There are library gala fundraisers, and there’s the Friends of the St. Paul Public Library gala fundraiser, Opus & Olives, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year and will be held on October 8.

Opus & Olives, which is billed by organizers as "a benefit with friends," attracts a well-heeled crowd of booklovers, who pay $150 and up for an evening that begins with a cocktail reception and book signings, followed by dinner and author presentations and concluding with more signings. The event annually nets $200,000 for the Friends of the St. Paul Public Library, the nonprofit organization that hosts this event. The funds are dispersed to Minnesota’s capital city’s public library system to, as FSPPL senior director of communications Kim Horton says, “fund their priorities.”

“It started out with 300 people,” recalls Liz Boyd, FSPPL director of special events, “Our biggest gathering was 1,000 plus in 2013 or 2014, in the RiverCentre [convention center] after we moved there from a hotel venue. We average between 800 and 900 attendees; last year, of course, was smaller, because of post-pandemic. There were 650-675, but we still raised more money that evening than we ever had.”

Boyd explains that each year’s roster contains a variety of authors, some of them suggested by publishers, others chosen by FSPPL . "We try to diversify the authors by genre, publishers, ethnic backgrounds, men and women. We always want nonfiction represented, in addition to literature. It’s a dance. But it always comes together,” Boyd said.

“We like to have New York Times bestselling authors; we like them to have a good backlist, because we sell those books as well, “Boyd said, “But part of our diversity, we like to have a debut author. It’s an unpredictable evening.” Boyd and Horton recalled that one of the more memorable presentations occurred in 2018, and involved debut author, Casey Gerald, who’d written There Will Be No Miracles Here: A Memoir.

“He was someone who had no [autograph] line beforehand and just gave the most incredible talk,” Horton recalled, “His book sold out that evening. He was still there signing books, an hour after the event.”

Authors on the Menu

To date, almost 100 authors have participated in Opus & Olives, ranging from John Sandford (2004) to Adriana Trigiani (2010) to Emily St. John Mandel (2015), to William Kent Krueger (2022). Opus & Olives used to feature five authors, but now has four after attendees said they would like a shorter program.

The October 8 roster features Scott Berg (The Burning of the World); Sadeqa Johnson (The House of Eve); Jean Kwok (Leftover Woman); and Don Winslow (City of Dreams).

After his appearance at Opus & Olives in 2011, Mitchell Zuckoff wrote, “Being invited to Opus & Olives is like winning an unexpected prize—you get tapped on the shoulder out of the blue and you go along for a fabulous ride!” He wasn’t exaggerating since author care is one of Opus' priorities, which includes covering travel expenses and a one night hotel stay. “We don’t pay an honorarium,” Boyd said, “But Red Balloon Bookshop sells the books, and they’re a New York Times-reporting bookshop so if a book just came out, it can get that bump pretty quickly from Opus & Olives.”

Reflecting upon the 20th anniversary, Horton promises that FSPPL will mix things up, “to make it special, to remember the past.” But, she adds, one thing about Opus & Olives will never change: “this is a celebration. Let’s celebrate books, let’s celebrate authors, let’s celebrate reading. And let’s celebrate the library.”