Princeton People: Charles Evered works to create a writing retreat for veterans

Charles Evered

Princeton resident and Hollywood writer and director Charles Evered knows what it’s like to be a struggling artist. Now that he is in a position to help others, he is founding a retreat in Joshua Tree, California for artists who served in the military, as well as combat photographers and journalists.

“The idea was to found a house where veterans who are artists and people who work in conflict zones can come for a month at a time, at no cost to them, with food in the refrigerator, and a beautiful place to work for a month, and not worry about any of it,” Evered said. “I imagine if a photographer was covering the Middle East and they just want to come back and go through their shots, or go through their material — to have a month to do that..”

Evered intends for the Charles J. Evered House, named after his late father, to host about four artists a year. The Hi-Desert Cultural Center, a non-profit arts organization in the area that has produced some of Evered’s work in the past, is a partner in the project.

The idea for the house came about the same way many of Evered’s films and plays do — out of Evered’s own experiences, he said. After losing his parents at a young age, Evered found himself searching for direction, and eventually found his way through in writing.

“I started to pour myself into journals,” he said. “I found this way to funnel the anger of loss and the confusion of teen years and into what I was writing and it saved me. It saved me — it directed me.”

Evered attended Rutgers University for his undergraduate degree, where he also worked as a janitor and security guard for the Williams Carlos Williams Center and used a spare recital theater to put on original short plays. Soon after, he was wait-listed for a graduate program at Yale and did carpentry and asphalt-laying jobs before heading to New Haven. After getting into Yale, Evered was happy just to be able to write. “It (grad school) buys you time to write,” he said. “And it’s who you meet.”

After graduating, Evered received a residency at the Edward Albee Foundation, where he was given time and the support to write. Edward Albee himself would even deliver their mail. Evered appreciated the sense of security there, and that sense later inspired him to create the Charles J. Evered House.

“The more important thing was that there’d be a refrigerator with food in it and a free room,” he said. “So I remembered, before I started to make some Hollywood money, [that] I was a broke Yale student. My parents had died when I was young, and there wasn’t anybody around who was going to help me, so I remembered that kindness. And then as I made a little money and went on, I always thought if I ever got an opportunity where I could host somebody like that, I’d love to,”

Evered is a successful writer and director, having worked with Steven Spielberg’s company and other major studios like Dreamworks. He is currently a professor at the University of California Riverside, and commutes between Riverside and Princeton, where his two children attend Princeton High School. He also worked for a while in the armed services. At age 34, he joined the Navy Reserves and worked his way from the bottom to being honorably discharged as a lieutenant eight years later.

“I’m wearing that cap, I’m wearing these bell bottoms, and I’m picking up cigarette butts at Point Mugu on weekends, and I love it. I love it,” he said. “It got me out of that narcissistic bubble of writing. Best thing that ever happened to me.”

This, combined with his son’s involvement in the U.S. Naval Sea Cadets Corps, makes the Charles J. Evered House a place of family connections across generations, he said.

“My dad served in World War II and I only knew him for 14 years. So he died in 1979. I was 14. He told me a little bit about his service, but I didn’t really get that time with him,” he said. “So serving actually meant something as a connection to him in some way. And then the fact that my son loves the cadets is almost a connection from him to a grandfather he never met. So this house that we’re talking about is like a house we could all live in.”