Our Man in Arlington

March 15, 2017 11:26 AM0 comments

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Though I’m a card-carrying journalist, I occasionally rub tweedy elbows with Arlington’s more literary lights.

My journalism colleague Burt Solomon, who writes from home in Westover, recently made the transition to novelist. A crowd of us gathered Feb. 26 at the independent bookstore One More Page to hear his confessions about his new title “The Murder of Willie Lincoln.”

Arlington, of course, has a storied literary lineage. The 1950s novel and musical “Damn Yankees” was written at South Arlington’s Alcova house. And Margaret Leighton’s young adult classic “The Secret of the Old House” was inspired by her days in the 19th-century house near Virginia Hospital Center called Broadview.

Poet Robert Frost’s daughter Lesley Lee Francis lives here and gave a reading last year at Central Library. Arlington government got bookish last summer when it named Katherine Young Arlington’s first poet laureate.” With that program, officials said, Arlington “becomes even more of a haven for the lyrical arts.”

Among editors, I’m friendly with Arlingtonian Ruth Stewart, who is editor-in-chief of the artsy Northern Virginia Review.

Businesswise, Arlington boasts Paycock Press, which publishes books and an annual Gargoyle Magazine of fiction and poetry (including a title “31 Arlington Poets”), produced from a home on North 13th Street.

And our county’s dateline also appears on the title pages of the Gival Press, “an independent literary press” run out of a home in Arlington Forest since 1998.

I recently visited Gival’s publisher/editor Robert Giron to ask how a non-New York City publisher makes ends meet in the digital age. Gival has published dozens of novels, short story collections and poetry (including 27 e-books). “Being a literary press automatically means we’re not rolling in money, but our mission is making a contribution to the arts,” says Giron, who for 30 years has paid the bills teaching English at Montgomery College.

Coming out of graduate school in Texas and Michigan in the early 1980s, he was determined “to make a living focusing on writing and publishing.” His fell for the Spanish language poetry of Mexican Jesus Gardea—who couldn’t find a publisher until Giron decided to translate and release the poems himself.

His partner drew him to politically sympatico Arlington, where he threw himself into neighborhood potlucks and launched a literary salon. Arlingtonians, Giron said, are “down to earth,” not so snobby about their professions.

Gival attracts authors through annual contests—for a $50 fee, authors can win $3,000 for a novel ($20 fee and $1,000 prize for short stories and poetry), plus contract royalties. “It’s not self-publishing,” says Giron, himself a published poet. “We incur all expenses and don’t charge for editing.” His husband does the artsy layout and cover designs for subject matter that varies from the academic to history to women’s issues to LGBT themes.

One star author is nationally known radio host and comedienne Stephanie Miller, whose “Sexy Liberal: Of Me I Sing” came out in 2015. Gival Press put out a 2003 memoir of the 9/11 attacks by Ellis Avery titled “The Smoke Week.” One reason Giron published it, he said, was the vivid memory of the noise that shook his house when the hijacked plane hit the Pentagon.

It takes commitment to keep a small press going. “With all the things a publisher does,” Giron told me, “Thank God I have a good-paying teaching job.”

***

You recall the Arlington song? The one written in 1970 by Rev. Ernest Emurian and recorded last year by Arlington Independent Media.

There are others, all addressing our world-famous cemetery.

Country star Trace Adkins released “Arlington” in 2005, not as a political song but the true story of a soldier’s death. Country performer Jami Grooms released “What About Arlington” in 2007, and soulful folkie Lisa Nemzo recorded her award-winning “Arlington” in 2012. That same year, British rocker Graham Parker released his more pointed “Arlington’s Busy.”

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