More on Illinois Authors

In the mid-1980s, the State Library had begun spotlighting the literary heritage of Illinois, a pet project of then-Secretary of State Jim Edgar. The light continued to shine in November 1995 with creation of the Illinois Authors Book Fair, jointly sponsored by the Illinois Center for the Book, the State Library, and Secretary of State George Ryan. The day of the fair transformed the normally quiet State Library into a bustling celebration of Illinois literature. The event brought to life the literary achievements of Illinois with readings from authors, storytelling, book signings, panel discussions, and exhibits. Over 75 authors were featured, including 30 poets and a dozen children’s writers, and over 3,500 browsers packed the library atrium throughout the day. One publisher presented a program on female authors, while one first-floor office was converted into a gift shop offering T-shirts, mugs, and other collectibles. Hundreds of books were sold at the event, which raised money for the Illinois Center for the Book’s purchase of books for the Illinois Authors Room.945

The overwhelming success of the initial event made the Illinois Authors Book Fair an annual celebration, which grew in popularity. In 2000, under Secretary of State Jesse White’s administration, the fair featured children’s literature, with huge crowds of enthusiastic young readers descending on the library to meet more than 45 children’s authors who signed books, told stories, and talked with fans. To commemorate the 100th birthday of L. Frank Baum, author of The Wizard of Oz, and whose name is inscribed on the frieze, a birthday party with a giant cake and a costume contest added to the festivities. Donna Stewart-Hardaway, one of the original “munchkins” from the 1939 movie classic, was the keynote speaker at the Illinois Authors Gala Reception. The event was also highlighted with a performance by the Jesse White Tumbling Team, which thrilled a packed crowd in the library atrium with their high-flying performance.946

Illinois literature received additional emphasis in the summer of 2003 with the introduction of an Illinois Authors Browsing Collection, located near the circulation desk on the library’s second floor. The special collection, separate from the Illinois Authors Reading Room, includes works by some of the authors whose names are engraved on the library building’s frieze. Others whose work is showcased include Stephen Ambrose, David Mamet, Shel Silverstein, Barbara D’Amato, Hugh Holton, Mike Royko, David Foster Wallace, Richard Powers, and Andrew Greeley. Most of the materials in the Browsing Collection were acquired through donations or by the Illinois Center for the Book through proceeds from the Illinois Authors Book Fair.947

In 1999, the “Booked for Lunch” series was introduced to offer new perspectives on Illinois literature. Sponsored by the State Library and the Illinois Center for the Book, the “brown bag literary series” was held monthly in the Illinois Authors Room. Illinois writers from many genres, including novelists, historians, biographers, and children’s literature, were featured in informal discussions or special presentations. Dozens of top authors appeared at “Booked for Lunch” over the years, and the series proved popular both with library personnel and the Springfield community.948