Opus & Olives was successfully launched on Sunday, September 26, 2004 with a stellar line-up of celebrity authors. More than 400 supporters attended the inaugural event and enjoyed the charm and wit of Lorna Landvik as Emcee. She graciously carried the evening and led the room through each author’s talk.
Participants were treated to lively offerings from John Sandford, author of numerous thrillers including the Lucas Davenport series and his then-latest novel, Hidden Prey; New York Times best-selling non-fiction author, Robert Kurson, whose book, Shadow Divers, was the true and riveting tale of the discovery and exploration of a German U-boat by two weekend scuba divers; Laura Lippman, winner of numerous book awards and author of the suspenseful By a Spider’s Thread; and Harper’s Magazine editor, Lewis Lapham, who spoke about current national policies on dissent and freedom of speech, and his book, Gag Rule: On the Suppression of Dissent and the Stifling of Democracy.
In 2005, Mike Veeck, owner of the Saint Paul Saints and author of Fun Is Good, was our highly entertaining host. Our second year brought in well over 500 attendees to meet, greet, and hear presentations from Anita Diamant, author of the Booksense™ Book of the Year, The Red Tent and Last Days of Dogtown; Bruce Feiler, award-winning NPR journalist and author of Where God Was Born; Jonathan Eig, senior reporter for The Wall Street Journal and author of Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig; and perennially best-selling author J.A. Jance, renowned mystery writer of the popular J.P. Beaumont and Joanna Brady series, who shared her then-latest book, Long Time Gone.
2006 brought contributing editor with National Geographic Traveler magazine and one of America’s premier consumer travel broadcasters, Rudy Maxa to Opus & Olives as our Master of Ceremonies. He deftly led the presentations from one mood to another without skipping a beat.
Bob Greene, a columnist for Life, Esquire, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune, and a contributing correspondent for ABC News, and Nightline, shared a highly personal and moving true story of friendship and remembrance from his book, And You Know You Should Be Glad: A True Story of Lifelong Friendship.
Shira Nayman discussed her book, Awake in the Dark, a beautiful collection of short stories about the devastating heritage that separates and yet links the descendants of Holocaust victims and perpetrators.
Sena Jeter Naslund, author of the sensational Ahab’s Wife, joined us with her new novel, Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette, a hypnotically intimate and sympathetic portrayal of the much-maligned French queen.
Phillip Margolin, author of twelve New York Times best-selling criminal thrillers, including Proof Positive, talked about the writing process and shared some of the sources for his stories.
In 2007, we welcomed Katherine Lanpher as our Emcee. She brought her book, Leap Days: Chronicles of a Midlife Move, about her transition in 2004 from mild-mannered Midwesterner to savvy New Yorker. The tone of her essays mixes emotional depth with quirky wit. Lanpher kept things moving, and eased the transition between authors of varied styles and subjects.
We heard Nikki Giovanni — world-renowned poet, writer, commentator, activist, and educator. Always insisting on presenting the truth as she sees it, her focus is on the individual; specifically, on the power one has to make a difference in oneself, and thus, in the lives of others.
Bringing a softer and funnier side to the evening was Dorothea Benton Frank, the New York Times best-selling author of Sullivan’s Island and The Land of Mango Sunsets. She writes about heartbreak and loss with humor and a gabby, just-between-us tone, slyly teaching life lessons while entertaining and comforting her growing legion of readers.
Dave Zirin, Press Action’s 2005 and 2006 Sportswriter of the Year, has been called “an icon in the world of progressive sports.” His book, Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics, and Promise of Sports, has been called “the sports primer for our time.” Zirin is more concerned with sports’ place in the political and sociological arenas than scores-and-sweat stories. You can read his work online each week at Edge of Sports.
Perhaps the most “literary” of our presenters was Frank Delaney, a former judge for the Booker Prize who enjoyed a prominent career in BBC broadcasting before becoming a full-time writer. A prolific author of history and fiction, his work includes Ireland: A Novel (2004) and James Joyce’s Odyssey: A Guide to the Dublin of Ulysses (1983). Delaney brought with him his latest epic, Tipperary, a vivid portrait of late-nineteenth-century Ireland offering well-crafted characters who intermingle with real-life events.
2008’s Opus & Olives author line-up had a distinctly “thrilling” flavor! We were pleased to have as our Master of Ceremonies the perennially bestselling author of political thrillers, Vince Flynn – lauded for his research and prescient warnings about the rise of Islamic Radical Fundamentalism and terrorism.
Pulitzer Prize-winning Civil War historian, James M. McPherson (Battle Cry of Freedom) discussed his latest book, Tried By War, illuminating how Abraham Lincoln worked with—and often against—his senior commanders to defeat the Confederacy and create the role of Commander-in-Chief as we know it. McPherson is known for presenting the complexities of history while maintaining a narrative that makes it appealing to the general public.
One-half of the writing team known as Jefferson Bass, Jon Jefferson came to share the story behind The Body Farm, which was created by his partner, Dr. Bill Bass, and is the world’s first laboratory dedicated to the study of human decomposition. Jefferson Bass have authored four novels and three works of nonfiction about the Body Farm, including their latest – The Devil’s Bones—a page-turning, nail-biting thriller.
We also welcomed the “Tartan Noir” writer, Val McDermid, author of the award-winning The Grave Tattoo and Beneath the Bleeding, as well as several books which were adapted for television in the UK, in a highly successful series known as The Wire in the Blood. The internationally acclaimed McDermid’s books have been translated into 30 different languages.
And finally, we closed out the evening with a funny and engaging presentation by Brad Meltzer, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Book of Fate, and The Tenth Justice. His latest thriller, The Book of Lies, was published just before Opus & Olives. Meltzer is also the author of several comics, including the the murder-mystery, Identity Crisis, a critically acclaimed and all-too-human look into the lives of DC superheroes, and the terrible price they pay for doing good.
2009 provided our first official “sell out” as nearly 800 VIPs, business leaders and their guests joined us for the sixth annual Opus & Olives. We welcomed the New York Times bestselling author Michael Connelly author of The Scarecrow, featuring crime-beat reporter Jack McEvoy, and his then-latest, Nine Dragons, featuring detective Harry Bosch, which debuted days before our event. “9 Dragons is a gritty, coffee-and-cigarettes crime thriller full of smart twists and generous helpings of suspense. Fans of Michael Connelly can expect another exceptional thrill ride, while newcomers will be immediately engaged by the tortured and unrelenting Bosch.” — Dave Callanan, Amazon.com
Jeffrey Toobin presented The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court, which presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin called, “…a remarkable, riveting book. So great are Toobin’s narrative skills that both the Justices and their inner world are brought vividly to life.” He was remarkably candid and timely, with a new Supreme Court Justice – Sonia Sotomayor – having just been confirmed weeks before.
National Book Award-winner Julia Glass (Three Junes) talked about her love of libraries and her latest book, I See You Everywhere, which the New York Times hailed as “rich, intricate and alive with emotion…. an honest portrait of sister-love and sister-hate—interlocking, brave and forgiving—made whole through art.”
John Grisham said, “Few stories of wrongful convictions have happy endings, but the one told by Ronald Cotton and Jennifer Cannino is far different. It is the powerful account of violence, rage, redemption, and, ultimately, forgiveness.” Jennifer Thompson-Cannino & Ronald Cotton, co-authors of Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption held the room spellbound and emotionally riveted as they told their story of a rape, a wrongful identification and conviction, and years later, the exoneration and ultimate friendship they shared.
Our Emcee, Mike Walsh, the author of Bowling Across America: 50 States in Rented Shoes, showed that being an ‘ad man’ is great practice for keeping a group of disparate writers on a seemingly cohesive and similar groove. And it just may be the best foundation for finding the humor in every situation and being able to write about a quirky journey with wry wisdom and heart.
In 2010 we had Stanley Trollip as our Master of Ceremonies. Trollip is one-half of the writing team known as Michael Stanley, author of the award-winning “Detective Kubu” mystery series, set in modern-day Botswana. The memorable detective made his debut in the gritty, mesmerizing thriller, A Carrion Death. Now he’s back in The Second Death of Goodluck Tinubu. Trollip’s writing partner, Michael Sears, was also able to join us to autograph books and chat with Opus & Olives guests.
Roy Blount Jr. is the author of twenty-one books, about a wide range of things, from the first woman president of the United States to what barnyard animals are thinking. His latest title, Hail, Hail, Euphoria! was released in October – just in time for O&O. With many in the audience already established fans of Blount’s from his regular appearances on the NPR current events quiz show, “Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me!”, his trademark sense of humor and style didn’t disappoint.
We also welcomed Joshilyn Jackson, the New York Times bestselling author of gods in Alabama and The Girl Who Stopped Swimming. Her latest, Backseat Saints, tells the story of Rose Mae Lolley, a fierce, tiny ball of war wounds who was a minor character in gods in Alabama. Jackson put her background in theater to good use, presenting her material with warmth, wit and a great sense of timing, and she had some of the nicest things to say about libraries!
Next, we presented Dave Kindred, sports journalist and author of Morning Miracle: Inside the Washington Post – A Great Newspaper Fights for Its Life. In it, he tells the story of old-school newspaper journalism and deeply reported public affairs coverage, the kind that can make a difference in people’s lives. Kindred painted a vivid picture of the paper, its people, its triumphs and its struggle to survive in a media landscape being transformed profoundly and inexorably by the Internet. Despite his serious subject matter, Kindred entertained the audience with some funny anecdotes picked up over many years in the news business.
Adriana Trigiani, beloved by millions of readers around the world for her hilarious and heartwarming novels including Big Stone Gap; The Queen of the Big Time; Milk Glass Moon; Viola in Reel Life; and Very Valentine, finished the evening. Trigiani’s latest blockbuster, Brava, Valentine debuted at number seven on the New York Times bestseller list following its February 2010 debut. In it, Valentine Roncalli juggles her long-distance romance as she works to better the family’s struggling business. Trigiani was a wonderful choice for closing out the evening’s presenters — she had the entire room laughing to the point of tears before ending with some important wisdom and words of encouragement about supporting libraries.
Returning as emcee for 2011 was the very charming and erudite Frank Delaney. As well as being a bestselling author himself (of more than 21 books, including Ireland and Shannon), he has interviewed more than 3,000 writers for the BBC and international television and radio shows. Delaney brought his newest book, The Matchmaker of Kenmare.
Erik Larson is the bestselling author of the National Book Award finalist and Edgar Award–winning The Devil in the White City. He brought his latest release, In the Garden of Beasts, a remarkable story set during Hitler’s rise to power.
Karin Slaughter also joined us, and brought her most exhilarating novel yet, Fallen – a thrilling journey through the heart and soul, where the personal and the criminal collide, and conflicted loyalties threaten to destroy reputations and ruin lives. In addition to being an internationally bestselling author, Slaughter is also the chair of the campaign, Save the Libraries, where she writes, “We need to shift our national view of libraries not as luxuries, but as necessities.”
Mitchell Zuckoff is the author of Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II. Zuckoff is a professor of journalism at Boston University. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, Fortune, and other national and regional publications. He was formerly with The Boston Globe, where he was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for investigative reporting.
The selection of a Muslim architect for a 9/11 memorial stirs a media circus in Amy Waldman’s poised and commanding debut novel, The Submission in which she skillfully presents the perspectives of a handful of major characters, but her keenest observations are of the media. She has a canny understanding of how a New York Post front page can stoke right-wing rage, or how a New York Times article can muddy the waters.
Opus & Olives 2012 was nothing short of amazing! The 9th annual, record-breaking event sold out two months before the gala and The Friends had to expand to pool-side seating at the Crowne Plaza – adding another 120 seats for a total of more than 1,000 guests (note: that’s 600 more guests than the first Opus & Olives)!
Guests loved the event, extolling once again that, “It was the best program ever!” Leading the program line-up was author-emcee, John Taft, CEO of RBC Wealth Management – U.S., who talked about the need for corporate America to return to a role of strong stewardship. Taft spoke of the honor his company felt at having been the lead sponsor of Opus & Olives since its inception in 2004. He presented his new book, Stewardship: Lessons Learned from the Lost Culture of Wall Street.
Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Russo and his daughter, Kate Russo, presented their homage to the print book in Interventions, a boxed-set of novellas written by Richard and illustrated by Kate. Cheryl Strayed, riding an amazing high of being chosen as the first author in Oprah’s new book club, detailed her trek on the Pacific Crest Trail in her bestseller, Wild. Gillian Flynn, who had just sold the film rights to her wildfire novel, Gone Girl, was hugely popular with the crowd. The evening closed with a moving tribute to Sargent Shriver, presented by his son, Mark Shriver, with his book, A Good Man: Rediscovering My Father, Sargent Shriver.
Once again, Delta Air Lines donated two round-trip BusinessElite™ tickets to anywhere in the world the airline flies. Delta Vice-President, Bill Lentsch, drew the winning ticket for friend of The Friends, Mike Burbach.
When we launched Opus & Olives ten years earlier with 400 guests, we believed that it could become a wonderful literary event—and one that raises significant funds to support the Saint Paul Public Library and local literacy efforts of the Pioneer Press—but we never dreamed that we would outgrow the Crowne Plaza to entertain more than 1,100 guests in our new home at the Saint Paul RiverCentre.
While the number of corporate sponsors, loyal table hosts and guests had grown, The Friends never changed the Opus & Olives formula: Everyone has always loved the big cocktail party and mingling with friends and authors. A gourmet dinner and great wine were winners every year. And the authors – well, they just kept getting better and better.
On our tenth anniversary, we were especially grateful to RBC Wealth Management for being our presenting sponsor every single year. RBC has been a tremendous partner in making Opus & Olives the event it is. We also thank Delta Air Lines for bringing a unique opportunity to make dreams a reality through their donation of two round-trip BusinessElite® tickets to anywhere in the world the airline flies. This year’s lucky winners were Doug and Dana Bruce.
Emcee John Searles took us over the top as our sometimes outrageous, and often slyly funny host. A book critic for the Today Show, and writer whose work appears in the New York Times and the Washington Post, Searles is also Editor at Large for Cosmopolitan magazine – a position that led him to bring “Cosmo covers” of each of that evening’s authors. He also brought his latest supernatural thriller, Help for the Haunted, winner of the American Library Association Alex Award, Boston Globe’s 2013 Best Crime Fiction, and an Amazon Top 10 Mystery and Suspense Novel.
Bill Bryson, one of the most loved and lauded authors in America today, was born in Iowa but has been a resident of the UK for most of his adult life. His latest book, One Summer: America 1927, captured the zeitgeist of the Roaring Twenties in an entertaining and informative look at what he calls “that long, extraordinary summer,” when America came of age and changed the world forever.
J. Courtney Sullivan, self-described as a feminist, serves on the advisory board of Girls Write Now, a nonprofit that pairs fledgling novice and professional female writers in mentoring partnerships. She has also been involved with GEMS, a New York organization dedicated to ending child sex trafficking. Her latest book, The Engagements, which spans 100 years, captures four marriages and traces the story of diamonds in America, was published in 18 countries and the film rights have been sold to Reese Witherspoon.
Wally Lamb has won a long string of awards — from the Connecticut Center for the Book’s Lifetime Achievement Award and the Friends of the Library USA Reader’s Choice Award for best novel in 1998, to the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill’s award for anti-stigmatizing mental illness. He brought his latest book, We Are Water, which is about art, 1950’s racial strife and the impact of a devastating flood on a Connecticut family.
Dennis Lehane’s first novel, A Drink Before the War, published in 1994, won the Shamus Award for Best First P.I. Novel, and he has been writing blockbusters ever since. Several of his novels have also turned into blockbuster movies, including Clint Eastwood’s “Mystic River,” Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island,” and “Gone, Baby, Gone” — all award-winning films. Lehane brought down the house with his heartfelt and powerful message about the impact of libraries on his life. “I would not be a writer if it weren’t for libraries. Libraries tell poor kids and working class kids that they matter. The entire world of knowledge is there, waiting for you.”
For the record 1,200 guests in 2014, Opus & Olives added a new twist to the event – a “dedicated emcee” who is a comedian and an author. Julie Pandl is a stand-up comedian and the author of a charming book about growing up in the family restaurant business: Memoir of the Sunday Brunch. The youngest of nine, Julie said she often dreamed of naptime, when there was no yelling, kicking, or screaming, when no one would pinch her, pull her hair, or hang her on the bathroom doorknob by her underpants.
Louise Penny is a Canadian mystery writer behind the wildly popular Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series, set in Quebec. Her first job was as a journalist and radio host with CBC in Thunder Bay, Ontario. “It was a great place to learn the art and craft of interviewing and listening,” she says. “That was the key. A good interviewer rarely speaks; she listens, closely and carefully. I think the same is true of writers.” We’re glad she discovered that simple truth, for her books have found a worldwide audience and won our hearts – along with numerous awards.
Matt Richtel is a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist whose book, A Deadly Wandering, is the gripping, true story about the impact of technology on our lives told through the story of a Utah college student who killed two rocket scientists while texting and driving. The book is about the scientists, the young man and his redemption, and the question facing most of us in today’s technology-driven world: “How much is too much?”
Hampton Sides is an American historian, journalist, and editor-at-large for Outside Magazine. He has written for National Geographic, The New Yorker, Esquire, and many others. His book, In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette, is a harrowing story well told, thanks to copious research using first-person sources – including memoirs, official Navy documents, journals and private correspondence.
Jane Smiley is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Thousand Acres. In 2006 she won the PEN USA Lifetime Achievement Award for Literature, but we don’t expect her to slow down any time soon. She’s a beloved writer at the height of her powers. Her latest book, Some Luck delivers on everything we look for in a work of fiction. Taking us through cycles of births and deaths, passions and betrayals, it is a literary tour de force that stands wholly on its own, but it is also the first part of a dazzling epic trilogy that will span a century in America.
Simon Winchester (OBE) is a British-born American author whose book, The Men Who United the States: America’s Explorers, Inventors, Eccentrics and Mavericks, and the Creation of One Nation, Indivisible is a fascinating popular history that illuminates the men who toiled fearlessly to discover, connect, and bond the citizenry and geography of the U.S.A. from its beginnings. How did America become “one nation, indivisible”? What unified the disparate states into the modern country we recognize today? To answer these questions, Winchester followed in the footsteps of America’s essential explorers, thinkers, and innovators, such as Lewis and Clark, the builders of the first transcontinental telegraph, the civil engineer behind the Interstate Highway System, and others who played a pivotal role in creating today’s United States.
In another surprising twist, we welcomed Jason Gay as our emcee. Gay is a popular sports columnist for the Wall Street Journal (yes, the Wall Street Journal – you read that right). Four times a week, millions of men and women turn to his column for a fan’s-eye-view of the sports world. Departing only partway from the sports world, his humorous yet inspirational book, Little Victories, was described as “a life guide for people who hate life guides.”
Homer Hickam is the author of Rocket Boys, the basis for the 1999 film “October Sky.” Hickan brought his funny, sweet, and sometimes tragic novel, Carrying Albert Home — the tale of a young couple and a special alligator on a rollicking 1,000-mile adventure. Told with warmth and charm, it’s a moving tribute to love.
Paula McLain is the New York Times best-selling author of The Paris Wife. Her book, Circling the Sun brought to life a fearless and captivating woman: Beryl Markham, a record-setting aviator caught up in a passionate love triangle with safari hunter Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen, who, as Isak Dinesen, wrote the classic memoir, Out of Africa.
Emily St. John Mandel is the highly acclaimed, New York Times best-selling author of Station Eleven—a finalist for the 2014 National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award. Set in the eerie early days of civilization’s collapse, this dazzling, genre-bending novel follows a traveling troupe of Shakespearean actors roaming a post-apocalyptic world. The surprisingly uplifting story was described by Mandel as “a love letter to the modern world.”
Al Roker, the beloved NBC weatherman brought the legendary disaster of the Great Gulf Hurricane of 1900 into brilliant focus in his book, The Storm of the Century. The book vividly recalled a storm that killed more than 8,000 people, making it the deadliest natural disaster in American history. Roker went on to blow our guests away by finishing the evening with a moving message about the crucial importance of libraries.