On the Same Page: Sold-out conversation between authors shows passion for reading

It was Patti Trepkowski’s lucky night. She had missed her chance to snag a ticket to the inaugural On the Same Page event, but fortunately, a friend who couldn’t make it had gifted her a ticket.

Being in the same room with acclaimed author Ann Patchett, who brought along her longtime friend and bestselling author Kevin Wilson, was everything Trepkowski had hoped for and more. 

“I loved hearing both of them speak about their writing and talk about their relationship with each other,” says Trepkowski. “It was really a nice insight into how they wrote and what they wrote and their development as writers themselves. I wrote down a lot of their suggestions for books to read.”

Shandra MartinezPatti Trepkowski

More than a year in the planning, On the Same Page was a partnership between Kent District Library (KDL)  and the January Series at Calvin University. The April 24 event took place in front of a packed house at the Covenant Fine Arts Center at Calvin University. The free tickets for the 1,100 seat auditorium were snatched up in less than 12 hours, and there was a waiting list with enough people to fill the auditorium again. 
As a community-wide program, the goal of On the Same Page was to present many different ways for people to be included beyond the 1,100 people who attended the main event, explains Randy Goble, KDL's director of engagement.

There were more than 40 in-person programs at KDL branches across Kent county, attracting more than 800 attendees and more than 9,000 checkouts of the authors' books.

"On the Same Page reaches far and wide, and there's never a cost of admission or for participation because the purpose of the library is to further all people," says Goble.

Uplifting collaboration

When KDL Programming Manager Hennie Vaandrager came up with the idea of a “galvanizing” event with an author, she didn’t anticipate just how successful it would be. She just knew that after the pandemic, people were ready to engage again in an uplifting way. 

“Our society seems more divisive all the time, and I really want libraries to be seen as a safe community space where we can gather and get excited about literature,” Vaandrager says.

The event was the perfect collaboration for the January Series, says Michael Wildschut, director of the series.

Authors Ann Patchett and Kevin Wilson talk about their writing process.

“We are always looking for ways to make our community a better place through learning,” Wildschut says. “Partnering with Kent District Library has been a wonderful way to use our strengths to provide great programming to our community.”
Ann Patchett seemed the ideal author for the inaugural event. Highly acclaimed for her eight books, the internationally bestselling author won the 2002 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction for her novel “Bel Canto.” Her new novel, “Tom Lake,” tells the story about family, love and growing up on a cherry farm in Traverse City. 

When invited, Patchett asked KDL to include her longtime friend Wilson, a best-selling author whose books include “Now Is Not the Time to Panic.” The back-and-forth between the two as they shared stories about their friendship felt like a continuation of previous conversations, rather than anything planned for the audience, although they made sure to touch on a few topics. The session ended with a Q&A. 

Recognizing the passion for books

Patchett says the cherry farm in “Tom Lake” is based on a farm she visited in the Traverse City area. The Nashville writer knows Northern Michigan well from visiting friends there. 

As the owner of the independent bookstore Parnassus Books in Nashville, Patchett routinely organizes well-attended author events. She often partners with the city library. 

“People say to me, 'Oh, books are dead and nobody reads them,' but people do. They really do care,” Patchett tells Rapid Growth. “It’s always so interesting when there's a signing line after and people make friends in the line because they're all talking about the books that they love. So I think that it's important because of reading, but also because of community.”

Shandra MartinezMadison Torkelson

After her presentation, the lobby was buzzing as attendees bought signed copies sold by independent book store Schuler Books, or were among the 100 who received tickets to get their books signed by the authors.

“They were really cool and so funny,” says Madison Torkelson, who visits the library weekly. She discovered Patchett’s books a few years ago from a library newsletter. “I would never consider myself big on writing, but I’m big on reading.”  

Praise for audio books

Patchett and Wilson also shared that if they had to choose between reading and writing, they would choose reading. The voracious readers prefer different genres, but when they get together, they love to talk about what they are reading. Both are fans of audio books.

“There have definitely been times where listening to the book has been transformative in a way that it wouldn't have been if I read it,” Wilson told the audience. “I've just loved that experience, and it takes me back to the lovely memories of my family reading to me, and to have that kind of voice giving me the story while you're forming it in your mind is this lovely thing.” 

Patchett shared how she asked longtime friend Tom Hanks to narrate her novel, “The Dutch House.”

“I never in a million years thought that he would do it, but I just thought, ‘Oh, well, what the heck, I'm going to ask him,’ and he said, ‘Well, that sounds like fun. I really like audio books. Send it to me,” Patchett said. “One of the things that I loved about that performance was that he made it really funny. And I thought that it was a funny book, and everybody was like, ‘That is the most depressing.’ That is a really funny book. And he made it really funny.”

She was even more surprised when Meryl Streep, who she didn’t know well, said yes to a short email request to narrate “Tom Lake.” It didn’t hurt that her agent is Felicity Blunt, wife of actor Stanley Tucci, who has shared the screen with Streep on a few projects, including “The Devil Wears Prada.” 

“That audio book is so good,” says Patchett, adding that Hanks teased her about passing over him for Streep. “Tom was like, ‘Well, why did you ask Meryl? Didn’t I do a good job the first time?’ I said it was a first-person female perspective. He said, ‘‘I’m good.’” The story drew a roar of laughter from the audience. 

Reading as transformation

The two talked about their writing habits. Patchett writes while walking on a treadmill, and Wilson writes while lounging on his bed with his cat on his chest. Wilson creates his books in detail in his head, but waits until his summer breaks from Sewanee: The University of the South, where he is an English professor, to quickly write the manuscript so he doesn’t take away time from playing with his two sons. 

Some of their recommendations include “The Book of Love,” by Kelly Link; “James,” by Percival Everett; “Martyr!” by Kaveh Akbar; and “Sandwich,” by Catherine Newman. And of course, they adore each other's books. A perk of their friendship is getting to read other galleys before they come out. 

Shandra MartinezAnn Pachett

Wilson says he likes to connect with readers in events like On the Same Page because it’s a “reminder that there are people who not just read but deeply love reading and still can be transformed by it. So these things always are a kind of reminder that you're not working in a vacuum, that there are people out there that actually care about it. Every time I do one of these, I feel kind of reinvigorated about the state of letters.”

That the event was organized by a library made it all the sweeter for Wilson, he shared with Rapid Growth.

“I have a special place in my heart for libraries because as someone who grew up in a really rural place, libraries were the only real way for me to have access to not just books but to all the things that made me connected to the larger world. So I know how transformative the library can be.” 

Literacy Matters is a series focused on the importance of knowledge, community resources seeking to remove barriers to access, and the value of our library systems to society. Literacy Matters is supported by Kent District Library. 
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