Wherever you go it's a good bet you will find a crowd of aspiring writers. The lure of the printed page with your work on it is, to many, almost irresistible. But Charlottesville is different. Here, you will find an impressive group of successful writers people who actually make a living at the craft; some of them are household names: Rita Dove, Charles Wright, John Grisham, and they, along with Rita Mae Brown, John Casey, George Garrett and Mary Lee Settle have long called Charlottesville home. Why? It's possible to understand this better when you have seen the "Writers" segment of PBS' "East of the Blue Ridge." The producers of this 43-minute program focus the camera on these writers and listen to them tell how they came to Virginia, how they find the peace here to write, and in nice momentary flashes especially from Dove and Wright what they are trying to convey in their work. Charlottesville, usually lets them alone and, they tell us, gives them the solitude to write.
This program and "Horses" (see sidebar) are the first installments in a new series produced by Central Virginia Public TV to look at the people and lifestyles of Charlottesville and its surrounding counties. The programs are directed by award-winning filmmaker and Charlottesville resident Paul Wagner, with original music provided by John McCutcheon, also of Charlottesville.
One reason for the attraction to Charlottesville is obvious from "Writers": The countryside is beautifully displayed. The interview with Charles Wright, for example, is held under a tree in his back yard with the sound of birdsong as accompaniment; the panoramic view of the countryside from Rita Dove's home would make anyone want to live here.
To nit-pick a bit: Unfortunately, the program is slightly marred by the way the director has switched back and forth between writers. It would have been restful and, indeed, more interesting, if we had been allowed to hear all of John Grisham's interview and then proceed to another writer. Instead, we get snatches of Grisham, then of the others, then back to Grisham. It takes a nimble mind to follow.
The program was filmed during the 1999 Festival of the Book, and there are interspersed fragments of writers at that event talking about their work, and there are interviews that obviously took place at some of the many parties that punctuate the event. These snatches, unfortunately, are distracting and, to this viewer, they diminished the impact of the interviews with the featured writers.
But don't let these criticisms keep you from tuning in to "Writers," which gives us a chance to visit with our famous neighbors in Charlottesville and will impress us with the cultural center that town has become.
Rozanne Epps is sister of George Garrett and mother of Garrett Epps, both of whom appear briefly in this program.