St. Mary’s County is where colonial Maryland began, with the establishment of St. Mary’s City on the site of an ancient Yaocomico village as Maryland’s first capital in 1634. Southern Maryland has been home to human occupation for at least 12,000 years, and since 1634 the area has seen myriad changes through the rise and fall of tobacco agriculture and its associated enslaved labor to its current status as a bedroom community to Washington, DC, and as home to the Patuxent Naval Air Station. Although historically rural, the area is slowly giving rise to suburban development, and so ties to the past become increasingly important.
In Listening In, Merideth Taylor provides a captivating, even pioneering approach to capturing the land and life of Maryland’s "mother county." She integrates her own engaging photographs of buildings of all kinds, many of them in disrepair, with imaginative text called "ghost stories" that relate to the photographs in one way or another. These stories are based on living oral histories that Taylor has heard over the many years she has lived in the area. And so we gain a true sense of what life in St. Mary’s County was--and the place it is becoming.
"Merideth Taylor has given the people of St. Mary’s County and all who come to know its unique voices and places an incredible gift in the form of Listening In, her brilliant new book. Through her creatively written ‘ghost stories’ and perfectly chosen photographs, she imagines conversations in the homes, churches, schools, barns, businesses, and other structures, mostly in sad condition, over the course of a century or more. Most writers and artists could not have accomplished this feat, but the very talented Merideth Taylor employs her many gifts to draw us in as real-time observers. Listening In is a great treat, and I strongly recommend it."
"We have all seen old buildings, peeping out from behind screens of brush, sinking slowly back into the earth, farms and stores and homes whispering to us of the past. Merideth Taylor amplifies their voices, giving us brief, poignant, and evocative glimpses into the lives, loves, and losses that these buildings have seen. Listening In is a stunning, gripping, beautiful, and important book."
"St. Mary’s County, Maryland, has been home to humans for the past 12,000 years. Its fertile fields and dense woodlands are bisected by numerous rivers and streams, all flowing into Chesapeake Bay. The county’s past is rich, varied, and as old as time itself, and Merideth Taylor understands the complexity of that past, as she so ably demonstrates in Listening In."
" Listening In captures twentieth-century life in St. Mary’s County that could easily have been forgotten as progress in the twenty-first century speeds along. I highly recommend this delightful and important book with its beautiful photography and engaging vignettes inspired by local oral histories."
In LISTENING IN, Merideth Taylor provides a captivating, even pioneering approach to capturing the land and life of Maryland’s 'mother county.' She integrates her own engaging photographs of buildings of all kinds, many of them in disrepair, with imaginative text called 'ghost stories' that relate to the photographs in one way or another.
"For more than 20 years, Merideth Taylor has been bearing witness to old, fading buildings in St. Mary’s County, Md., where she lives. Most are small homes or farmsteads, empty and cloaked in a mantle of abandonment and decay. Contained in their flaking paint, sagging roofs and enveloping vines are the traces of lives that have been lived and the joys and sorrows of the people who once occupied them. These 'ghost voices,' as she calls them, have been captured in her book, Listening In. Her images are accompanied by imagined narrative vignettes for each property, where fictional occupants speak to one another."
With Listening In, Taylor reimagines the lives of others and gives voice to walls that talk in a lost language. The subject may be fading lives and falling structures, but Taylor’s form is distinctly alive and modern.... Taylor’s flourishes of precise detail – references to stuffed ham, spearing tobacco, maritime life, wisteria and kudzu – never cross into sentimentality or nostalgia. Instead, it hints at the points where we intersect and divide, where race, class, gender, and more whisper about family, spirit, and identity, about time, change and what it means to grow, thrive, survive, and die.
Merideth Taylor is Professor Emerita of Theater and Dance at St. Mary's College of Maryland, a prizewinning documentary filmmaker, and coeditor of In Relentless Pursuit of an Education: African American Stories from a Century of Segregation. She has been honored by the St. Mary’s County Branch NAACP with a Lifetime Achievement Award for her use of the performing arts to produce positive social change.