I didn’t know that Gavin Edwards lives in Charlotte when I spotted his book Kindness and Wonder: Why Mister Rogers Matters Now More Than Ever while shopping at Park Road Books the other day. The store has a special display of their bestselling nonfiction books, and that’s where I saw Edwards’ book. The cover features a photograph of Mister Rogers wearing his iconic red, cardigan sweater, and the photograph called out to me. Being a longtime fan of Mister Rogers, I took the book off the shelf and read Edwards’ bio statement printed on the dust jacket. It concludes with the line: “Gavin lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with his wife, museum curator Jen Sudul Edwards, and their two sons.” I turned to Sherri Smith, one of the store’s employees, and asked her if Edwards really lives in Charlotte. She assured me that he does, and she added that they consider him a friend of the store. Well, it was then clear what I needed to do. I bought the book and read it the next day.
Edwards divides the book into two sections. The first section focuses on Mister Rogers’ life and his long career in children’s television. In the second section, Edwards distills Mister Rogers’ approach to life down to “ten ways to live more like Mister Rogers right now.” I enjoyed all of the book, but the second half grabbed my attention. Kindness and Wonder came out in the fall of 2019, so it predates the coronavirus outbreak. However, I felt that Edwards’ discussion of the ten ways to live like Mister Rogers is especially relevant for our current public health crisis. As soon as I finished Edwards’ book, I wrote a column titled “What Mister Rogers Would Say about the Coroavirus” for The Charlotte Observer. To read the column, please click on this link: https://www.charlotteobserver.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/article241363251.html
After I finished my column, I set out to learn more about Edwards. I found out that he is a Yale-educated journalist who has published numerous articles in Rolling Stone, including twelve cover stories. He has also published articles in The New York Times, Wired, Billboard, GQ, and many other periodicals. Like most authors these days, he has a website. After visiting his website, I learned that he has twelve books. In addition to Kindness and Wonder, he has published such titles as The World According to Tom Hanks: The Life, the Obsessions, the Good Deeds of America’s Most Decent Guy (2018), The Tao of Bill Murray: Real-Life Stories of Joy, Enlightenment, and Party Crashing (2016), and Last Night at the Viper Room: River Phoenix and the Hollywood He Left Behind (2013). For more information about Edwards and his writings, please click on the following link: https://rulefortytwo.com
On his website, Edwards makes several references to Park Road Books, but he doesn’t go into much detail about his life in Charlotte. I wanted to know more, so I contacted him and asked him how he came to make Charlotte his home. Here is his response:
Before I moved to Charlotte five years ago, I had visited the city exactly once, on assignment for a magazine article where I entered a racecar driving school. So my initial impression of the city was that it involved mandatory jumpsuits and driving at 154 mph, making lots of left turns. That has turned out not to be the case. We came to Charlotte (from Los Angeles) because my wife is a museum curator (she’s now the chief curator at the Mint Museum). I’ve moved around enough to know that the life of a writer can be isolating, if I’m not careful, so when we got here, I made sure to make friends and meet my neighbors and find places to volunteer. My actual neighborhood has “Driveway Fridays,” weekly potluck get-togethers all summer long, plus huge gatherings for Halloween and the Fourth of July. And I’ve found people in Charlotte to have lunch with, to play board games with, to discuss experimental novels with, so my appreciation of Charlotte is not based solely on the fact that the rest of my family is thriving here. One good friend can make all the difference in a new town; happily, I’ve got more than that here. A lot of the writing I do really isn’t specific to Charlotte: my books on Bill Murray and Tom Hanks and Fred Rogers could have been written anywhere in the country. So I regularly try to take on some writing assignments that let me get to know North Carolina and its residents better, whether that means interviewing photographer Burk Uzzle for The New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/08/arts/music/woodstock-famous-couple.html) or reporting on the last days of a local music store for The Charlotte Observer(http://www.charlotteobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article212804554.html).
In reflecting on Edwards’ connections to Charlotte, I am reminded of the inscription that he wrote in my autographed copy of Kindness and Wonder. It reads simply, “Hi neighbor!” I like to think of Edwards as being part of my neighborhood. Of course, some would say that Charlotte is too big to be called a neighborhood. As I see it, however, the term neighborhood works perfectly for the community of writers and readers that make up Storied Charlotte.