Authors Visiting in Des Moines (AViD) has begun its 19th year. Since 2001, more than 125 authors have come to Des Moines to have insightful conversations with delighted audiences. What began as a three-day event across the city has bloomed into a highly regarded, free series attended by hundreds of people each year.
AViD began in 2001, when Jan Kaiser was Marketing Director of the library. The program was designed to be a celebration of books, authors, and the joy of reading. The program is funded by the Des Moines Public Library Foundation. Most importantly, the series has been free each of its 19 years. The public pays no money to attend, giving the community the opportunity to learn about a variety of subjects and viewpoints.
Kaiser says AViD's goals include:
- Showcasing authors of both national and regional stature
- Presenting authors of diverse cultural backgrounds.
- Provide free author programs open to the public
- Establishing pride in the library and community
The first ever AViD author, Donald Harstad (L), returned to Des Moines in 2005. Also pictured: Jan Kaiser
Plans for AViD began shortly after the creation of the Des Moines Public Library Foundation in 1998. With the support of the library’s director, Laura Isenstein, and local businesses, the Foundation had two major purposes when it started: 1) Raise money to build a new Central Library and 2) fund new programming for the library, including an author series.
Kaiser said they decided to use the first AViD to celebrate National Library Week in 2001. Three events were scheduled in three days, including mystery writer Donald Harstad, local author Barbara Moss, and Des Moines native Bill Bryson. “It was a huge challenge,” says Kaiser. The logistics of finding three different authors to come in over three consecutive days alone was tough. Back then, flying into Des Moines was a challenge too.
“Bill Bryson had a really tight turnaround,” says Kaiser. He was flying in from rural New England, and he ended up having to make a couple flights over the course of 6-10 hours before arriving in Des Moines in the early afternoon. He was due shortly afterward at Roosevelt High School for a presentation and didn’t have time for a full lunch.
“He said he had only had peanuts and a Coke that day. I said, ‘You must be starving,'” says Kaiser. “I told him we could stop somewhere quick to eat.” As they drove from the airport, Kaiser pulled over at a Subway. “I’ll never forget the sight of Bill Bryson eating a turkey sandwich in my car.” Later that evening, Bryson spoke in front of 1,2500 people at Hoyt Sherman Auditorium. It remains one of the largest AViD crowds of all-time.
Building a Presence
AViD continued to grow, as the library brought in five authors in five days in both 2002 and 2003. The logistics of planning AViD over the course of one week got to be too much – not only did Kaiser have to schedule authors, but she also had to schedule venues since the new Central Library had not been built – so beginning in 2004, AViD started spreading out over the course of a month or more.
The series’ reputation was still growing, and Kaiser and DMPL Foundation members ensured that authors had a good time when they came in. This included Iowa First Lady Christie Vilsack, who allowed authors to stay at Terrace Hill, the governor’s mansion, while her husband was in office through January 2007.
This was a little confusing to some authors. “I was driving up to the gate with Lisa Scottoline,” says Kaiser, “and we stopped for security to open it for us. I said who we were, the gate opened up, and I noticed Lisa seemed surprised. ‘Is this the actual governor’s mansion?’ she asked me. I told her it was. She said, ‘I thought it was the name of a bed and breakfast!’”
Journalist Juan Williams (r) visited Des Moines as part of AViD in 2004.
Kaiser enjoyed her years running the AViD series. She once created a presentation titled “I Never Met an Author I Didn’t Like” while speaking at a local organization. “We had people tailgating for Janet Evanovich,” Kaiser says. Evanovich had 1,300 people attend her program at Hoyt Sherman Auditorium in 2006. “People were there hours before the doors opened.” She says that Evanovich stayed until 12:30 AM signing books. “She was as pleasant to the first person as she was to the last person,” says Kaiser.
Kaiser recalls many fun stories from the years. Scottish author Alexander McCall Smith wore a kilt around Des Moines while visiting in 2008 and was introduced by bagpipes when he took the stage. He also needed to pick up a new toothbrush, because the electric one he brought did not fit American plugs. Diane Mott Davidson’s husband shipped several boxes of homemade cookies to the library when she visited. Davidson is a mystery writer that writes several recipes into her novels. The cookies followed one of the recipes in her most recent book.
In 2005, Cokie Roberts was scheduled to be a part of AViD. The journalist had to make a big change of plans however – Pope John Paul II died a week before she was to come to Des Moines, and NPR sent her to Rome to cover his death and funeral. Roberts had to cancel her AViD visit, but she went out of her way to make up for it by visiting during a library-sponsored visit later that call.
Amor Towles (r) speaks with moderator Suku Radia (l) during an AViD Q&A in 2017
AViD Becomes a Staple
AViD became a popular lecture series in Des Moines, growing outside of its usual spring dates to host “AViD Extras” when the opportunity arrived. Perhaps the most famous of these was in December 2013. Mitch Albom was in town, but high temperatures hovered in the single digits the day he was to speak. Nonetheless, more than 1,100 people braved the frigid cold and saw Albom speak at Roosevelt High School
Kaiser retired in 2015, and Sue Woody, the Community Engagement Librarian, took over the series. In that time, AViD has continued to thrive. Perhaps the most passionate crowd in that time was Jenny Lawson in 2015. Lawson writes about mental health in a comedic and relatable way, and often references her past growing up as the daughter of a taxidermist. She spent nearly two hours signing books and having conversations with every person that came up to her. Many even brought gifts for Lawson – including real taxidermied animals.
Of course, not everything can go as scheduled. In 2017, shortly after the lineup was announced, Irish author Frank Delaney passed away. Delaney had been scheduled to headline the Wonder of Words festival as part of AViD that year, and event was just two months away. After a few days of talking with publicists and publishers, it was announced that NPR book reviewer Maureen Corrigan was willing to take Delaney’s dates if asked. Materials were reprinted, and Corrigan was welcomed by a gracious crowd when she came to Des Moines in April.
Woody says that running the series was a great experience. "I love showing off Des Moines to world-famous authors," she says. She mentions that authors love the Pappajohn Sculpture Park, the restaurants in Des Moines, and the ability to get around downtown with ease. "That's all before they've even met our literature loving patrons. They come out in all kinds of weather and ask such intelligent questions."
Susan Orlean (r) smiles as she greets a fan. She visited in March 2019 at the DSM Book Festival as part of the AViD series.
When Woody became Library Director in 2018, Tim Paluch was hired as the new Community Engagement Supervisor, and is now in charge of the AViD series. The first author this year, Susan Orlean, had a crowd of 550 people last Saturday at Capital Square. It was a delightful crowd for a delightful author.
AViD would not be possible without the support of the Des Moines Public Library Foundation. Led by Dory Briles, the Foundation raises funds to bring in world class authors every year in support of AViD and Des Moines Public Library programming. You can learn more about the DMPL Foundation at their website - dmpl.org/foundation
As AViD continues its 19th season, we invite you to see any or all of the wonderful authors that are coming to Des Moines and check out their books from the library. The rest of this year’s AViD schedule is listed below. Each of these events takes place at 7:00 PM at the Central Library, with doors opening at 6:00 PM. Learn more at dmpl.org/avid.