57 Years of the American Dream; Journey on the James: Three Weeks through the Heart of Virginia; The Tangierman's Lament: and Other Tales of Virginia; and Chesapeake Requiem: A Year with the Watermen of Vanishing Tangier Island.