||Gilbert Valliant Byron (born 1903)
Called "the Voice of the Chesapeake," and "the Chesapeake Thoreau," Chestertown-born Gilbert Byron is known for his poems, short stories, novels, historical research, magazine and newspaper columns and articles detailing life on the Chesapeake Bay throughout the 20th century. During his lifetime, Byron published 14 books and over 70 short stories, poems, and articles. In his biographical data sheet handwritten in 1983 for his oral history interview, Byron lists varied work experiences: "Basket maker, Western Union office boy, swimming pool [lifeguard] (public), school teacher and school administrator (28 years), broiler (chicken) raiser, poet and writer, author 12 published books, gardener (own), carpenter (built house), brick layer (built own chimney and fireplace), poets-in- schools program (9 years), private tutor to young and not so young poets."
Byron recalls visiting an old captain in Chestertown in the 1930s where he was living on an ark. "He was schooner man, but this was long after his schooner was gone….He came to the door and had his boots on, his hair was still black. And I said, 'Captain Cable, I said I'm Gilbert Byron.' He said, 'You must be George's boy. You didn't turn out the way we thought you would.' I'm still wondering what he thought. This is what amazes me about what I call elemental people like watermen and farmers, they say such wonderful things and to today I don't know what he thought." Byron's mother was 43 when Gilbert was born, the only child of her second marriage to George Byron, a shipyard worker and waterman. "My mother didn't want me to follow the river, no, she wanted me to get away from the river. Of course when I was 14 she took me up to see the President of Washington College…I got a tuition scholarship and I entered the Prep School." Byron continued at Washington College and graduated when he was 19.
Gilbert Byron's success came later in life, after leaving his teaching career, and he seems ambivalent about whether others approved of his chosen path of writing, but he will long be remembered on the Eastern Shore as the author of "The Lord's Oyster," a singular work depicting life on the Eastern Shore.
This interview is not indexed or transcribed.
3 original cassette tapes.
||Gilbert Byron Oral History