The Good Thunder Reading Series began as MSU Mankato's contribution to a set of informal exchanges between faculty writers at several state universities in Minnesota. Since 1983, the series has committed itself to programs that balance emerging and established talent drawn from Minnesota, the Upper Midwest, and the rest of the nation. A standard schedule involves seven one-day residencies spread out over the academic year. One writer will be featured during the Robert C. Wright Minnesota Writers Residency in fall. Another writer will come for an expanded four-day schedule that includes the customary conferences with area writers, public-radio interview, craft talk, and reading—as well as a four-day writing workshop. Minnesota writers who have come in past years include Tim O'Brien, Judith Guest, Kate Green, Bill Holm, Jonis Agee, Will Weaver, Gary Paulsen, and Jon Hassler. Visitors from elsewhere include Philip Levine, Donald Hall, Joy Williams, Louise Erdrich, James Welch, Roberta Hill Whiteman, William Kittredge, William Stafford, Carolyn Forché, Richard Ford, Sharon Olds, and Rick DeMarinis.
With all events open to the public, the audience for the series includes a sizable student/faculty group and a like-sized group of at-large community members from Mankato and outlying rural areas in southcentral Minnesota. Given MSU's distance from the Twin Cities metropolitan area, the Good Thunder Reading Series serves the important function of bringing vital and exciting voices to a region that otherwise has difficult access to the arts. In recent years, live-audience totals have approached 2000 per year, along with an estimated 80,000 radio listeners for broadcast interviews.
While these activities operate on a continuing budget from Minnesota State University's College of Arts and Humanities, and often with additional support from other MSU sources, the program has received further help in the past from the Minnesota Humanities Commission, the Minnesota State Arts Board, the Jerome Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, Poets & Writers, Inc., and Prairie Lakes Regional Arts Council.