Any visitor to the beaches of Sullivan’s Island or Isle of Palms can tell you what poetry in motion looks like. Walking through soft sands and listening to lapping waves is the perfect fodder for deep thoughts and creativity. It’s no wonder, then, that the islands have served as inspiration to so many writers through the decades. Anne Hassold Harris explores the thoughts of a few of the most notable. Photo by Steve Rosamilia.
Perhaps one of the South’s best-known authors, Pat Conroy visits the Lowcountry coast in many of his bestselling novels. His description of the region in his book The Lords Of Discipline is one that anyone who has crossed a bridge to one of our beaches can relate to, too.
“Charleston has a landscape that encourages intimacy and partisanship. I have heard it said that an inoculation to the sights and smells of the Carolina Lowcountry is an almost irreversible antidote to the charms of other landscapes, other alien geographies. You can be moved profoundly by other vistas, by other oceans, by soaring mountain ranges, but you can never be seduced. You can even forsake the Lowcountry, renounce it for other climates, but you can never completely escape the sensuous, semitropical pull of Charleston and her marshes.”
EDGAR ALLAN POE
Edgar Allan Poe’s description of Sullivan’s Island in his short story The Gold Bug is exactly the reason why so many residents and visitors love it today. Poe was no doubt inspired by the simplicity of Sullivan’s Island when he was stationed here in the 1820s. He went on to use Sullivan’s as a location in several of his works.
“The Island is a very singular one. It consists of little else than the sea sand and is about three miles long. Its breadth at no point exceeds a quarter of a mile."
DOROTHEA BENTON FRANK
The Lowcountry’s coast is practically its own character in this Sullivan’s resident’s bestselling novels. Frank visits the island again in her newest novel, All the Single Ladies, out this June.
“Maybe it's because I was born on Sullivan's Island, I don't know, but when I'm not here I am filled with a kind of desperate longing to be here. That longing leads to remembering, which leads to wondering about the what-ifs of life and then rewriting my own history or imagining another life follows. I'm pretty sure there's sand from Sullivan's Island in my bloodstream.”
MARY ALICE MONROE
An active environmentalist, Monroe, who lives on Isle of Palms, uses her lowcountry home as inspiration for her novels and to draw attention to endangered species and the effect humans have on nature.
“The natural world of the islands is the source of my inspiration. The wetlands is a rich ecosystem ripe with pungent, salty scents and continuing cycles of life and death. All changes with the tides, that living breathing soul of the lowcountry. The Atlantic Ocean is a mercurial beast. Those of us who live on a barrier island know better than to turn our back on it. One moment serene and glistening, the next turbulent and dangerous. Stories thrive in such an environment.”
South Carolina’s Poet Laureate, Marjory Wentworth, arrived on Sullivan’s Island in the late 1980s. The islands have since served as inspiration for many of her awardwinning poems and books. Shackles, Wentworth’s prizewinning children’s book, is based on a true story of three young boys on a mission to find buried treasure and instead find a set of shackles used on slaves centuries ago. The book captures a painful, and very important, part of the island’s history.
“The South Carolina barrier islands, Sullivan’s Island in particular, have been a source of inspiration for my poems and stories. The omnipresence of the sea in all its manifestations permeates my work. I feel wrapped in the natural world when I am on the islands, and the wildlife that is found there is an endless source of metaphor. The history of Sullivan’s Island is sometimes quite violent (the wars that have played out there/ Fort Moultrie and the landing point for enslaved Africans), and the tension between this history and the sheer beauty of the place is endlessly fascinating to me.”