Happy 20th Birthday, One Book!

By Nell M. RSS Wed, December 15, 2021

On the eve of One Book, One Philadelphia’s 20th anniversary year in 2022, now is a good time to look back at the past two decades of a citywide tradition that has only blossomed with age.

When this program began in 2002, I was only six years old and lived halfway across the country. Since I’ve moved to Philadelphia, it is clear that One Book is a near-perfect representation of this wonderful city.

When I began at One Book as the Program Assistant a year ago, the phrase "civic dialogue"—one of the core aims of the program—seemed more or less like a buzzword. As I learned more about the program and attended discussions, creative workshops, and panels, that phrase seemed less like a buzzword and more like the truth. Each event and opportunity to engage with communities across Philadelphia, all focused around a singular book, has taught me so much. There has been endless generosity, patience, empathy, discovery, connection, and exploration in each and every conversation. Even after months of participating in discussions around a handful of the same poems from our 2021 selection, Jericho Brown’s The Tradition, I found myself surprised over and over again. The dialogues that arise from the One Book, One Philadelphia program are nothing short of magical, and I thank my lucky stars that I get to witness and participate in them firsthand.

What the program has meant to Philadelphia over the years is as varied as the readers, the people who have attended events, the community partners who have shared programs, and of course, the incredible authors whose work we have celebrated and discussed.

While there is no common theme across each and every One Book selection, there is no limit to the power each of them has brought to the Free Library and to Philadelphia. From the very first selection, Lorene Cary’s The Price of a Child, to James McBride's The Color of Water, Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, Julie Otsuka's Buddha in the Attic, Jaqueline Woodson's Another Brooklyn, Tommy Orange’s There There, and many more—not to mention the dozens of youth companion titles discussed in classrooms across the city—One Book, One Philadelphia has brought our city together through reading and conversation. We have found ourselves reflected in each and every one of these titles. One thing I love most about this program is its drive to raise up the voices of those whose stories have often been marginalized in our culture, mass media, and society as a whole. Through these books, memoirs, and collections of poetry, we open ourselves up to powerful voices and crucial perspectives.

There is absolutely no way to name every one of the thousands of partners, organizations, and individuals that have contributed to the One Book program over the past 20 years, but there has been no shortage of incredible partners with who we have collaborated. They're envisioned by writers, musicians, filmmakers, visual artists, oral historians, elders, activists, health workers, community leaders, students, and teachers. Together we’ve built a family that keeps growing, and although the book may change each year, we always have this space to come back together to read, listen, reflect, and create, as we share our own stories, our own voices, and learn about one another from a place of understanding.

So here’s to 20 years of One Book, One Philadelphia and all the years ahead!

The 20th One Book selection will be announced on Wednesday, January 26, 2022, kicking off a public reading period, followed by 8 weeks of programs from April through June. I cannot wait to see you there.


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