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Amy Tan signing books after a Talking Volumes program.

"There are many portals to the Loft," says Nancy Gaschott, the organization's administrative director. One of the most successful is Talking Volumes.

Inspired by the Washington Center for the Book's program "If All of Seattle Read the Same Book," supported by the Wallace Funds, Talking Volumes is a free book club for the Upper Midwest, launched in November 2000 in partnership with the Minneapolis Star Tribune and Minnesota Public Radio to strengthen community bonds through reading. The series features nationally acclaimed authors in live-broadcast programs, book discussions and print and broadcast author interviews.

Listen to Talking Volumes author interviews and presentations

Each month from October through May, a book by a nationally acclaimed author is selected by a committee. The Loft's two media partners give the book extensive coverage. The Star Tribune runs a profile of the author and excerpts from the book while Minnesota Public Radio runs an on-air interview. Both organizations advertise the project extensively. The series culminates in a live event with the author at the Fitzgerald Theater, best known as the home of Prairie Home Companion. Afterwards, a more intimate discussion of the featured book is held at the Loft. Featured authors have included novelists Amy Tan, Sue Miller, essayist Bill Holm and poet Robert Bly. Kate DiCamillo, author of children's book The Tiger Rising, was a guest author in 2002, inviting participation not only by adults but young readers as well.

The audiences at Talking Volumes events represent a cross section of the Twin Cities population. Some have never attended a book discussion in their life while others are published authors. One participant is Bonnie Reitz, the mayor of Austin, Minnesota, who is not only a big fan of Talking Volumes, but helped create a similar program called "Austin Page Turners" in her hometown. "I go to Talking Volumes every chance I get," writes Mayor Reitz.