I don’t think I really appreciated the significant, quality-of-life value of civic cultural opportunities here in the Twin Cities until I had kids. I mean the sorts of programs you don’t need to buy a ticket for, or pay admission to see, offered up by community organizations and freely available to all comers. I’ve written here before, about the wealth of publicly accessible stimulating conversation and painless education available through the metro’s many colleges and universities. Our city centers, too — like the downtown Landmark Center, for example — have an abundance of community arts and entertainment options.
But most of all, it’s the cultural programming created by Twin Cities libraries that I’ve come to treasure since our family grew. Armed with a “magic alphabet paintbrush” and an arsenal of vivid picture books, silly poems and songs, aided only by her mouse puppet-friend and a handful of our East St. Paul-neighborhood kids, our branch librarian regularly conjured storytime wonders for our son in his preschool years. Likewise, the puppet shows and magicians, local musicians and actors that graced the small “stage” at the downtown Central Library’s kids’ wing each Saturday morning, gave him an early taste for performing arts. Have a young film buff in the family? Each month the cities’ Childish Films presents a handpicked selection of international and classic animated shorts to a screening room filled with eager kids and parents at the grand Hennepin County Library.
What’s more, though I was first drawn in by our metro libraries’ cultural programming for kids, I’m continually struck with the breadth of their offerings for adults. There are practical assistance programs, like English language conversation practice for immigrant newcomers or job search and tax prep help, but also free concerts and art-making workshops, yoga classes and birding seminars.
All that, and, of course, local readers will also find an abundance of opportunities to meet and hear their favorite authors. Which brings me to the particularly wonderful reading series that caught my attention this week: every winter, the Hamline-Midway Branch Library offers a “Fireside Reading Series,” where booklovers can rub elbows with beloved area writers, hear some stories around the fireplace and share literary conversation and refreshments. For the next six Wednesday nights, the Friends of St. Paul Public Library will host a reading by a different author every week, including mystery author Larry Millett, poet Ed Bok Lee, novelist Mary Rockcastle, humorist Peter Smith and memoirists Eric Dregni and Diane Wilson.
The 18th annual Fireside Reading Series (co-sponsored by The Friends and Micawber’s Books) begins with Millett, author of a new installment in his detective Shadwell Rafferty mystery series, tonight, Jan. 11 at 7 p.m. in front of the hearth of the Hamline-Midway Branch Library, 1558 W. Minnehaha Ave., St. Paul, Minn. For more information about this and other cultural events going on at your neighborhood St. Paul library, visit: http://www.thefriends.org/ or http://www.sppl.org/.