Originally published October 2015
A new nonfiction book is inviting readers to take a journey through historic Jacksonville neighborhoods.
“The Mad Atlas of Virginia King” is part biography, part city guide, and part comic book. On Wednesday morning, the book’s author, Tim Gilmore, led WJCT’s Jessica Palombo on a tour through Riverside using his illustrated “Atlas.”
Book in hand, the Florida State College at Jacksonville English professor started at the corner of Oak and Barrs streets.
“And one of the things I really like about this book is that you can use it to walk the neighborhood where she lived, and she lived in 18 different places across Riverside throughout her life,” he says.
King wrote more than 8,000 pages of notes about her hometown before she died in 2001.
“I instantly was fascinated by her,” Gilmore remembers, when a friend showed him King’s musings and photos in the archives of the Jacksonville Historical Society.
He wondered, “What kind of person is going to have done this much work and for what? Basically for herself, you know?”
Gilmore started asking around, talking to people who knew her.
“She walked every day. She was a Riverside character, and some people knew what she was up to a little bit, but nobody, I think, had the full idea,” he says.
With a camera and notepad in hand, she recorded the world around her, often with little regard for accuracy.
“She got so much wrong,” Gilmore says. “But she was so totally obsessed, and it was all-day-every-day, and it was for decades.”
He says part of his fascination with King is that she kept going despite never earning great respect for her writing.
“I don’t know if I should admit this, but I mean, at times, researching and writing about her, it became uncomfortable because I felt like, ‘God, I hope this isn’t me,’” he says.
Gilmore’s book tells King’s story with the help of comics drawn by Perversion Magazine’s Hurley Winkler and color illustrations by Springfield resident Kiley Secrest.
Gilmore walks down Oak Street and over to Riverside Avenue, pointing out several of King’s former homes and looking at the corresponding architectural drawings of them in his book. He says he envisions Jacksonville residents’ making an annual pilgrimage along this route.
“I can imagine having a Virgina King Day, where people just walk across Riverside and hit some coffee shops and pubs in between,” he says.
But he says walking isn’t necessary to enjoy his book.
“Anybody who likes strangely, likeably unlikable characters is going to love ‘Virginia King,’” he says.
“The Mad Atlas of Virginia King” is available at Chamblin’s bookstores and on Amazon.com.