The list of authors who have appeared at Maricopa County’s Southeast Regional Library in Gilbert reads like a who’s who of the literary world:
Kent Haruf, author of 2003 One-BookAZ selection "Plainsong"; prize-winning short story writer Stella Pope Duarte; Darren Shan, author of the popular "Cirque du Freak" young adult series; science fiction writers Ursula LeGuin and Michelle Welch; and mystery writers such as Rochelle Krich and Rhys Bowen, just to name a few.
So how does a relatively new library in the south East Valley wind up hosting so many celebrated authors?
"Well, for one thing, they have the most room, and for seconds, they have a couple of librarians out there who have proven themselves adept at attracting literary talent," says Audrey Brownell, marketing and development coordinator of the Maricopa County Library District, based in Phoenix. "But also, writers like to go out there because the building and surroundings are just so gorgeous."
The 66,000-square-foot, wedge-shaped library, designed by Hofmann-Dietz Architects in Gilbert and opened in 1999, sits next to a 110-acre riparian preserve on the southeast corner of Greenfield and Guadalupe roads. The library’s three-story-high glass walls overlook a fishing lake, hiking trails and wildlife.
"There’s a library closer to me, but I come here because of the environment," says Nicole Pelke, 17, of Mesa. "The library itself is beautiful, but I’m also attracted to the view of the lake from the windows. It’s so peaceful."
Based on its appearance alone, it is no wonder that with, 115,016 cardholders including residents in Gilbert, Chandler, Mesa, Apache Junction and even Pinal County, the library has become the largest branch in the library district.
The librarians work with national publishers and independent Valley bookstores to bring in authors.
"I’ve always enjoyed mysteries since I was a kid and listened to ‘The Shadow,’ " says adult services librarian Howard B. Carron. "So when I ran into Barbara Peters (owner of Scottsdale’s Poisoned Pen) I asked her if she had a few writers she wouldn’t mind sharing. She started giving my name to people, and the next thing you know, we were in the envious position of having writers call us, asking if they could come out and give a talk."
Perhaps the most popular — and unusual — of the library’s visiting author programs was the one titled "Cook the Authors!" in which readers cooked up recipes inspired by some of their favorite mystery writers.
"Rochelle Krich and Claire Johnson showed for that one!" Carron says. "It was standing room only, and the food went fast."
The library also sponsors reading groups, such as the Morning Tea and Coffee Book Discussion.
"We’re reading religioustype fiction now, books with biblical ties like those of Gilbert Morris, Nancy Morris and Terry Blackstock," says adult services supervisor Sandy Edwards. "But we also have a monthly book discussion that focuses on more secular fiction."
In addition to its book groups, the library also fulfills its community mission by holding classes in small business counseling, motivation and leadership, sensible shopping, basic computer skills, flower arranging, retirement, beginning yoga and knitting.
"A library is supposed to be a community center, that’s it’s real function," Carron says.