What JRW Means to Me
Howard Owen is the author of 10 novels and is the business editor of The Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg. His first novel, Littlejohn, was written in 1989 when he was 40 and published in 1992. His latest novel, Oregon Hill, was published in July 2012.
It wasn’t supposed to be this big.
We started out over beer and pizza at a poker table, talking about how disrespected we felt. Richmond writers seemed to be, at best, tolerated guests at events elsewhere in the state. No one, we thought, knew how really good and deep the lineup of writers in and around The Holy City was.
David Robbins and Dennis Danvers were there, and I imagine Mark Lazenby was. Tom De Haven probably was, too, and it might have been at Jim Daab’s house, where there was a table in the backyard big enough for five players and even a stogie or two.
I think my idea was to get all the published writers we could muster from the Richmond area, find a venue, and have a day where we all read from our works. The idea was to connect writers and readers, to make people aware of how many of us there were, and how darn good we were.
It took off from there. David, whose ideas are as large as his talent, talked about corporate sponsorship and bringing in world-class writers from all over. Everything he dreamt didn’t come to pass, but a lot of it did.
Many of us were rather stunned when we woke up one day and realized that we were going to have Tom Robbins as the guest star of our first two-day conference, thanks to David’s efforts, and that 250 attendees — all we could handle — were paying to see what we had to offer. God bless the Library of Virginia, whose first floor wing was the perfect place for us, with its auditorium and small meeting rooms and open spaces where writers present and future could network.
The first few years, Karen and I hosted the pre-conference party for the presenters in our sixth-floor condominium in the Prestwould. We made a lot of the food ourselves, hired a bartender, and had a blast. We still think — this being Richmond — there should be a historical marker beside the door to unit 6B, noting that Tom Robbins, Richard Price, Mark Bowden and others drank there.
The Richmond writing community has thrived and grown more prolific, and we like to think JRW played some small part of that. We take pride that our city’s literary toilers were able to turn out the well-received Richmond Noir anthology, in a city much smaller than the others in that detective-noir series. We beam every time another Richmond writer gets published.
We live an hour away now, so I don’t get back for JRW events very often. But my heart is with you. It is one of my proudest achievements to have had a part in the founding of such a worthy and successful enterprise.
Richmond is a writers’ city, and JRW helped make it so. Who wouldn’t be proud of that?