Freda Love Smith introduces Matt Bird April 21 at Bookends & Beginnings’ first in-person event since March 2020. Credit: Photo provided

When Nina Barrett opened Bookends & Beginnings in 2014, she had hoped one day to offer accessible programming to readers. Barrett, an author herself, said she wanted to raise the profile of Evanston’s writers.

“There is an arts community that is very visible, but a literary community – that was not so much,” she said.

Busy establishing her new business, Barrett tabled the idea of starting Bookends University. But when new employee Freda Love Smith, a local author, recently came to her with the same concept – offering workshops led by authors to further engage Evanston readers – Barrett decided the time was right to begin offering in-person and virtual classes.

With Love Smith’s assistance, Barrett launched Bookends University in February. One of the first workshops they did was a two-part sourdough bread class, offered online and taught by Eric Pallant, author of Sourdough Culture.

In the first class, participants learned from Pallant the art of the sourdough starter and created their own from scratch, making sure to feed it every day. In the second class, new bakers were encouraged to discuss what they made from the starter and what did and did not work. The class was allowed to troubleshoot with one another and use Pallant as a resource.

“It really created a sense of community because we made it together,” Barrett said. “It helps connect customers in a deeper, more meaningful way.”

Love Smith has taught several writing workshops, such as “Cozy Rituals for Writers,” part of the store’s February Hygge Month programming, and “An Introduction to Memoir Writing.” 

The store hosted its first in-person workshop April 21; it also served as a launch for Matt Bird’s book, The Secrets of Character. It was the first in-person event held at Bookends & Beginnings since March 2020.

Love Smith, Assistant Professor of Instruction and an academic adviser at Northwestern University, is moving on from higher education to work at the store full-time as program director for Bookends University. She said that over the last year, she “created her dream job in her head,” which consisted of teaching prose classes and leading literary programming. She said her goal is to make writing classes more affordable and accessible to people of all ages.

On April 26, Bookends University hosted “Introduction to Writing History Fiction with Allison Epstein.” The next event is set for 7 p.m. May 25 with Eugenia Viti, who will discuss her career as a professional comic artist.

Classes range from $30 to $60 depending on book price and content.

In the summer, Love Smith will be offering four-week classes about reading and writing the personal essay, and in the fall she hopes to offer a wider variety of classes.

“Bookends University is a really nice way for authors to share their knowledge in a direct way so participants have a chance to learn something and connect with the writer,” she said.

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Sam Stroozas

Sam Stroozas is a reporter and the social media manager at the Evanston RoundTable. She covers small businesses, social justice and human interest stories. Contact her at and...

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