Philadelphia has many annual traditions. From the boisterous fun of the Mummer’s Parade to the solemn lighting of the giant Christmas tree in Rittenhouse Square, these traditions cover every major descriptor available. The Free Library of Philadelphia hopes its relatively new annual initiative will take root just as prominently as all of the other ones that make Philadelphia a unique city.
The “One Book, One Philadelphia” project is a citywide reading initiative run in conjunction with the mayor’s office and several local corporate sponsors. According to its coordinator, Sara Strickland, it is aimed at most importantly promoting reading, literacy and discussion about important issues of our time. In the past, chosen titles have touched on a wide range of topics including race, poverty, music, war, history and even sexual issues. The idea for such an event came from an initiative that started in 1998 in Seattle. The Free Library of Philadelphia has been running this annual program since 2003.
This year, the project’s committee has chosen two books instead of one. Both are written by Native American author Sherman Alexie and are supposed to be read together as one. “War Dances” and “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” bring to light many aspects of Native Americans’ lives today including the drastic differences between life on a Native American reservation and life in an urban metropolis, which Alexie himself discovered after moving to the Seattle from a reservation.
Strickland said that even though the author hails from Washington state and writes about his experiences there in his books, these books highlight the importance Native American culture has had on this area. Before the purchase in the 18th Century, which transferred much of their land to the colonists, many villages of Lenni Lenape and Munsee Indians populated this area. Their legacy can still be felt everywhere from local geographic names to museums celebrating their history.
From Jan. 19 to March 17, the Free Library of Philadelphia will be celebrating the initiative with various events across the city. Programs will range from lectures on Native American life to book discussions on both featured and related texts, and, of course, various activities for children. Most events will be held at a number of the Free Library branches throughout the city, but others will take place at various museums and community centers. For more information on the “One Book, One Philadelphia,” visit the Free Library of Philadelphia’s website.