Library bringing in major author

Alpena County Library has pulled off a literary coup by securing acclaimed, best-selling author Alexander McCall Smith for a fall appearance.

McCall Smith, the author more than 80 books, counts the internationally known “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” series among his most-loved works. The series currently has 13 volumes, has been translated into 45 languages and has sold over 20 million copies worldwide.

“We’re delighted that he’s coming,” said Library Director Eric Magness-Eubank. “He’s a very popular author, and possibly one of the most prolific writers with 80 books. He’s a constant writer.”

For the last few years the library has conducted a Community Read project in conjunction with its annual Authors in the Fall series. The project entails encouraging area residents to all read the same book, discuss it and partake in a variety of activities related to it. The particular book is chosen to correlate with the headline author scheduled to speak in the fall.

With McCall Smith lined up to speak on Nov. 10 in Alpena, the library has selected as this year’s community read, “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency,” the first volume in that series.

“We felt it was slightly more accessible and that there was a wide range of programming that we could do around it,” Magness-Eubank said. “It’s very engaging and heart-warming.

The library had tried to secure McCall Smith last for its Authors in the Fall series, but while his appearance had initially looked promising, the author was forced to cancel so that he could help with an HBO film project based on “The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency.” Magnus-Eubank is pleased that the author is able this year to work a visit to Alpena into his busy schedule. He also said that McCall Smith is considered an engaging speaker.

“He’s a very entertaining and engaging speaker, which is something we look for when planning our series,” Magnus-Eubank said. “He has an extremely subtle and clever sense of humor that comes through in everything he does.”

McCall Smith also has written short story collections, academic titles and a number of immensely popular children’s books. Another series, beginning with “The Sunday Philosophy Club,” is about an intriguing woman named Isabel Dalhousie. It appeared in 2004 and immediately leapt onto national bestseller lists, as did its sequels.

The ninth Dalhousie novel came out in fall 2012. McCall Smith’s serial novel, “44 Scotland Street,” was published in book form to great acclaim in 2005 and has been followed by many sequels.

McCall Smith was born in what is now Zimbabwe and was educated there and in Scotland. He became a law professor in Scotland, and it was in this role that he first returned to Africa to work in Botswana, where he helped to set up a new law school at the University of Botswana. For many years he was a professor of medical law at the University of Edinburgh, and has been a visiting professor at a number of other universities elsewhere, including ones in Italy and the United States.

The author is the recipient of numerous awards, including The Crime Writers’ Association’s Dagger in the Library Award, the United Kingdom’s Author of the Year Award in 2004, the Saga Award for Wit and Sweden’s Martin Beck Award. He holds honorary doctorates from 12 universities, most recently from Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

McCall Smith currently lives in Edinburgh with his wife, Elizabeth, who is a doctor. His hobbies include playing wind instruments, and he is the co-founder of an amateur orchestra called The Really Terrible Orchestra in which he plays the bassoon and his wife plays the horn.

As in years past, the library sought state grant funding for the Authors in the Fall series. However, with today’s highly competitive granting process, that funding did not come through. Consequently, the library has decided to bring in only McCall Smith for the Authors in the Fall series, instead of a main headline author and several other additional, lesser known authors.

“We are highly dependent on grant funding for our cultural programs,” Magnus-Eubank said. “We are usually able to leverage the grant funding with our own money, but this year we will just do one author only.”

Magnus-Eubank said he believes the grant funding didn’t come through this year because the philosophy of the granting agency appeared to have changed somewhat and lean more heavily toward larger populated areas rather than more rural locations like Alpena.

Tickets for McCall Smith’s program are expected to go on sale July 1. The program will be held in the Alpena High School Auditorium.