A Look At: Club Book, Minn.

Club bookDavid Katz, Club Book coordinator, discusses how Club Book came about and how it enriches the participating communities in Minnesota through literature.

Would you tell us a bit about your program?  For instance how long has Club Book been coordinating literary events, how did it get started, and how has it changed over the years?

Club Book is a unique player on the Minnesota literary events scene. We collaborate with all eight library systems in the Twin Cities to bring bestselling and award-winning authors to library audiences in all corners of our metro area. In effect, this positions us to host big names in suburban communities that might otherwise not have this kind of cultural opportunity.

Club Book owes its genesis to a piece of 2008 state legislation called the “Legacy Amendment,” which includes a special Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund. Our program is only one of hundreds in Minnesota that owes its existence to the Heritage Fund.

Organizers put on the first season in 2010, with highlights including events featuring Frances Mayes, Tim O’Brien, and Garrison Keillor. Club Book has grown and changed, in one way or another, during each of the ten seasons between then and now.

We gave the program a much-needed brand overhaul, and built a dynamic new website to match (clubbook.org). One of the more innovative and popular features on the site is an interactive timeline that allows visitors to look at which authors have participated in Club Book to date – plus where, and when.

Most importantly, I think, we’ve extended the reach and longevity of the brand with a podcast component. As of 2014, most Club Book events are audio recorded and made available to anyone for streaming or download on iTunes (search “Club Book”) and our website. This has been a resounding success. Even a modest Club Book event featuring a local author can expect to fetch a couple hundred hits as a podcast.

What did you learn from last year’s program that is helping you this year?  What are you changing, what worked well?

One lesson we’ve learned is that you can never have too much publicity. Minnesota Public Radio has been a loyal and extremely helpful media sponsor since the program first got off the ground. Last year, though, we branched out and added a second lead media sponsor representing another medium: MinnPost, a very popular nonprofit online newspaper based in Minneapolis. Both are tremendous. Club Book usually does quite well with advertising and unpaid placements, but there’s just nothing like having bona fide program sponsors like MinnPost and MPR in your corner.

How has your relationship with Books In Common been beneficial?

Books in Common works with a large and stable roster of big names. This is very valuable, from our point of view, because Club Book hosts about 20 authors each year. Having agencies like Books in Common available to us for partnering cuts down on some of a Club Book season’s many coordination logistics.

Any suggestions for what you’d like to see from the BooksInCommon.org website and newsletter that would be helpful to other event organizers?

It is important that our guests be good speakers. This is even more important now that Club Book events can live on indefinitely through podcast episodes. On the booksincommon.org website and newsletter, I would love to see links to videos (or even audio clips) of authors talking in a comparable setting. After all, a person with phenomenal writing abilities may not necessarily have top-notch speaking skills.

BIC Response: Stay tuned… a new Books In Common website is coming soon, where we will be featuring videos and clips in our author profiles! Great idea, David!

Do you have any examples of bridging diversity in a community by coming together around a book?

The libraries we partner with say it’s a challenge to get diverse audiences to their branch for adult programming. In fact, they tend to see the same faces over and over again. We have 10 slots to fill each season, so we try to include as much author diversity as possible in order to draw these looked-for demographics. By and large, we’ve had great success here, for which programming librarians have thanked us repeatedly.

What are some of your fondest or most notable memories from past events?

All’s well that ends well, and I have fond memories of just about every event where we had a full house. And that’s most of them. Last go-around, we kicked off the season with an extremely busy August, hosting Canadian mystery phenom Louise Penny and young adult novelist Lev Grossman at two of our larger venues. With popular genre authors like these, it’s really fun to see the diehard fans come out of the woodwork. For Louise Penny, folks even arrived four hours before doors opened and camped out in lawn chairs to get a good seat.

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