Skip to main content


August 5, 2014

William Kent Krueger on ORDINARY GRACE as a One Book-One Community Read

Posted by Rebecca M

A few months ago, mystery writer William Kent Krueger had the honor of having his most recent novel, ORDINARY GRACE, chosen as a One Book-One Community Read in South Lake Minnetonka, Minnesota. The One Book-One Community program seeks to promote family and community interaction through reading the same book. In this case, ORDINARY GRACE was the perfect choice, as Minnesota is not only Krueger's home state, but the setting for many of his books. We recently had the opportunity to ask Krueger a few questions about the event, from how his novel was selected to how he handled the community discussion and what comments surprised him most. When did you learn that ORDINARY GRACE was being selected as a One Book-One Community Read in South Lake Minnetonka, Minnesota?

William Kent Krueger: I was first contacted in February, just a preliminary invitation. This was the first of its kind that I’d received. Very soon, we reached an agreement, the die was cast, and ORDINARY GRACE was scheduled to be the community’s one book selection this year.

RGG: Tell us about the audience at this event.

WKK: Oh, were they a wonderful group! The age representation was quite broad, and, honestly, many folks were there who hadn’t actually read ORDINARY GRACE. They’d come because they were fans of my Cork O’Connor series. I believe that by the time they left, I’d convinced them that they absolutely had to read ORDINARY GRACE.

RGG: Who facilitated the discussion, and how was the discussion handled from there?

WKK: There was no facilitator, as such. I was given a lovely introduction, and I took it from there.

RGG: Did you give a formal presentation and/or answer questions?

WKK: I enjoy talking to an audience, especially if it’s about a book I love so much. So I talked about the inspiration for the story and about the writing of it. I talked about the risk involved in such a project, and I read one of my favorite passages, which is the scene in which the itinerant, whose body the two Drum boys have stumbled across beside the Minnesota River, is given a pauper’s burial in the local cemetery. I love this scene because it’s the first real glimpse the reader gets of the generosity of spirit that is at the heart of ORDINARY GRACE, and is also the most succinct statement of my own spiritual belief. Then I took questions for about half an hour. (I could easily have spent an hour with the questions alone.)

RGG: What resonated most with readers? Was it different according to the age and gender of the attendees?

WKK: I didn’t sense any difference, except perhaps that those in the audience who were my contemporaries could respond more immediately to the details of the time in which the novel is set. But the characters and story and themes are so universal that I believe the hearts of all those present were responding to the same elements --- loss, faith, healing and all the ordinary blessings that we offer, one human being to another.

RGG: Were there questions or comments that came up during the event that surprised you?

WKK: I’ve been talking to audiences for the past year and a half about ORDINARY GRACE, and I’m pretty good at anticipating the questions that will come at the end of a presentation. But the comments often surprise me. They range from praise for the quality of the writing itself to personal stories of a similar time or place or occurrence that has, across many years, remained significant to those who are willing to share their experiences. This sharing of stories is an additional way that an audience connects more deeply with me and with one another. Often comments or questions will address the differences between my work in the Cork O’Connor series and the kind of novel I’ve created in ORDINARY GRACE. In response to these comments in particular, I love to talk about why the pieces are so dissimilar, a discussion probably too involved for the space available here.

RGG: How did this discussion differ from others that you have had with book groups about your books?

WKK: My presentation was much more formal than any I would give to a book group. But in the end, the territory we covered together was pretty much the same. I never tire of talking about this novel, and I’ve never had a question that I considered insignificant.

RGG: Was this topic of Minnesota stronger in this community conversation given the location of the event and the setting of your book?

WKK: In my home state, many people are familiar with the story’s setting, the beautiful Minnesota River Valley, and I often get questions about the inspiration for various place details: Was New Ulm the basis for my fictional town of New Bremen? (Yes, and no is the answer to this one. I began my thinking with the outlines of New Ulm, Minnesota, but then added so many of my own imagined details that in the end, my New Bremen is its own unique community.) Did I grow up in the valley? (The answer is no. But I grew up in small towns and on farms in another part of the Midwest, and it wasn’t at all difficult to transfer my remembrances of those places to the Minnesota River Valley, which is wonderfully Midwestern in every respect.) The story and setting felt so real, was it thinly veiled autobiography? (I’m fond of saying that I tapped the deep roots of my own experience to create the novel. So not autobiography strictly speaking, but it’s the closest I’ve come to writing directly from my own heart.)

RGG: Is this the first time ORDINARY GRACE has been afforded this kind of honor? If not, please share where else this has happened and if you have attended the events in the past or plan to in the future.

WKK: Yes, this was my first One Book-One Community event. But I’ve been invited for many more such programs now. I have several scheduled before the end of the year, and I’m in discussions now with other communities for appearances in 2015. If you’re interested, keep an eye on my website event calendar, where these appearances will be posted as soon as they’re finalized. You can find me at my official website. If you’re part of a community that would like to consider ORDINARY GRACE for your One Book-Community read program, you may communicate with me directly using the “Contact” link on my website’s home page. I’d love to talk with you.