Spinsheet- A Passion for Oysters

From Spinsheet

January 30, 2016

Last fall, the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum’s director of education published a new book on the Bay’s beloved bivalve. Kate Livie’s book, “Chesapeake Oysters: The Bay’s Foundation and Future,” has created a lot of buzz in the maritime community so we thought we should get to know a little bit more about the author.

Also be sure to mark these upcoming Meet the Author talks on your calendar: Feb. 11 at 10 a.m. at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, Feb. 24 at 7 p.m. at the Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center in Grasonville, MD, and March 11 at 7 p.m. at the Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons. For more info on the author, visit katelivie.com

Did you grow up in Maryland? What started your interest in oysters?

“I was born and raised in Chestertown, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, so I would absolutely consider myself a local girl. I grew up spending my summers on the water, catching crabs and swimming in the Chester River. Members of my family, which are sixth generation Kent County on my mother’s side, had worked and still work as watermen, so oysters were always a part of our winter traditions. I grew up eating raw oysters at my Pop-pop’s picnic table in the backyard. He would shuck them right into my mouth when I was small. Jumping ahead, in 2008, I started working at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum as a museum educator, where I started to see the deeper role oysters played in the Chesapeake’s culture and environment, both historically and today. After that I was hooked, and oysters have been my passion and focus ever since.”

Where did you go to college?

“My undergraduate degree is from Towson University, where I majored in Art History. For me, art history was history as told through images, like a picture book, whereas now, I tell history through objects, which is an even better, more tangible medium for people to connect with the past.”

How long have you been with CBMM?

“I’ve been with CBMM for almost nine years, serving as the Director of Education for five years. Before CBMM, I worked with the Sultana Education Foundation in Chestertown and George Washington’s Mount Vernon.”

How long did you work on your book?

“I worked on the book for two and a half years. It started because of the education blog I write for CBMM, beautifulswimmers.tumblr.com, which chronicles the stories of the Chesapeake’s people and landscape. I’ve been actively blogging for five years, and in the meantime, my writing caught the eye of an editor with History Press. After reading my work, they approached me about writing a book on crabs, which I wasn’t too keen on since I think there can hardly be a follow up to William Warner’s classic, “Beautiful Swimmers,” (which incidentally inspired the name of my blog). Long story short, I came back to my publisher with another idea, to write a book on my real passion – oysters. And so the very long process of writing and researching the book started!”

What was the most rewarding part of your research?

“Of course I loved researching the consumer side of the oyster industry (read: eating oysters!), but I think what I really enjoyed was meeting and interviewing so many people for the book. Oyster scientists, Jamestown archaeologists, watermen, oyster farmers – there are so many stakeholders in the Bay’s past and future and they are truly informed and passionate about the Chesapeake’s shellfish industry and the role oysters have played in shaping our Bay’s environment and traditions. I would sit down with people, over a beer or a meal, and just let them talk about their area of expertise. I got some wonderful stories – from the head chef at Colonial williamsburg, say, about how oysters were commonly pickled, or from a modern oyster connoisseur like Julie Qiu, who talked about what foodies think of modern farmed oysters from the Bay. It was important to me that people who have spent their lives somehow involved with Chesapeake oysters get to have a voice in the book – it’s a series of narrators, not just me telling the story.”