Meet Edina's Hometown Heroes

Edina is made up of people who pride themselves with making the city a great place for living, learning, raising families and doing business.

Maureen Millea Smith

April 2016 – While some cynics forecast a bleak future for the literary arts, recent studies indicate that Americans are as actively engaged with their public library as ever – and that leisure reading among adults is actually on the rise.

According to the PEW Research Center and National Endowment for the Arts, that uptick is partly attributable to a growing national interest in programming opportunities that allow readers to come together around a beloved book or shared literary experience. Edina offers an excellent case in point – indeed, serves as something of a gold standard – as Maureen Millea Smith can attest.

Millea Smith is chair of the Edina Reads Committee, a post she has held since 2008. She has been a key organizer behind “Edina Reads,” the group’s flagship program, since its inception in 2005.

“Edina Reads began as a ‘One Book’ all-city reading program,” she explained. “My former supervisor [at the Edina Community Library], Marcia Wattson, and Dick Crockett of the Edina Community Foundation first put it together. Marcia tapped me to be on the committee to contact authors, help plan the programs and take notes.” 

The team selected The Kite Runner, the perennial bestseller by Afghan-American author Khaled Hosseini, as the focus of Edina Reads’ inaugural season. Hosseini seemed a logical choice, Millea Smith remembered, because Edina’s local offerings coincided nicely with a prescheduled appearance by the literary luminary himself in another Hennepin County Library location. Seeing a diverse cross section of community members, ranging from high schoolers to Edina Senior Center members, come together around The Kite Runner whetted appetites for more such programming.

Edina Reads has expanded greatly in the past decade – as has Millea Smith’s role with it.

“Sometime in 2008, Dick Crockett and I decided that instead of doing several programs around one book, it would be interesting to do four to six programs a year around several authors or literary topics,” she recalled. “It has been like this ever since.”

In addition to dozens of well-received author talks and other guest lectures, Edina Reads has treated patrons to diverse experiences including seminars on memoir writing, self-publishing and e-books trends; a panel of poets talking about their craft in honor of National Poetry Month; and even a special writing challenge as part of Edina’s recent Quasquicentennial celebration.

Millea Smith is uniquely well positioned to spot a promising Edina Reads opportunity. In addition to her position at the library, Millea Smith is a graduate of Hamline University’s Creative Writing master’s program and an accomplished author in her own right. Her debut novel, When Charlotte Comes Home, won the 2007 Minnesota Book Award for Novel & Short Story. Her follow up, a series of linked short stories called The Enigma of Iris Murphy, will be published in summer 2016.

Helpfully, though, Millea Smith rarely has to look far for that next great author or thematic focus. She credits the steady stream of quality programming in the Edina Reads pipeline to ideas and help from a host of local organizations – including the Edina Community Foundation, the Friends of the Edina Community Library, Edina Resource Center and Edina Senior Center. Representatives of all these, and more, sit on the steering committee.

Millea Smith believes that Edina Reads, and similar opportunities in communities lucky enough to have them, fill an important niche. “Reading and discussing books help people understand how others think and feel. This is important.” For example, “Dr. Hosseini introduced us to Afghanistan, a country few Americans will ever visit. Readers, I think, were enriched by that introduction. That is why I think Edina Reads is an asset in our community.”

41 of 60  Heroes

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