Until now, if you wanted to hear Garrison Keillor read or get an autograph from Kate DiCamillo, you usually had to go into the city. Most of the big-name author events over the years, such as Talking Volumes or Talk of the Stacks, have been in Minneapolis or St. Paul.

But a new program, paid for by the state Legacy Fund, will bring a series of free author events to the suburbs this year -- to Apple Valley and Chaska, to Blaine and Woodbury, and beyond.

The list of names is impressive. Not just Keillor and DiCamillo, but Neil Gaiman and Jane Hamilton, Tim O'Brien and Frances "Under the Tuscan Sun" Mayes, Patricia Hampl, Kevin Kling and Michael Perry.

"This has been just amazing for us," said Melissa Brechon, library director for Carver County. "We've never had the funds before to bring this level of author out here."

Minnesota voters approved the establishment of the Legacy Fund in 2008 and began paying for it July 1, 2009. The fund, which is covered by an increase in the general sales and use tax of three-eighths of one percentage point, will generate more than $200 million this year, to be spent on the outdoors, clean water, the arts, and parks and trails.

The Metropolitan Library Service Agency -- known as MELSA -- received $1.2 million. Melinda Ludwiczak, who is coordinating Legacy Fund projects for MELSA, said they held a summit in December to ask librarians and others how they would like to see that money spent.

"One of the recommendations that came up loud and clear was how libraries scattered throughout the region aren't always able to take advantage of bigger-name author programs," she said.

So $100,000 of the $1.2 million was reserved for a suburban author series, which they are calling Club Book. (On the Internet at www.clubbook.org, and on Facebook.) They contracted with the Library Foundation of Hennepin County to help coordinate it, because of that foundation's expertise with the Pen Pal author series and the Talk of the Stacks programs.

"People have been so appreciative," Brechon said. "A lot of people out here, maybe they don't want to make that trip into the city anymore. With this, they can just go to the community center. We do the programs there, because it offers more seating."

Beyond Club Book, suburban libraries also receive Legacy money for other programs, and for acquisitions related to those programs.

"I'm just blown away with what the libraries are doing," Ludwiczak said. "Dakota County is doing a big festival for children and the book. Washington County just had Larry Yazzie, a American Indian dancer. They had 80 people. It was great -- he talks about his culture, and the importance of the dance, and his costumes are amazing. We've never been able to offer that kind of program before."

Carver County brought in writer and storyteller Kevin Kling in January (he will also be in Stillwater and Maplewood in August as part of Club Book). "We had 250 people, and a waiting list," Brechon said. "Everyone wants us to bring him back. I think we will -- I know we will. He was just so grand."

Laurie Hertzel is the Star Tribune books editor. She is at 612-673-7302.