"South Florida wants to survive #HurricaneMatthew. But we'd rather die than eat clam chowder."
If you were on social media during the lead-up to Hurricane Matthew, you probably read those words more than once. Accompanied by a photo of a grocery aisle bereft of anything but cans of Progresso's New England Clam Chowder, the tweet racked up tens of thousands of retweets and likes, and made its way across Facebook, Tumblr, Reddit and other social sharing platforms. It was perhaps the defining meme of the storm, at least its early days.
Olivia A. Cole, author of the tweet, says she didn't even think it was that funny.
"It's just silly to me. It's a tweet! And I guess it's funny; I think I've tweeted funnier things than that, but guess not," she laughs.
Cole is the author of the Tasha Trilogy, a series of sci-fi novels including Panther in the Hive and The Rooster's Garden. She lives in Fort Lauderdale, "like a mile and a half from the coast." She says her place was barely touched by the storm — "we lost power for maybe a minute and a half" — which gave her a lot of time to watch her offhand observation take the internet by storm.
"I was completely unaware of the politics of chowder," she says. "I just think chowder is disgusting, so that's why I thought it was hilarious. And at first, it was like, 'ok, people are like me, they don't like chowder.'"
But soon, debates were raging in Cole's Twitter mentions.
"Oh my god, honey, people are having entire arguments in my mentions about the virtues of chowder," she laughs. Fans of Manhattan-style chowder came to troll New Englanders. Readers injected sports rivalries into the mix, claiming Dolphins fans refused to buy the chowder because it reminded them of the New England Patriots.
"It resonated with people on a personal and political and sports level," Cole says. "I was not prepared for that."
As a person who makes a living with her writing, Cole says that getting Internet-famous for an off-the-cuff tweet feels frustrating. "Maybe I should write a book about fucking chowder, and then people will want to read that," she laughs.
"The thing is, I now have hundreds of new followers. I'm like, guys, you're going to be really disappointed in my tweets. I tweet about my books, I tweet about science fiction and my dog, I tweet about dismantling white supremacy, I tweet about anti-police brutality, and I have a feeling that a lot of these chowderheads are going to be unfollowing pretty soon."
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She says she's already had to block several users: "You know how the Internet is when you're a woman. They jump on like, 'Hey bitch, I love chowder, fuck you.'"
So has the experience of going viral changed the way she plans to tweet?
"Hell no," Cole laughs. "I tweet about things I like, and what occurs to me, and chowder just happened to be one of them at this point in time. But it will probably continue to be [about] dismantling white supremacy and science fiction."
The Whitecoat's Daughter, the first installment in Olivia A. Cole's new sci-fi series, is due in 2018. Visit oliviaacole.com.