With multiple appearances by two authors with ties to the St. Croix Valley, plus art exhibits and a world-premiere play, this year's Valley Reads aims to engage avid readers and inspire those who don't frequently pick up books to do so.
Festivities will begin at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Stillwater Public Library with a joint appearance by authors Will Weaver and Nina Revoyr in a program hosted by Minnesota Public Radio's Kerri Miller. Weaver's "Red Earth, White Earth" and Revoyr's "Wingshooters" are the featured books of the eighth annual campaign to promote literacy.
Members of the community are encouraged to read the books before Thursday's kickoff, but "if you don't read the books you can still enjoy the programs," said Heather Rutledge, executive director of ArtReach St. Croix, which is coordinating events that run through next Sunday.
Weaver's debut novel, "Red Earth, White Earth," was published in 1986 by Simon & Schuster and produced as a CBS TV movie. His 1989 "A Gravestone Made of Wheat & Other Stories" won a Minnesota Book Award for fiction. Weaver has written a series of books for young adults, including the motor sports thriller "Saturday Night Dirt." He will visit Hudson Middle School to talk about his latest young adult novel, "The Survivors," a tale about a family that must pull together to survive a great environmental collapse.
"I always enjoy a trip to St. Croix Falls, Stillwater, Bayport, Amery and Hudson, and the thriving literary communities there," Weaver said. "The schools have always supported my books for young adults, and groups such as ArtReach have successful programs to bring in top-level authors."
As part of Valley Reads, St. Croix Festival Theatre will present the world premiere of "The Last Farmer," a one-act adaptation of Weaver's short story of the same name.
Revoyr's 2011 "Wingshooters" was an Indie Bookseller's Choice Award winner and was one of Oprah magazine's selections as "Books to Watch For." Publishers Weekly described her novel as "a northern variation on 'To Kill a Mockingbird.' " In tapping into her experience of being the daughter of a Japanese mother and an American father, Revoyr tells the story about what transpires when the first minorities arrive in an all-white Wisconsin town.
Other events include "Tribes: Many Faces, One People," a photography exhibit by Tom Lindfors at the Stillwater Public Library, and "Bringing Words to Life: An Exhibition of Book Arts and Illustration" at ArtReach St. Croix.
Valley Reads is modeled after the Big Read, a program of the National Endowment of the Arts that began in 2007 to address the decline in literacy identified in "A Survey of Literary Reading in America." The program is attempting to address the decline by providing citizens with the opportunity to read and discuss a single book within their communities.
While reading is the main component of the Big Read and Valley Reads, Rutledge said the art exhibits and theater events were incorporated this year to get "people involved through other programming." But nothing beats reading the authors' books and meeting them in person.
"That is what is special about these programs," she said. "It goes beyond the normal book club. Being able to meet the authors and hear from them firsthand is really special."
Tim Harlow 651-925-5039, Twitter: @timstrib