Other People’s Oysters


There may be no more famous form of seafood than an Apalachicola oyster. People travel from all over the world for the chance to try out these oysters and gush over just how large, flavorful, and unique they are in comparison to other foods. In Other People’s Oysters, however, Apalachicola oysters are not merely internationally known delicacies bringing money and recognition to the bay – they are the center of family ties, a symbol of a disappearing way of life, and the catalyst for a social movement that rocks the nation.

Tripp and Jessica Rendell have lived on Richards Island in the Apalachicola Bay harvesting, selling, and cooking oysters for decades. During this time, their children – Carina, Bobby, and Roy Lee – grew up to take over the harvesting business (Carina), take over the family restaurant (Bobby) and run off into the wider world to become a lawyer and political activist (Roy Lee). Through the eyes of Carina, we watch life and work change throughout the bay throughout these decades, and witness the ways corporate, environmental and political policy focused more on wealth than the lives of the people and the conservation of the bay led to increasing poverty, decreasing oyster production, and the ongoing destruction of the bay. But when her latest series of law suits seeking aid and reparation stall in the courts, Roy Lee moves back home and forms a plan for taking back the bay, raising up the people, and fighting for the Rendells’ way of life.

Other People’s Oysters may be read entirely for pleasure and used in courses focused on social movements, families, class dynamics, politics, environmentalism, mental diversity, sexualities, gender, rural and small town cultures, intersectionality or the American southeast.

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Alexandra “Xan” C. H. Nowakowski, Ph.D., M.P.H., is an Assistant Professor in Geriatrics and Behavioral Sciences & Social Medicine at the Florida State University College of Medicine.

J. E. Sumerau, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Tampa.
“Rich in history, drama and sociological insights, Other People’s Oysters tells the story of events that rocked the Forgotten Coast through the eyes of one family and their trials and triumphs. Although Other People’s Oysters is a work of fiction, it is based on the authors ‘extensive research on working class communities in the South and on how individuals cope with such complex issues as neuro-atypicality, bisexual identity and gender diversity. Sure to generate lively discussion in classes on such topics as social movements, environmental politics and family dynamics.” - Jill Quadagno, Ph.D., Florida State University and author of One Nation, Uninsured and The Color of Welfare
“Other People’s Oysters mirrors the experience of discovering a new album that turns out to have transformative potential – a set of songs that combine music you can dance and sing along to with lyrics that inspire you to do research on world events, places, and people. Through the eyes of Carina, the narrator, we are introduced to the Forgotten Coast, a tiny stretch of Florida coastline where locals make their living through harvesting oysters. Along the journey, we learn about pressing issues of our time – the ravages of income inequality, the power of radical social movements, and the importance of coalitional action across axes of difference. An immensely readable novel, Other People’s Oysters brings sociological principles alive through a transfixing and moving story.” - Kristen Schilt, Ph.D., University of Chicago and author of Just one of the guys? Transgender Men and the Persistence of Gender Inequality
“Nowakowski and Sumerau’s Other People’s Oysters is an outstanding example of social fiction that draws readers into multiple levels of social relationships at once. The book is most entertaining while raising important social issues. I highly recommend this piece of social fiction, also to teachers of sociology. With this book, you will get your students to read.” - Dirk vom Lehn, Ph.D., King’s College London and author of Harold Garfinkel: The Creation and Development of Ethnomethodology
“Have you ever played that game where you have to name one person you want to sit down and have drinks with, be they dead or alive, fictional or real? If I were to play that game after reading Other People’s Oysters, my answer would unequivocally be Roy Lee Rendell, the no-nonsense lawyer with uncontainable aspirations to save her tightly knit community. In this story, you will fall in love with her and the other residents of Richard’s Island, a small community off the coast of Northern Florida, whose plight has largely been forgotten by the rest of the nation. Nowakowski and Sumerau create a story that is both extremely timely, and yet timeless, in its powerful demonstration of the complexities of creating a sustainable social movement to better the lives of multiple marginalized communities. Prepare to have your heart yanked wide-open as you witness the power of family ties, love, loss, and healing as the residents of Richard’s Island confront the challenging task of survival. Other People’s Oysters, replete with twists and turns you won’t see coming but make perfect sense when they arrive, raises the bar for Sociologically informed fiction. This story of small town life and social change will knock the wind right out of you in the best possible way.” - Lain A.B. Mathers, Doctoral Candidate, University of Illinois Chicago
“A captivating story from beginning to end, Other People’s Oysters evokes an unanticipated but welcomed sense of nostalgia to a place never even visited. Brilliant and heart-felt, Nowakowski and Sumerau lead us through a curiosity-driven, off-the-road journey that drives right home.” - Brittany Harder, Ph.D. University of Tampa
“In Other People’s Oysters, Nowakowski and Sumerau have constructed a smart, beautifully-written narrative that captures the essence of the human struggle to find and live out individual and group identity. This instructive and heartwarming story is timely given America’s current tumultuous political and social environment. This novel is a great supplemental text for courses addressing, but not limited to, sexualities, gender identities, social justice, race/ethnicity, class politics, social movements, and mental diversity. It highlights the experiences of bisexual, genderqueer, asexual, transgender, racially and ethnically-diverse characters. Students who typically do not see themselves represented in mainstream fiction will find it easy to connect with characters that offer insightful perspectives on staying true to oneself. Educators at any level can adopt this text in their classroom to stimulate meaningful discussion as to how families, individuals, and social movements are shaped by socio-political factors.” - Mandi Barringer, Ph.D., University of North Florida
Preface xv

Acknowledgements xix

Prologue xxiii

Part One: The Ties That Bind

Chapter 1 3

Chapter 2 11

Chapter 3 17

Chapter 4 25

Chapter 5 31

Part Two: Hungry Hearts

Chapter 6 39

Chapter 7 45

Chapter 8 51

Chapter 9 57

Chapter 10 63

Chapter 11 69

Chapter 12 75

Part Three: Out in the Street

Chapter 13 83

Chapter 14 89

Chapter 15 95

Chapter 16 101

Chapter 17 107

Part Four: The River

Chapter 18 115

Chapter 19 121

Chapter 20 127

Chapter 21 133

Chapter 22 139

Chapter 23 145

Part Five: The Price You Pay

Chapter 24 153

Chapter 25 159

Chapter 26 165

Chapter 27 171

Chapter 28 177

Epilogue 185

Suggested Class Room or Book Club Use 187

About the Authors 189
The targeted readership of this book will include college students in classes focused on sociology, environmental issues, LGBT studies, economic inequalities, social movements, family studies, health and well being, relationships, psychology, social work, and public health. Alongside college students, this book will may find use as pleasure and/or thought-provoking reading for literary audiences, mystery readers, and readers interested in general fiction, southern fiction, and fiction focused on families and communities.