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Mystery brings community together for Big Read St. Croix

Work by Roberts artist Barbara Riegel Bend is on display at the Hudson Library as part of the Big Read in the St. Croix Valley program. The work is based off the book “The Maltese Falcon” by Dashiell Hammett. (photo by Rebecca Mariscal)1 / 2
"The Maltese Falcon" is this year's Big Read. (submitted photo)2 / 2

Intrigue, murder and one of the original private detectives will draw the St. Croix Valley on both sides of the river together as it works its way through the classic detective novel "The Maltese Falcon" by Dashiell Hammett as part of the Big Read program.

The Big Read is a nationwide program that was started by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2005 to combat the decline in reading for leisure. ArtReach St. Croix launched its piece of the program three years ago after many years hosting its own Valley Reads program.

"It was a little intimidating but after hosting Valley Reads for so many years I think we were able to demonstrate that we had a really strong valley-wide partnership," ArtReach Executive Director Heather Rutledge said.

The program, run through a grant, brings together several organizations throughout the valley. Though hosted by ArtReach, local libraries, area bookstores and valley art organizations work together to make the Big Read a success.

"Seeing everybody's willingness to jump on board and get excited about connecting people to literature and connecting people to each other," Rutledge said.

It also brings together the many different art forms. Though literature is at the base of the program with book clubs and community discussions, the Big Read hosts a variety of events including a commissioned sculpture display, an exhibition of inmate art, live performances and viewings of the 1941 version of the film starring Humphrey Bogart.

"ArtReach and our regional partners really do a good job of being multi disciplinary," Rutledge said, "talking about literature but tying in theater, music, visual arts and other art forms as a way to connect to the story.

This year's book, "The Maltese Falcon," was selected by a committee from the 28 options provided by the national program.

"This year we're hearing a lot of buzz and a lot of excitement about 'The Maltese Falcon,'" Rutledge said.

The novel follows private eye Sam Spade as he investigates the murder of his partner and a missing gold statue of a bird. The story gives the community a chance to talk about what literature, and art as a whole, really is.

"Detective novels were really sort of dime store pulp fiction and 'The Maltese Falcon was really one of the first detective stories regarded as literature," she said.

It also gives the community a chance to have some fun playing into the theme of the genre and era.

"There are opportunities to be a little campy and nostalgic," Rutledge said.

One of these is the Totally Criminal Cocktail party in the Casanova caves in Hudson, which gives participants a chance to dress up and party in the period-appropriate music in the prohibition caves.

The Hudson Library, Chapter2Books and various Little Free Libraries will have copies of the book with ArtReach encouraging readers to pass on their copies after they finish it.

Rutledge said the program has seen continued interest throughout the years.

"Each year more people are getting on board and more excitement," Rutledge said. "I hope that we can host the big read for many years to come."

For more information and a full list of events, see

Rebecca Mariscal

Rebecca Mariscal joined the Hudson Star Observer as a reporter in 2016. She graduated from the University of St. Thomas with a degree in communication and journalism. 

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