Getting Outside Saturday: Virginia Festival of the Book

categories: Cocktail Hour / Getting Outside

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The nickel view, as our guide called it: Monticello

I find myself in Charlottesville for the Virginia Festival of the Book.  My panel on Friday morning was called Forbidden Attraction, and I got to read a little from Life Among Giants, the scene in which Lizard first meets Sylphide, the world-class ballerina who lives across the way from him in high school and who becomes his life-long obsession. 

Margaret, Maryanne, Cliff, Erika

My fellow panelists and moderator Clifford Garstang were novelists, too: Maryanne O’Hara, Erika Robuck, Margaret Wrinkle, a wide range of styles and stories under the forbidden umbrella.  Margaret (from Alabama by way of New Mexico) invited me to Monticello with her mother’s friend Annie Stafford, who is a senior development officer at the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Michael Levine

After, I had lunch with my old college friend Michael Levine, who now runs a successful executive recruiting business.  He showed me all around town and we talked deeply about the years in between.

In the evening my sister-in-law Anne drove me out to her daughter Kristen’s for pizza and a quick romp with great niece and nephew Lily and Bodie, a blast.  Then back into town for dinner with her new husband and her other daughter, Beth, who is pregnant, slowly emulating my figure.

Lily, Bodie, Kristen

Also her husband, Chuck, more great talk and a bit of bourbon.

This morning up and to Monticello with Margaret and Annie.  Margaret’s book is called Wash, and it’s her first (see NYTBR in a week), about slave times in the south.  And she approached Monticello with an agenda: would the Jefferson story be all hagiography?  Would the evil of his slaveholding be whitewashed by adoring guides?  We took two tours, the first through the house, the second along the

The view from the podium

Mulberry Row, where many of Jefferson’s slaves had labored, and a sense of the man I’d never had emerged: spendthrift and genius, control freak and magnamimous thinker, philosopher of freedom and owner of humans, inventor and oddball, sophisticate and nut-job.

Jefferson’s grave: a monument to debt.

The tour of Mulberry Row was given by the sweetest, smartest older gent who proved to be an historian and no apologist, also a great storyteller, calling up the miseries and stolen pleasures and the many quandaries and conflicts of slave life on the mountain, vivid.

We stopped by his grave on the way out, and Annie zoomed us back to the headquarters of the Southern Environmental Law Center for a quick lunch and then the awards ceremony and readings by this year’s winners of the Reed

SELC, Margaret and Annie in the background

Prize for Environmental Writing  (won by our own Dave Gessner last year, for Tarball Chronicles), part of the festival.  The talks were terrific, by Jay Erskine Leutze author of Stand Up That Mountain (about the rescue of a mountain), and biologist and Buddhist David Haskell, The Forest Unseen (about one square meter of forest observed for a year).  So was the lunch.

Off this evening for an author party, woot, and then to dinner with my high school friend Pat Shipley, who is a neurosurgeon, among other things.

Ohio tomorrow.


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