Charlottesville Breaking News

Nell Casey: Swimming through Spalding Gray

Around 2007, Kathleen Russo, widow of monologuist Spalding Gray, approached author Nell Casey about writing Gray’s autobiography. Gray, who committed suicide in 2004, spent his career publicly, nakedly chronicling his life in monologues like Swimming to Cambodia.

Casey asked herself: Had Gray already said everything onstage?

The answer: a resounding no. The journals showed her that there much more than the man's famous monologues. “It wasn't possible for Gray to chronicle or confess all aspects of his life publicly," says Casey, "but privately he did so.”

She also quickly realized something else: that the journals “are not only generously written, they are gorgeously written.”

The avalanche of new material was only the beginning as Casey, now 41, drew upon sources ranging from audiotapes of Gray's therapy sessions, she says, to random notes written on scraps of paper, like “an Amtrak napkin and a breast cancer pamphlet.”

Gray’s brothers and his colleagues aided Casey. His widow allowed herself to be presented “as flawed and criticized” as anyone else under Gray's powerful pen.

The result was The Journals of Spalding Gray, published in 2011. Casey, the daughter of local author John Casey, had previously explored despondent authors’ lives in her 2002 book, Unholy Ghost, a collection of essays by writers who had survived depression.

An editor approached Casey with that book’s concept...

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Weird sisters: When Shakespeare plays second fiddle

Best-selling author Eleanor Brown is a book festival’s ideal guest: a voracious reader from a family of voracious readers who writes about voracious readers.

Brown’s first novel, The Weird Sisters, follows a Shakespeare scholar’s three daughters as they return to their Ohio hometown when their mother is stricken with cancer. Though Brown’s book has a cast of bibliophiles and is peppered with Shakespearean references, literature was mainly a springboard for the true heart of the book: the shifting relationship of the titular sisters and their parents, she says.

“I do enjoy Shakespeare,” Brown, 38, admits, “especially seeing the plays performed, but the references are workhorses more than an homage. I use the family's habit of quoting Shakespeare as a way to illuminate families' tendency to create their own languages.”

Brown says that her own family life didn’t directly inspire her characters— her fictional family is primarily allegorical.

“While pieces of the sisters' relationships come from realizations I had about my own family,” Brown explains, “I think the core of their relationship is the struggle inside me, and inside many of us: the conflict between being independent and being taken care of, between the desire for adventure and for safety, etc."

“When the sisters scrape against each other, it's in the same way we are caught between our own desires.”

Brown, who now lives in Colorado,...

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Savory feeling: Restaurant Week rocked Food Bank w/$13K

The sixth Charlottesville Restaurant Week took place in late January, but the savory flavors linger– especially for the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, which learned this week that the city-wide wintertime culinary event yielded a nearly $13,000 donation.

"With this money, we can provide over 50,000 meals," says Food Bank spokesperson Ruth Jones, noting that the single dollar donated for each Restaurant Week meal translates into four meals for the hungry. The Food Bank, which has been the Hook-sponsored event's charity recipient three times, will soon be getting checks totalling $12,697.

"If you add up all of the donations that we've been given through Restaurant Week thus far, it's allowed us to serve well over 120,000 meals," says Jones, noting that while the economy may be looking up in some sectors, hunger is still a serious problem in Central Virginia. 

"Last I saw, we're serving twice as much food to twice as many people as five years ago," says Jones, noting that the non-profit group provides 17 million meals annually in the 25 counties and nine Central Virginia cities it serves.

The Hook launched Restaurant Week back in January 2009 with just eight participating eateries and no charitable component. The most recent Restaurant Week featured 20 varied restaurants including such old-time favorites as the Aberdeen Barn and upstarts such...

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FunStuff: Charlottesville events March 22 and beyond

Book fete
The Virginia Festival of the Book gets underway March 21, but there's still time to catch some bookish talks and readings, especially those off the beaten path. For instance, how has social media affected the literary world? Catch that discussion at Central Library on March 23 at 2pm. Or what about that guilty pleasure you have: reading romance novels. Head over to Barnes & Noble on March 24 at 12pm and 2pm to meet some of the best authors in the biz, including Virginia's own Deanna Raybourn (pictured here). Ever wonder how to pen a thriller? Find out how to keep readers hooked at the Albemarle County Office Building on March 23 at 8pm.
March 21-25, full schedule at





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Rental option: When buyers and sellers change course

A recent article on lists several reasons why renting may be a more attractive option than owning in today’s market. Renters don’t have to come up with a 20% down payment, and they don’t have to worry about additional expenses such homeowner’s association fees or property taxes. And, of course, there's the freedom factor: whereas most mortgages last fifteen, twenty, or thirty years, leases typically run in one-year increments.

With listing prices down and such attractive options available to prospective renters, does it make sense for homeowners to considering renting rather than selling? According to several Charlottesville area agents, the answer depends on the homeowner’s needs and circumstances.

Jonathan Kauffman, principal broker at Nest Realty, fielded enough requests from owners interested in offering their primary residences for rent that he added property manager Sarah Ballard to the Nest team. To help her clients make an informed decision, Ballard prepares a comparative market analysis that provides reasonable expectations of both sales price and rental income so the owner can see how the numbers stack up. If the homeowner chooses to go the rental route, Ballard is available to act as a property manager, saving her clients from having to attend to all the detail...

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