As always, there is a ton going on for word lovers this spring – even more than before, thanks to at least two new venues organizing book-themed events: Shakespeare & Company on Rittenhouse Square and the Blue Stoop outfit, hosting author talks in coffee shops, bookstores, and on campuses.
The normal cavalry charge of celebs includes Dave Barry, Melinda Gates, and Patti Smith. Literary stars shooting through include Susan Choi, Claudia Rankine, Adam Gopnik, Yiyun Li, and Doris Kearns Goodwin.
Two mountainous 200th birthdays — Herman Melville’s and Walt Whitman’s — are being celebrated with literary and celebratory events. For Camden’s own Walt Whitman, there’s a huge palette of Walt-themed events planned all year. They’re even talking about painting the Walt Whitman Bridge in rainbow colors.
A skim of the lit-scene high points:
Whitman at 200. Exhibits, concerts, art installations, neighborhood walks, and much more are planned, especially May 24-31 for Walt Whitman’s birthday week and in the week that follows. Patti Smith is coming to sing and read on May 30, and there’s a huge Philly blowout on his actual birthday, May 31 (details on both below). Other highlights include a four-session course on Whitman and Emily Dickinson at Rosenbach Library and Museum (starts Feb. 21) and a Birthday Cake Bake-Off at the Free Library, with celebrity chef Nick Malgieri chairing the board of judges. The full calendar is online at whitmanat200.org.
Howard Schultz (Feb. 15, Free Library). The former CEO of Starbucks, and now presidential candidate, has a new memoir titled From the Ground Up. (215-567-4341, freelibrary.org)
Tribute to Tony Hoagland (Feb. 17, International House Philadelphia). Poets, and folks who love poetry, will read from Hoagland’s work, share memories, and hang out at a reception afterward. RSVP to RememberingTonyHoagland@gmail.com.
Esmé Weijung Wang and Carmen Maria Machado (Feb. 21, Penn Book Center). Wang’s book of essays, The Collected Schizophrenias, is one of 2019’s most eagerly awaited. Machado’s 2017 book of stories, Her Body and Other Parties, has been winning big prizes right and left. (215-222-7600, pennbookcenter.com)
Herman Melville: Beyond Moby-Dick (Feb. 24, March 24, April 28, May 19, the Rosenbach). Everything Melville except the whale book! This four-part course makes sure you get to know one of America’s most original, enthralling writers, and have some fun in the process. Also: March 5, the Hedgerow Theatre comes to act out a scene from its production of Moby-Dick. (215-732-1600, rosenbach.org)
Nicole Chung and Beth Kephart (March 7, Ross Commons, Drexel University). Chung’s lovely novel All You Can Ever Know, published in October, landed on a lot of Best of 2018 lists. Kephart is a frequent Inquirer reviewer and an accomplished writer of fiction and memoir. (bluestoop.org/events)
Adam Gopnik (March 12, the Rosenbach). The New Yorker writer talks about his love for the works of fellow New Yorker writer (and Reading-area native) John Updike. (215-732-1600 rosenbach.org)
Lidia Bastianich (March 18, Free Library). The celebrity chef and host of Lidia’s Kitchen on PBS brings her recent memoir, My American Dream: A Life of Love, Family and Food, to Philly. (215-567-4341, freelibrary.org)
Valerie Jarrett (April 3, Free Library). She got Twitter-dissed by Roseanne Barr, and guess who’s still standing! Barack Obama’s longtime adviser comes with her memoir, Finding My Voice: My Journey to the West Wing and the Path Forward. (215-567-4341, freelibrary.org)
Claudia Rankine (April 4, Connelly Cinema, Villanova University). Her 2014 poetry collection Citizen won the T.S. Eliot Award and several others. One of the major stars in the U.S. poetic firmament right now. (610-519-4643, villanova.edu)
Dave Barry (April 8, Free Library; April 29, Kimmel Center). At the Free Library, he’ll be talking about Lessons from Lucy: The Simple Joys of an Old, Happy Dog. At the Kimmel, he’ll be part of the Widener College-sponsored Philadelphia Speakers Series. The former columnist is the author of many books of humor and parody, most recently Best. State. Ever. (Free Library: 215-567-4341, freelibrary.org; Kimmel: 215-893-1955, philadelphiaspeakersseries.org)
Richard Blanco (April 9, Free Library). The Inaugural Poet at President Barack Obama’s second swearing-in, Blanco has written on being Latino and gay and American all at once in How to Love a Country. (215-567-4341, freelibrary.org)
Patricia Marx and Roz Chast (April 11, Free Library). Two great humorists join forces. Marx has written and Chast has drawn for decades for the New Yorker; Chast’s marvelous illustrations grace Marx’s funny new book, Why Don’t You Write My Eulogy Now So I Can Correct It?: A Mother’s Suggestions. (215-567-4341, freelibrary.org)
Chris Abani (April 16, Kelly Writers House). The marvelous Nigerian-born novelist and poet. (215-746-7636, writing.upenn.;edu)
Yiyun Li (April 24, Wyndham Alumnae House, Bryn Mawr College). With memoirs, short stories, essays, and novels like her latest, Where Reasons End, she has become one of our most honored writers. (610-526-5304, brynmawr.edu/reading-series)
Melinda Gates (April 25, Free Library). One of the world’s greatest philanthropists and author of The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World speaks of the crucial need to continue to show women the way to freedom, safety, and power. (215-567-4341, freelibrary.org)
Nicole Weisensee Egan (April 30, Free Library). The former Daily News and People reporter brings her new book, Chasing Cosby: The Downfall of America’s Dad, one of the first on the Cosby case. (215-567-4341, freelibrary.org)
Susan Choi (May 2, Free Library). The acclaimed author tours behind her latest novel, Trust Exercise. She also has a children’s book, Camp Tiger, coming out in May. (215-567-4341, freelibrary.org)
Whitman @ 200: Art and Democracy featuring Leonard Gontarek and poets from the Poetry in Common Workshop (May 6, Parkway Central Library). This all-star gathering of poets is one of the highest-profile of local literary Whitman observances. (215-567-4341, freelibrary.org)
Doris Kearns Goodwin (May 8, Mainline Reform Temple, Wynnewood). The Pulitzer Prize-winning historian discusses “Presidential Leadership Lessons.” (610-649-7800, mlrt.org/speakerseries.html)
Michael Ondaatje (May 9, Free Library). The renowned novelist and poet comes to talk about his acclaimed and most recent novel, Warlight. (215-567-4341, freelibrary.org)
Tommy Orange (May 15, Free Library). This Cheyenne and Arapaho writer’s first novel, There There, was one of the most widely praised of 2018. (215-567-4341, freelibrary.org)
Rob Lowe: Stories I Only Tell My Friends (May 17, Merriam Theater). If successful actor and memoirist Rob Lowe came to your town and wanted to tell you stories, wouldn’t you want to listen? Of course you would. (215-893-1999, kimmelcenter.org)
Patti Smith and Jesse Paris Smith: Whitman at 200 (May 30, Philadelphia Museum of Art). The poet/rocker and her daughter will explore Walt Whitman’s legacy through word and song. Tickets on sale April 9. (215-763-8100, philamuseum.org)