Monday, March 17, 2008

Down the Shore with...Amy Hill Hearth

It's not every day that we get a Peabody Award winner on the blog. So I'm happy to introduce you to Amy Hill Hearth, author of Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years, which is where that Peabody came from. The book was a bestseller that inspired what Hill Hearth calls "Delany Mania."

She's also author of "Strong Medicine" Speaks: A Native American Elder Has Her Say, which will be published tomorrow. It's an oral history of the mother of the chief of the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape of Cumberland County (you can see my review here). We also happen to share our alma matter -- The University of Tampa -- and were both editors of The Minaret, the UT college newspaper. Small world.

I met up with Hill Hearth to interview her for a newspaper article, and realized she'd be perfect for this series, even if her favorite towns are a little bit due north. So here we go:

1. What do you consider your favorite shore town and why?
I actually have two towns that I consider "mine." One is Ocean Grove, where I go when I need that Victorian-houses-by-the-sea experience. The other is Long Branch, specifically Pier Village. It's only three miles from our house, so I like to go there when I need a breather, and it's very, very dog-friendly.

2. How did you end up living near the coast?
My husband and I were living in Westchester County, New York and he received a job offer in Monmouth County, New Jersey. We were happy to have a chance to move back to the seashore because when we met, we were living in Daytona Beach, Florida and our early years together included long walks on the beach there. Interestingly, it may be fate that I've ended up at the Monmouth County shore because my father's family were the first white settlers here in the 1600s. One of our ancestors was a Lenni-Lenape Indian woman named Mary. So in an odd way I've come home again.

3. What's the best and worst thing about living near the shore?
The best thing is that I am where I want to be. I'm not somewhere else, longing for the seashore. The worst thing is that in the summer we have to take the crowds and traffic into consideration. I love summer but I'm always happy when life gets nice and quiet in the fall.

4. What's your favorite Cape May memory?
I have two favorite memories of Cape May. One was in 1982, on a visit with my parents. I had just graduated from the University of Tampa and the three of us drove "the old way" up the coast, avoiding the highways for Route 1. We took the ferry from Delaware to Cape May on a cold but beautiful day in late spring. My second favorite memory is taking my husband there for a romantic getaway in the late 1980s. He had never been there, so it was great fun to share it with him. He grew up in Florida, where so much was bulldozed, and appreciated that Cape May had not been ruined.

5. Are you surprised that it's become such a romantic getaway?
I didn't realize that Cape May is one of the most popular places today for getaways and weddings. Yet it makes sense because it is so lovely and, because of its location, it almost feels like you're on an island, thousands of miles away.

6. What do you think is the biggest misconception about the Lenni-Lenape tribe?
The biggest misconception about the Lenni-Lenape Indians is that people believe they are extinct. The largest (more than 3,000 individual members) and most vibrant Lenni-Lenape tribe still living on ancestral lands is the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape of Cumberland County, not all that far from Cape May. They have a Powwow that is open to the public. This year, it's June 14 and 15th and will be held at the Salem County Fairgrounds.

7. What do you hope this book does for the tribe?
The best thing about the book is that it is giving the tribe a voice. For four-hundred years, outsiders wrote about them without their input. As a result, my book is giving them a chance to "have their say" at last.

Read more at You can also see a video of Hill Hearth on

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