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How a Cuyahoga County librarian landed in James Patterson’s latest book

James Patterson and Bill Kelly of the Cuyahoga County Public Library
Kabir Bhatia
Cuyahoga County Public Library
When James Patterson was in town to promote his 2022 memoir, “The Stories of My Life,” he was interviewed by Bill Kelly of the Cuyahoga County Public Library. The encounter led to a chapter in Patterson's new book.

If you love visiting your local library or shopping for books in-person, James Patterson is right there with you. His latest work is “The Secret Lives of Booksellers and Librarians.” It profiles more than 30 purveyors of literature from around the world. One of them is Bill Kelly, adult programming manager for the Cuyahoga County Public Library.

Kelly, the co-founder of Cleveland Book Week, which welcomes dozens of authors to the region, caught the attention of Patterson when was he was in town to promote his memoir, “The Stories of My Life,” in 2022.

“We were fortunate enough to be chosen as one of the tour stops,” Kelly said. “The publisher asked me to moderate the onstage conversation, which of course is both nerve wracking and exciting. And it turned out we had a great time. I was pleasantly surprised on how funny he is.”

Patterson followed up with an invite to be part of his next project. A year later, Kelly had several long chats with the book’s co-author, Matt Eversmann.

“It was just really luck of the draw,” he said.

Growing up in Northeast Ohio, Kelly attended Baldwin-Wallace University and was a voracious reader. Yet, he began his career in record stores in the 1990s.

“I started as what they call ‘manager-in-training’ for a company… they owned all these Coconuts and Record Towns and retail stores,” he said.

Learning the business and promotion sides of retail, his life pivoted when he spotted a job posting from the Cuyahoga County library.

"I just started reading it and I thought, 'That sounds like me,'" he said. "'If you have a curious nature and you're just interested in helping people find whatever information they're looking for.' That sounds perfect. I think when I interviewed... I was at least able to articulate my passion for lifelong learning and helping people. And that's what allowed me to get my foot in the door."

That’s the focus of Kelly’s chapter: How a book lover connects people with great literature. Kelly does it by hosting numerous author events.

“Some authors are more serious,” he said. “Some authors are more literary, and they want to talk about the craft. Some are more plot-driven authors.”

Kelly said there can be an intimidation factor with well-known writers, such as Patterson. They broke the ice by discussing the author’s time working in a mental health facility.

“I said, ‘So, I understand you spent some time in a mental hospital,’ and it broke the ice,” Kelly said. “He talked about his experience working there, where, in fact, he met some famous authors, like the poet Robert Lowell.”

Kelly’s passion for literature also led to the co-founding of Cleveland Book Week.

“I had long been friends with Karen Long, former book editor at the Plain Dealer,” he said. “At the time, she was manager of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards. Our kickoff event in the fall… almost invariably fell around the same week as the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards ceremony. I just suggested we really should just come up with an umbrella branding to put over both of our events.”

The award recognizes books which have made important contributions to our understanding of racism and human diversity. The ninth annual Cleveland Book Week is slated for this fall, with several author events and a writing conference.

“I'm passionate about making Cleveland the literary hotspot in the country,” Kelly said. “I want to bring the world's best authors to Northeast Ohio. I want to get great books in people's hands. And I want to help foster a community that celebrates lifelong learning and reading.”

Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.