Women Writers Buried in Virginia

There’s a new book on the area’s cemeteries to celebrate: Sharon Pajka’s Women Writers Buried in Virginia, published in November 2021. Sharon is a faculty member in the English Department at Gallaudet University and an exceptionally creative and kind colleague. She earned a Ph.D. from the University of Virginia and a graduate certificate from the University of Richmond, among other degrees. She is a stellar, regular tour guide for the Friends of Hollywood Cemetery as well as for the Friends of Shockoe Hill Cemetery, and she is the moving force behind the River City Cemetarians, a lively group.

As she explains it, she got the idea for the book roughly sixteen months ago during the pandemic lockdown. While participating in a virtual reading group and occasionally venturing outdoors to the state’s various cemeteries, Sharon blended the two initiatives for the book project and quickly set to work on it. “As a collector of cemetery maps and guidebooks,” she explains in her book’s introduction, “I often find myself quickly scanning new guides to find the famous or infamous females who helped build a region’s history. More often than not, from the dozens of entries, there are usually only a few women mentioned, rendering the majority of women invisible.”

Women Writers Buried in Virginia redresses that invisibility. The book features forty-four authors, explored in respective chapters arranged in alphabetical order, drawn from twenty-three different cemeteries across the state. There are lots of stars among the list — including V. C. Andrews and Ellen Glasgow — as well as rewarding finds that we get to know better here. I was struck by the story of Margaret Prescott Montague (d. 1955 and buried in Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery), whose writing made a key place for deaf and blind characters, as well as by the story of Anne Spencer (d. 1975 and buried in Lynchburg’s Forest Hill Burial Park), whose poetry inspired leading civil rights figures. There are useful cemetery finds here, as with the tumbledown condition of Julia Magruder’s grave marker in Charlottesville’s Maplewood Cemetery, vandalized before and after Sharon’s recent visit there for the book. And each of the chapters extends the tour with “Not to Miss” sections pointing to other cemetery highlights nearby. There are extensive endnotes in the book detailing the sources, and the book is wonderfully illustrated with roughly one hundred photographs, most of them taken by the author.

What an invitation to spur future cemetery visits, or even an armchair tour. The book joins other local favorites from the History Press including Elvatrice Belsches’s Richmond, Virginia; Tyler Potterfield’s Nonesuch Place: A History of the Richmond Landscape; and Alyson Taylor-White’s Shockoe Hill Cemetery: A Richmond Landmark History. Congratulations, Sharon!