Let Them Eat (Amazing Poe-Inspired) Cake!
The Tell-Tale Heart by Stacey's Sweets, the winning entry in the Edible Books Contest. Photo courtesy of Springfield-Greene County Library
A confession: I love cake-decorating shows. I'm addicted to watching folks craft elaborate displays out of fondant and gum paste, I adore cakewrecks.com, and I'm still mourning the loss of Ace of Cakes from my TV line-up. So, when I saw that Missouri's Springfield-Greene County Library was holding a Big Read cake-decorating contest in honor of Edgar Allan Poe, you can bet that I contacted them straight-away for a spot in our blog. Fortunately, Kim Flores, manager of Brentwood Branch Library and Big Read co-chair, was kind enough to chat with me over e-mail to tell me about her community's Big Read program and this particular event, which was even more incredible than I'd imagined.
NEA: This isn’t your community's first Big Read, is it? Can you tell me about some of your other experiences with the Big Read?
KIM FLORES: The Springfield-Greene County system has hosted a community-wide read since 2006. After a few years on our own, we were asked to partner with Missouri State University on an NEA-funded Big Read when they chose the title, To Kill a Mockingbird. That partnership was very successful and encouraged our library system to apply for our own grant from the NEA. We are really fortunate to have a responsive Friends of the Library group who gave us the matching funds so we could invite a nationally-known author. Last year our Big Read title was The Maltese Falcon, and we were able to bring Ridley Pearson to Springfield for the keynote address. Pearson is not only a fine author but he's also a great speaker and he really energized our community. People talked about his presentation for months after he left.
Stacey Coggin (on right) of Stacey's Sweets and her assistant Kallie pose with their winning cake in the Edible Books contest. Photo courtesy of Springfield-Greene County Library
NEA: Why did you choose The Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe as your book this year?
FLORES: Poe had many famous contemporaries, but few resonate with young people the way he does. After all these years, people are still wondering whether he was a genius or just plain crazy. The circumstances surrounding his death are mysterious, the choices he made in life give us lots to question and discuss, and his stories provide chills that few other authors can replicate. One of our goals is to find new readers and introduce the library to people who've never used us before. We felt Edgar Allan Poe's works would give us a great way to reach the teen and young adult demographic who get only a brief taste of Poe in middle or high school, as well as encourage older patrons to revisit a favorite.
From left to right: Chef Brian Romano, captain of The Branch Bistro Team, which won this year's Iron Chef competition; Kim Flores, Big Read co-chair; Chef Roger Plummer, captain of the Cook's Kettle Team. Both Romano and Plummer are part of the Victory Trade School. Photo courtesy of Springfield-Greene County Library
NEA: The Edible Books cake-decorating contest is coupled with an Iron Chef competition that happens on the same day. What made you decide to host these contests? Can you tell us more about them?
FLORES: The first thing people think when they hear the word "library" is "books." That's great, but if you don't consider yourself a reader, does that mean there's nothing at the library for you? Of course not! There's something for everyone at the library and these events prove it.
There's been an explosion of cooking shows on television, cooking blogs on the internet, and online recipe sources. It's become a big part of our current culture. So when I saw an article about Edible Books festivals in libraries several years ago, I thought it would be a great fit for our Big Read. Not only could you get a book at the library, but you could also eat one!
We chose the Park Central Branch for the Iron Chef and Edible Books competitions because it's in the downtown area of our city and it's the branch which participates in the monthly First Friday Art Walk. There's a lot of foot traffic and seeing those cakes in the windows draws people in.
Once they are inside the library, they can smell the great cooking smells coming from the Iron Chef Competition. That's also been an excellent partnership for us. The Iron Chef competitors are from Victory Trade School, which provides accredited education in culinary arts for nontraditional students. Featuring them gives us a wonderful library event and gives them some much-needed publicity, as well.
The professional bakers who compete for "Fan Favorite" tell me they get phone calls for cakes in which the person says, "I saw your cake at the library and now I need you to make something for me." We have the cakes on display all afternoon and each person who comes into the library gets one ticket and the opportunity to vote for their favorite cake. Our electronic traffic counter was smoking from trying to keep up with counting all the people who came through the doors. (Okay, that's a bit of hyperbole, but we really did have lots of people.) The final count isn't in but preliminary numbers are in the range of 650-700 people.
With everything from blood drives to a flash fiction contest, to author presentations and pub trivia nights (complete with a specially-made local brew), the Springfield-Greene County Library's impressive list of Big Read events holds something for all ages. For more information, check out their website.