Life Along the Streetcar with Tom Heath from The Heath Team Nova Home Loans

Hidden in Plain Sight: Emily Walsh and Jody Hardy Explore Tucson’s Artistic Alleys with the Tome Gnome Initiative

Learn More About Tucson Tome Gnome

Episode Highlights

  • Origins of the Tome Gnome: Discover how a simple dinner conversation between friends blossomed into a city-wide literary adventure.
  • Community Impact: Learn about the unexpected ways the Tome Gnome is connecting people across Tucson.
  • Get Involved: Find out how you can participate in the Tome Gnome initiative and help spread the joy of reading in Tucson.

Guardians of the Gnome: Emily Walsh and Jody Hardy’s Literary Mission

Emily Walsh and Jody Hardy, the visionaries behind the Tucson Tome Gnome, have crafted a unique cultural experience disguised as a community book hunt. “During the pandemic, books were one of the ways I really got through that time,” Emily shared, highlighting how the project began as a personal passion. Split into engaging stories, this section delves into their motivation and the initiative’s humble beginnings.

Their mission is simple yet impactful: “Wouldn’t it be fun if we just shared a love of books with our community?” This question, posed during a casual dinner, is what sparked the creation of the Tucson Tome Gnome. Today, their project encourages Tucsonans to explore their city in search of hidden books, turning everyday locations into hubs of discovery.

Books as Bridges: The Cultural Impact of the Tucson Tome Gnome

The cultural significance of the Tucson Tome Gnome extends beyond mere book distribution. “We’re tying all kinds of different elements together,” explains Jody, illustrating how the project intertwines literary and visual arts to celebrate Tucson’s local flavor. This initiative not only boosts literacy but also drives traffic to lesser-known corners of the city, supporting small businesses and highlighting local artists.

Each hidden book acts as a bridge, connecting diverse groups of people across Tucson. Families, students, and tourists alike are drawn into a shared adventure that promotes community engagement and cultural appreciation. “It’s kind of weird, but it’s the right kind of weird for Tucson,” Emily remarked, capturing the quirky spirit that the initiative fosters among participants.

Join the Journey: How You Can Get Involved

Eager to explore Tucson’s artistic alleys and hidden corners? Here’s your chance to dive into the adventure. Follow the Tucson Tome Gnome on social media for live updates on the next book drop or join one of their city-wide scavenger hunts. “So if you know the location, you can go find the book or see if it’s still there,” invites Jody, offering a direct call to action for listeners and readers.

If Emily and Jody’s story has inspired you, or if you know someone who embodies the spirit of Tucson, reach out to us. Contact Tom Heath to send a message or to nominate a local hero making a difference. Your participation and stories enrich our community fabric, weaving together the diverse threads of Tucson’s cultural landscape.

Transcript (Unedited)

Good morning. It’s a beautiful Sunday in the Old Pueblo and you’re listening to KTDT Tucson. Thank you for spending a part of your brunch hour with us on your downtown Tucson, community sponsored, all -volunteer powered rock and roll radio station. On this week’s episode, we’re going to speak with Emily Walsh and Jody Hardy. They are two of the founding board members of the project, the Tucson Tome Gnome. This COVID era idea has really become a community sensation and we’re going to discuss how the gnome came into being and how you might randomly or not so randomly stumble across a free book hidden throughout Tucson. Today is April 28th. My name is Tom Heath, and you’re listening to Life Along the Streetcar. Each and every Sunday, our focus is on social, cultural, and economic impacts in Tucson’s urban core, and we shed light on hidden gems everyone should know about. From A Mountain to the University of Arizona and all stops in between, you get the inside track right here on 99 .1 FM,


streaming on downtownradio .org, also available on your iPhone on our Android and with our very own downtown radio Tucson app. And then of course, you can interact with us on the show through Facebook and Instagram. And if you want more information about us, our book and listen to some past episodes. There’s also a contact button if you head over to our website, which is life along the streetcar .org. And of course, you can listen to our podcast on all kinds of platforms like Spotify, iTunes, or you know, just ask your smart speaker to play the lifelong on the Streetcar Podcast and sometimes we pop up. A lot of times we get different news about Tucson from across the United States. We’ve had some really nice write -ups lately about our food and tourism. Well, there was an article done, it’s actually a series of articles from Albuquerque, New Mexico, as they’re trying to re -envision their downtown and they were looking at models across the country and in that series of articles written


in the Albuquerque News, the spotlight was actually on Tucson. They talked a lot about some of the things that have been happening in the downtown district, a lot of the beautification, and one of the titles was Clean, Green, and Safe, how sweating the small stuff in downtown Tucson set the table for success. And really talks about the importance of the Downtown Tucson Partnership, which is a an organization if you’re not sure we’ve done some some stories on that, but they are funded through the The owners of the real estate in downtown based upon a specific formula But they are the purple shirts if you’re out and about and just want to give them kudos Because when you start becoming a model for how other cities look to create Their vision, you know, you’re doing something right and want to appreciate all those efforts It also I think sheds a brighter light on Tucson and you know maybe we we need to continue to step up our game and


Impress if you want to listen to well if you want to read the articles We’ll put a link on our Facebook page to all four of them They’re also in the downtown to some partnerships web page And if you are out and about in downtown and you see someone in a purple shirt or wearing a downtown Tucson partnership logoed item. Let them know they’re doing a great job and you heard about it through the team in Albuquerque. And speaking of teams, we’re going to come back to a team here in Tucson and talk about a project called the Tucson Tome Gnome. Earlier in the week I had a chance to sit down with Emily Walsh and Jody Hardy. They are two of the founding members of this organization and they are doing really fun things in our community. They’re tying all kinds of different elements together, which those are the kind of projects I really like because they’re taking something as fundamental and important as reading. They’re highlighting authors that should get more recognition. And they are doing


it in a way that encourages our community to get out and explore itself, finding sometimes new places or artists to celebrate. And anything that celebrates Tucson is a good thing in my book. and when you combine it with the educational experience and the fun, really huge fan of the Tucson Tome Gnome. We sat down with Emily and Jodi at the Tucson Galleries Studios just a few days ago in downtown Tucson. One of the other founding members, Mary Ellen Flynn, wasn’t able to join us, but Emily and Jodi did a great job. Two guests today, this is exciting. I can usually barely handle one, but we’ve got Emily and Jodi, and you’re with a project called the Tucson Tome Gnome. Yes. Yes, the Tome Gnome. And I understand all of those words, but not necessarily in that order. So can one of you explain to me what the Tome Gnome is? Sure, so I’m happy to take that one. So the Tome Gnome is a fictional gnome who hides books, otherwise known as tomes. Tome is usually a word meant to describe a big, hefty,


intense book. I wouldn’t say the Gnome only hides tomes, but we thought it was a clever rhyming, and that’s what we’re here for. So there aren’t copies of Tolstoy all over the Tucson? No, we don’t have like Sartre or anything like that like hanging around, no. Well, how did this get started? Apparently you potentially like books, correct? Yes. We love books. Yes, we do like books. We all met through book clubs. Okay. So it did kind of grow from a blossom of books. Actually, this is Emily’s story. It’s always better if you tell us what Emily told us over dinner. Yes. Well, I can start it and then Jodi can chime in with like color commentary. So during the pandemic, I felt like books were one of the ways I really kind of got through that time, sort of escaped reality into much more fun and interesting realities most of the time. And so as we started to slowly come out of the pandemic, had dinner with Jodi and Mary Ellen, and I’d been sort of thinking through, how do we start to recreate community


in a different way again? You know, it was a very isolating time. And, you know, books were a big part of what saved me. And I was like, wouldn’t it be fun if like we just shared a love of books with our community? So the three of us were getting together just to kind of reconnect. And I think I asked the question, like, would it be weird if we just like picked a book and hid it around town, like just as an anonymous, like random act of kindness project, something that’s like light, that’s feel good, that brings people together, that maybe sparks some joy. And Jodi and our third, Mary Ellen, who’s not with us today, we’re like, that’s not weird at all. I mean, maybe it’s weird, but we would love it. So like, why not? It is kind of weird, but this is the right audience. Yeah, yeah. I think how you said it was like, Would you like it if you just randomly walked up and found a book somewhere on the street and we were like, yes This is something I want So Tucson Tome Gnome, does that mean there’s


other chapters of this or did you create this specifically and it’s only now in Tucson We created it really just for Tucson. So this is a question we get a lot is are there other chapters? Are there plans for other chapters? The answer is like, maybe one day, but we sort of take this project as a fun project where we play it by ear. So we kind of decided from the outset we wouldn’t put too much pressure on it to like be or become anything. And Tucson’s special. We are such a book community already that it was easy to launch this project here because people love books here. I’m not totally sure how that would go in other cities. It would be interesting to see maybe one day, but. And are you from Tucson? Not a native. No, I’m originally from Montana, actually. I’ve been here about 15 years. Okay, so you’ve got a good sense of the vibe. Yeah, same with me. I’m a transplant from Chicago, but I’ve been here 13 years. And your other partner, Mary Ellen? Mary Ellen, originally from Ohio, but has


lived all over the place, also a transplant, and has been here, I think, almost as long as me. Maybe it’s more like 12 years. but it’s interesting because you get Chicago, Montana, and Midwest, you get kind of get this different feeling that you’ll come to Tucson to bring here. Yeah. Yeah. I would say, you know, it’s great about Tucson as well. And we’ve had this thought sometimes is the climate is particularly good for hiding books because we don’t get much rain. Yes. Or snow. Or snow. It might not work as well in Chicago or Ohio. Right. You’d have to be a lot more selective about where you put a book. And when you say a book, so tell me what the process is. How often does this happen and how do you select it? Is it one book? Is it many books? I’m gonna take that one. So we hide one book every month on a Sunday. We hide 45 copies all around Tucson. 30 of them we do as a scavenger hunt is what we call it. So we post hint photos on social media. So if you know the location, you can go find


the book or see if it’s still there. And then 15, we save and hide later. We don’t do any hint photos. Those are truly just random acts of joy for people to come across and find. And then the way we pick the book is we have very long conversations. Typically they’re pretty current within the last like four years. We try to do all the genres. We try to primarily do non -white and LGBT community members. So we are amplifying hopefully voices that maybe are not getting enough attention that they should be getting, that’s our goal. So some definite intentionality behind this, it’s not just randomness of, what do we get on the discount rack this week? Correct, yep, yep, yep. So I’ll make sure I understand, so 30 of the books are in one location? They are throughout Tucson. Okay, so you point, okay, so when you’re posting pictures, you’re posting pictures of 30 different locations, okay. So it’s not like a stack of books somewhere and someone comes into, okay. Oh no, no, no, we start at like


8 a .m. and drive all of Tucson, leaving one book per spot. And is this something, I know that you got a grant recently from like the Downtown Tucson Partnership. Yes. And that was what kind of, I saw that as what sparked my interest in this. So are you focusing, it’s all over though, but are you focusing on downtown with that grant? Yeah, so that grant, that’s really, it’s really amazing. So we frequently, since our inception, we’ve hidden books downtown. But when we applied for the Downtown Tucson for Everyone grant was kind of interesting because they were looking to support events. And we were like, well, not really an event, but we’re kind of a once a month event. It’s sort of an event, I don’t know. So on a whim, we were like, let’s apply for this and see what happens. But essentially that grant is allowing us to essentially cover the cost of 10 books a month throughout the life of that grant. So between basically, it ended up being February and June, 10 books a month are hidden in


the central downtown area. Okay. So there’s a heads up on the scavenger hunt. Yes. Although there’s still probably a thousand plus places you could just downtown. Uh huh. Yeah. So the, the idea of, of getting this out into the community, I understand and getting this to, you know, share your love through books, but then how does this idea of the scavenger hunt, like what was this just like, let’s just make it a little frustrating for people to, uh, to, to get out there and not too easy. Like we want to develop community, but you’ve got to earn community. Well, I would say the scavenger hunt’s not particularly challenging because we frequently tag the location where it is. It’s more of a race. It’s a little bit more of a race than necessarily like, ooh, where is that? Although every now and then, you know, there’s a spot that isn’t necessarily easily taggable. And we’re like, if you recognize this obscure place, like then this is yours. And some people immediately know where something is.


Others are like, where is this? like, I didn’t even know this sort of thing was in Tucson. I would imagine that that serves the other purpose, right? You’re putting people, not only reading books, but you’re putting them in spaces where they might not normally go. Yes. We actually get that comment a lot about people when they meet us saying like, I’ve discovered so many new spots around the city that I never knew existed, or new murals, or new coffee shops, or new restaurants, whatever. And we also do focus on small businesses. So we try to only do small businesses or like local artists work in town as well as the locations. That’s Jodi Hardy. She’s one of the co -founders and board members of the Tucson Tome Gnome. She’s joined in our interview today by Emily Walsh, another one of the co -founders talking about the origins of the Tome Gnome and how this desire to get something done here during COVID led to the effort that is underway and doing wonderful things within our community. We’re


gonna find out more about what they’re doing, ways to support and fun things that you can expect from the Tucson Tome Gnome in just a moment. But first I want to remind you that you are listening to Life Along the Streetcar on Downtown Radio. We’re at 99 .1 FM. We’re streaming on downtownradio .org and we thank you for tuning in today. We’ll be back to the second half of the interview in just a moment. Support for Downtown Radio is provided by the Tucson Gallery located in downtown Tucson inside of the proper shops at 300 East Congress Street. The Tucson Gallery offers original work, reproductions, and merchandise from Tucson artists like Joe Pacek, Jessica Gonzalez, Ignacio Garcia, and many more. For information about all of the artists, including when they will be live at the gallery, head to the TucsonGallery .com or find them on Instagram and on Facebook, Ask Tucson Gallery.


Hey, we are back. We’re gonna finish up the second half of our interview about the Tucson Tome Gnome. We’ve got Jody Hardy and Emily Walsh. They are co -founders and board members of the organization. And just, you know, as we just heard the story, the plug there for the Tucson Gallery supporting this show. It’s always fun when worlds collide. My business partner over there at the Tucson Gallery, his name’s Tony Ray Baker, he and Emily know each other and they didn’t realize that they were both doing these projects and they just sort of coincided one day when Emily was looking for a place to put a book inside the gallery. And they realized, hey, we’re both out here supporting the arts. Love those things about Tucson. Hey, let’s get back in. We’re going to finish up the interview with Jodi and Emily talking about the Tucson Tome Gnome. Talked about the grant. And I’m assuming that you said that covers 10 books per month for the life of the grant. That still leaves 35 other books, right?


My math is correct. So how does how does that happen? So we officially became a 501c3 non -profit back about a year ago, last year? May, March. March of 2023, so that we could actually effectively fundraise, so that is how that is funded. So we essentially launch a campaign each year in the fall and fundraise to essentially cover the expense of the books for the following year. What does that price tag look like, roughly? So for 45 books a month, plus all the sort of supplies, you know we have stickers on each book and bookmarks and then some occasional like collaborations we like to do so funding all that this past year we made it a goal to raise about ten thousand dollars. Okay okay and and is that done through like corporate entities or do you have individual donors? Mostly individual donors although we did get again two grants this year which helped a lot because raising that much money through even though it’s beautiful like $20 and $50 gifts can take a while. But we also received


a grant from Vantage West. Our credit union gave us a really generous, basically covered the cost of a whole month. So we were like, that helps. So that plus the Downtown Tucson Partnerships grant, we were like, okay, we’re good. So we wanna lean into more of that, I think some corporate sponsorships or grant writing. And have you found that your audience are book readers or have you brought people into the book reading fold that maybe are just excited by the hunt. And then I have the book, they have to read it. I’m going to say it’s both for sure, because we have met people who were like, I didn’t really read as an adult. I didn’t really get it. And then they were like, but I went out and I found this book. And now I’m like really into reading, which has been kind of awesome, actually. Like, we have had a really fun time connecting with all of the people who go out and hunt for the books. It’s been delightful. Yeah, I would imagine. Then they give you all kinds of feedback and they’re


posting their pictures of celebration. and I found it. Yes. Yes. Exactly. Have you had any feedback from any of the authors that you’ve featured? We have. We have. Several have really enjoyed it. We typically email the authors, usually a week or two before we hide their book. A lot of them like to follow along on social media. Many have said, I had no idea there were this many murals in Tucson. Or I had no idea Tucson was this pretty. It’s great. It’s funny like that. You know, in fact, one of the authors is actually a founding board member of our non -profit. Got really invested, T .J. Klune. His was the first book we ever hid. So, he fell in love with the project and was like, let me help you. Like, let’s do this. But in Tucson, we have all these different festivals. Of course, the Festival of Books is a huge draw in here. But do you find, or do you have any sort of data on are these people from Tucson finding the books or do you get people from all over the, of people that are traveling


and just sort of happen on it? I mean, most months, it’s generally people from Tucson. Every now and then, we’ll get a random person. Like this past month, there was like the parents of a U of A student who were in town visiting found a book and were just like, wow, we’re so excited, from California. Did they randomly find it or did they know about you and like do the scavenger hunt? I am actually not sure. I think they might have randomly found it. I feel like that one was very random. They found it and then maybe their child also knew of us and then they reached out I don’t know if that’s really how that went, but that’s how that’s how it goes now We’re an oral tradition here. We don’t write things down Parents and there was a connection there I just find that fascinating like that’s the type of thing that you know If you’re in town and you can like you could plan a trip around the drop Is it always the same is like the first Sunday the third Sunday or is it random? Um, I wouldn’t say


it’s random. We usually try to hit around the middle of the month a Sunday around the middle of the month. But honestly, it depends on our life schedules. When we end up making time for a whole day of book hiding. Oh, so this isn’t your full -time job? No. I wish. You’re not raking in the big bucks from all the sponsorships, no? We squeak by on covering expenses, and for that, we are grateful. Labor of love. I will tell you, there’s so many projects in Tucson that start with very humble beginnings, and you just, I’m just gonna warn you, I’ve talked to a lot of people on this show, be careful, because it sounds like a fun idea, and the next thing you know, it explodes, and you’re like dealing with, we gotta get a thousand books to Chicago, stat! Oh my. Well, we’ve definitely had a few moments where we’re like, oh, this thing has a life of its own now. Yeah. Because really, when we started, it was just a thing we might, we were like, let’s just do this for a few months, bring some joy to


the community. We were completely anonymous, It was just this mysterious gnome who hid books, like no one knew it was us. And we hardly posted any hint photos at that point. No. Yeah. We were just, it was very low key. And then at a certain point, we were like, should we keep, should we keep doing this? And we kind of paused and then This Is Tucson wrote a piece about us and it kind of. Okay. There you go. Yeah. Elvia. Thank you, Elvia. Once, once it gets out, you can’t put it back in. No. And is the gnome, is this a physical being or is this just a, a, a mythical creature? or do we have a visual, like a description of this gnome? The gnome wears purple. Okay. So the gnome, I guess, exists. I mean, technically, yes, there is a physical manifestation of the gnome because my mother created knit gnomes for us. But in general, it’s a mythical creature. Yes. Wanted to see if there was, like, special prizes if you caught the gnome, like, you know, like, the leprechaun, if you… No. You get a


year’s supply of books for free if you catch the gnome. Oh, gosh, no, sadly not. Not yet, at least. Well, how do people follow along? How do they find out? How do they know where the next drop is? What’s what’s the best way to track you? The best way would be to follow us on social media. OK. Yeah. Our Instagram is Tucson Tome Gnome. And then Facebook is the same at Tucson Tome Gnome. And then, of course, we have our website, Tucson. Tucson Tome Gnome dot com. OK. I’m surprised that was still available. That wasn’t taken. We grabbed that when we could. And are there donation options on your website too? People can support the cause that way? And do you take physical donations? Like if somebody wanted to give you 45 books, is that something that you would take if? Usually not. Sometimes, we have taken some publisher donations if they’re brand new books. Because we hide like one, basically 45 copies of one book. So there’s not many people who just have that laying around. I guess that would,


you would have to have the same book. Nevermind. Yeah, it’s a tough one, but we do often hear from people who are like, we have all these extra books and our general approach to that is like, there’s so many little free libraries in Tucson. Like that is one of the most beautiful ways to seed books in the community. That was going to be an earlier question, but I kind of skipped right over. I’ve seen a lot of these libraries and I was curious if they played into your planning for your routes or such. They have. A few of them have. Yep, yep, we’ve targeted a few specific little free libraries. Yeah. So, if you’re a business, can you petition and say, hey, can you put a gnome, can the gnome stop by my place and drop a book off in exchange for a slight donation to the cause? All right. And they can reach you all through the social media? If they’d like to sponsor a month, we would be open to that as well. And what does that cost for a month then to sponsor? or? If they bought all 45 books,


it’s about, like, about $500, assuming it’s a paperback. Okay. Okay. And then the, I’m assuming you’ve got a list of all the selections you’ve put out in the past and people can find those. How many of you, how many have you done in the community, how many books, how many iterations of this? So we have done, we just posted, I think, our 32nd book hiding. So that’s like three years worth of books. Oh yeah. The number, weirdly, I just did this yesterday, is like, right, or just under 1600 books, between all the events and all the monthly hides. That is fantastic. It’s 2021? I feel like it’s September. God, it’s higher than that. Now we have controversy brewing on Life Along the Streetcar. We’ll get to the bottom of this. We probably won’t, but we’ll say we will. It’s still under 2000. How’s that? That works. It’s a lot of books. It’s a lot of books. And I am sure that those books then are being, I would hope that those books are being passed on as well. Like someone reads it and they forward


it to someone else. That’s actually included in the directions on the sticker and the bookmark that we put in the books. We hope that people will read them and then re -hide them in the community or pass them along. Oh, has anyone else done their own scavenger hunt? Like, hey, I hid this book and then they just tag you. Okay. So typically we’ve seen this happen and we’ve kind of encouraged on the Sundays that we go hide books, we’ll say, and if you have any books you’ve finished that you found from us previously that you want to go re -hide, do that. Snap a photo tag us in the post and we’ll reshare it as like a hint photo. Oh, that’s so cool Yeah, so every now and then you’ll see books from prior months show up and we’ll be like re -hidden tome alert Like so we can go find this. Well, that’s I think that’s a great community That’s doing exactly what you had envisioned that weird idea around around a kitchen table. Yes Emily Jodi, thank you so much for doing this. Thanks for your time today.


I’m looking forward to to the next scavenger hunt and Let’s see if I can go find me one of these downtown books. Yes. Well, thank you so much for having us. This was really fun. This was really fun. Thank you. Yeah. When those weird ideas come together, don’t you? That was Jodi Hardy and Emily Walsh, co -founders and board members of the Tucson Tome Gnome. And in their daytime jobs, when they’re not superheroes delivering books, Jodi manages actually mostly books. and Emily is the COO of the Community Foundation. Both support and volunteer at the Tucson Festival of Books and other organizations that support literacy here in Tucson. So again, thank you very much to Emily and Jody for taking your time there. My name is Tom Heath. You are listening to Lifelong Streetcar Downtown Radio, 99 .1 FM and streaming on downtownradio .org. You’re listening to KTDT Tucson, Arizona, 99 .1 FM Downtown Radio. I’m Brother Mark, host of a show called Radio Club Crawl that airs every Tuesday at 3 p .m. We


try to focus on most of the bands that are coming through Tucson and we give you a tasty taste of their music. If you want to check out what’s happening around Tucson, check out Radio Club Crawl. Tuesdays 3 p .m. right here on KTDT Tucson Arizona 99 .1 FM Downtown Radio. Thank you very much. Enjoy your evening. Bye -bye. Well, we’re going to wrap up episode number 292 as we inch closer to that 300 mark. I want to thank Jody and Emily for spending some time with me on Monday at the Tucson Gallery’s studio and chatting about the Tome Gnome. And if there’s topics that you would like us to cover, the best way to connect us is through Facebook and Instagram. That seems to be the way we’re interacting most with the world, but you can also head over to our website, lifealongthestreetcar .org. There’s a contact button on there. Also, information and past episodes, and there’s a search bar in there, so if you were to go in there and search Tucson Festival of Books or the UA Poetry Center, stories


that we have done with them over the years will pop up and be easy to listen to. Stay tuned. Words and Work coming up in just a moment with Ted Przelski as he interviews writers and others from the labor movement and all kinds of labor news in the world right now. So he’s got the inside scoop over there on Words and Work in just a few minutes. I want to thank James Portis as our production specialist. My name is Tom Heath. I’m your host and producer of this show. and as always our opening music is Courtesy of Ryan Hood and we’re gonna leave you today with some very appropriate music from the senior choir of the Newington Community Primary School coming to us from the UK. This is from a 2019 recording on World Book Day and it’s called The Reading Song. I hope you have a great week and tune in next Sunday for more life along the streetcar.