Tuesday, April 23, 2002

Stephanie Fowler Biography

I was born on May 11, 1979. I was born and raised on the Lower Shore of Maryland, just a few miles southeast of Salisbury. My father's family – with the exception of my paternal grandfather – are all from the Somerset and Wicomico area. My mother's side is from Worcester and Accomack Counties. So, my roots span the lower shore and run pretty deep. (My aunt has tracked our genealogy, and from all accounts, my mother's side has been in this area for some time.) I love the Eastern Shore. This is my home. I have every intention of staying in this area, and some day, I hope to find a nice house in the country where I can sit on a big porch and watch thunderstorms and fireflies.
I've got a very close relationship with both of my parents and my younger sister. My father, Bruce Fowler, is a paramedic with the City of Salisbury Fire Department. He's a great storyteller, and I like to think that's where I picked up the habit. My mother, Jacki Fowler, is retired but she was a nurse and later the assistant director of Respiratory Care at PRMC. Together, my parents own Lifestar Ambulance in Salisbury – an Eastern Shore business that's been in operation for 15 years and still going strong. She is my number one research assistant and she keeps me grounded. My sister, Kristen Fowler, is 4 years younger than I am, and she is a college student. We are a close family, and I wouldn't want it any other way.
Besides writing and reading, I enjoy fishing, boating, sports, traveling, being outdoors and with friends and family. I like going on walks with my dog, Shiloh – a golden retriever / basset hound. I feel the most connected and the most inspired when I am outdoors. Nature gets to me. And it may sound strange, but I truly enjoy doing research. I love digging through the past to see what I can come up, to see what I can find. Old newspapers, dusty attics, faded photographs, postcards, tiptoeing through a grave yard, having long conversations with those who know of events first-hand…I can get lost like that. Research seems to get my blood flowing.


I graduated in 1997 from Parkside High School in Salisbury (Wicomico County). I was a three year member of the National Honor Society and overall, I did pretty well. I graduated in the top 20% of my class. Basically, high school is high school.
I applied early decision to Washington College because it was exactly where I wanted to go. I had no doubts about that. As soon as I saw the campus and took a visit, I just felt like that's where I had to go, and the more I learned about Washington College, I knew that it was where I had to be. What attracted me to the school was the reputation of the institution as well as the outstanding reputation of the writing program with its Sophie Kerr prize. Washington College offered a Creative Writing Minor, which was very attractive to me because I knew all along that I was going to be an English major. I also knew I would have the opportunity to play varsity athletics – I had played sports all my life and knew that I wanted to continue to do so in college. But like I said, I knew from the very beginning that Washington College was the place for me – even though I failed to win the freshman Sophie Kerr scholarship.
So, throughout my four years, I took several creative writing courses in addition to my regular English courses. I wrote for both newspapers at Washington College. Our weekly paper was called The Elm, and I was a sports writer. Our monthly newsmagazine was called The Collegian, and I wrote features articles. Before graduation, I learned that I had received departmental honors for my thesis - a collection of creative non-fiction short stories about the Eastern Shore. I also learned that I would graduate Magna Cum Laude. At graduation, I was #16 or #17 in my class for those graduating with a B.A. Then, I won Sophie Kerr. Wow. At $62,099.34 it is the largest undergraduate literary award in the country. I'm still just totally blown away.
Literally minutes after graduation I was pulled into a media conference with reporters and a phone interview with the Associated Press. Winning the Sophie Kerr prize garnered me quite a bit of attention. Before I even got home after graduation, my story was already on the national wire service. Television and radio stations from Salisbury to Baltimore and D.C. broadcast the news while papers all over Maryland had my name in headlines. I was even in papers as far out as Texas and Michigan. The Baltimore Sun ran three stories about me; The Washington Post had two; The New York Times picked up the Associated Press story about me; and even the Daily Times – my hometown paper – had two. An excerpt from one of my stories was featured in Chesapeake Life magazine. Maryland Public Television produced a small segment about me on one of their shows, “Artworks This Week”.
But what I was most happy about was all the local people who have written me letters and sent cards and newspaper clippings, saying that they were proud of me. Their words meant so much to me.
During my sophomore year of college, I took a course in Creative Non-Fiction, a style I was completely unfamiliar with. I enjoyed the course and in a way, had an awakening. Before that course, I had been dabbling in fiction and poetry, trying to find something that worked for me, but nothing really fit. Creative non-fiction clicked for me, and finally, I felt at home with a writing style. This is perhaps one of the greatest discoveries I have had as a writer.
One of the main reasons why I enjoy creative non-fiction so much is that it allows me as a storyteller, as a writer, to reveal myself to the reader. With this style, the reader gets me and history at the same time. I want my readers to feel like they have developed a relationship with me as well as with my work. That is important to me.
When the time came for me to start looking seriously at my senior thesis, and what I wanted to choose to work on, the choice was absolutely clear. I knew without a doubt that I was going to write about the Eastern Shore, about my home.
Because I'm from the Eastern Shore – born and raised – certain themes are important to me - issues of conflict, man vs. nature, survival, landscape. I can't help but write about the Eastern Shore. Creative non-fiction provides me with a vehicle to truly bring to life this place that I love. I intend to continue writing about the Eastern Shore, and even do more critical non-fiction works as well. I just don't want the culture and richness of this area to go untapped or unwritten or unknown. It's too beautiful and complicated to leave alone.

Current Career

After graduation and after winning the award, I was caught up in a dream and I wasn't being very productive. I needed to find something to reground myself in reality. A job will definitely do that for you. So, I accepted a position with the Epilepsy Association of the Eastern Shore as Director of Public Affairs. The Epilepsy Association is a non-profit organization that provides services for the nine counties of Maryland's Eastern Shore. They work with people who have epilepsy and developmental disabilities, and provide those clients with residential, financial, clinical, recreational, and educational programs. It was a nice job for me because it was pretty laid-back, low stress, and at the same time, I was helping to make a difference in the lives of others.
But after a while, the writing itch came back to me, and eventually, I decided to leave the Epilepsy Association and pursue writing full-time. I had been longing to throw myself into research and writing and traveling. Everyone I know has been supportive of this move, and I truly feel it is where I belong. I believe that researching and writing about the Eastern Shore is exactly what I should be doing at this point in my life. I'm more than thrilled to be doing what I love. After all, the biggest dream of my entire life has been to be a full-time writer. Now, that's exactly what I am.
Currently, I am working on the collection that won the 2001 Sophie Kerr prize. I wanted to make some changes to it before I begin submitting seriously to publishers. The collection that won the prize was good for my thesis, but if this is going to be seen in a book format, then there are a few things about the collection that need to be changed. Those changes are mostly as follows: I am pulling one story out completely and inserting a new story, making revisions to the existing stories, and adding more reference material to my already long list of works cited.

Future Goals

I want to do some serious non-fiction work, interviewing some of the older people in the area and do a collection of their stories in their own words. I know a great photographer who I'd definitely enlist to capture their faces as well. That's one project I've set out for myself. Right now, I've waiting on some offers about agents and publishing. I'm not rushing into it because I want to make sure, absolutely sure, that I'm choosing the right one. But one thing is for sure - agent or no agent, publishing or no publishing, I will continue to write the stories of the Eastern Shore. Something in me just won't let it go.

Crossings: A Journey Into God's Country

This is the name I gave to the collection. At approximately 160 pages, it is comprised of five short stories based on people, places, and events of the Eastern Shore, and these stories are written in the creative non-fiction style. Most people ask what creative non-fiction is. I think the best way to explain it to people is that creative non-fiction is the way your grandfather or grandmother told stories. They were talking about real people or places or events (non-fiction) but they infused those stories with another quality – insight, imagination, feeling, emotion, a creative response in the re-weaving of the story. Think of it as a truly interesting history book or a ghost story that you swear by.
"The Storyteller" — The first small story is about me. I introduce myself to the reader as the storyteller of the collection. I introduce my relationships to the people in and around the stories. It's a short essay, and I wax a little poetic in it.
"The Curse of Franklin" — The second story is about a ghost town in Accomack County, Virginia. Once widely known as Franklin City, it is now little more than mounds of oyster shells, rotting buildings, and ghosts of all things passed. I chronicled the history of this seafood boomtown because the notion of a hometown dying was fascinating to me.
"And Justice For All" — The third story is the infamous Pilchard murder case. In February of 1940, the small village of Stockton was rocked with the bloody murder of Harvey Pilchard and the rape and near-fatal shooting of his wife, Annie. A massive manhunt for the felons was launched and involved every one from the townsfolk, local and regional police forces, and even the governor of Maryland. The story details the entire crime from the events preceding the crime to the trial to current day status.
"Sons of the Chesapeake" — The fourth story is centered on the Chesapeake Bay oyster wars and state line debate between Maryland and Virginia. The effects it had on one particular Crisfield family, the Nelsons, highlight the history of the struggle. Many people remembered the day that Earl Nelson was brought into the harbor, fatally shot by a Virginia fisheries policeman. The history of the oyster wars and old-line debate has loomed over the horizon for centuries.
"Daniela's Story" — The fifth and final story of this collection is a bit of an anomaly. It tells the story of my best friend in the world, Daniela Rados. She and her family miraculously survived and escaped the war in the Balkans. Born and raised in Croatia, Daniela moved with her family to Bosnia in the early 1990s. A year and a half later, the war disrupted their lives and the Rados family was never the same again. This story is perhaps one of the most special to me, and although it doesn't sound like it belongs, I can assure you that it does for several reasons. A major element to this story is my relationship with Daniela, and how an Eastern Shore country girl finds a common ground with this beautiful and exotic child of Europe. There are many parallels that are drawn between Croatia and the Eastern Shore. It's an amazing story. I can't wait to work on it again.
These stories are followed by five pages of Works Cited and a special Acknowledgements page in which I pay tribute to many of the people who helped me create this collection.

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