Phila. airport exhibit recognizes city's writers

Writer Michael Swanwick poses for a picture, in front of his book cover, with Mayor Nutter at the unveiling of the airport's "Philadelphia's Literary Legacy" exhibit in Terminal A-East.
Writer Michael Swanwick poses for a picture, in front of his book cover, with Mayor Nutter at the unveiling of the airport's "Philadelphia's Literary Legacy" exhibit in Terminal A-East. (ANDREW RENNEISEN / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 04, 2013

More than 200 years of Philadelphia literary greats were at Philadelphia International Airport on Tuesday.

On the walls of the international Terminal A-East.

The exhibit, "Philadelphia's Literary Legacy," will display for one year the photographs, book covers, and biographies of 50 authors, playwrights, and poets from the time of the Declaration of Independence to the present day.

It may be the only place where Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine will rub shoulders with Louisa May Alcott, Pearl S. Buck, Lorene Cary, Robert Crumb, W.E.B. DuBois, Charles Fuller, David Goodis, Solomon Jones, Ken Kalfus, James A. Michener, Sonia Sanchez, Lisa Scottoline, I.F. Stone, Jennifer Weiner, and David Wiesner.

All have a connection to the Philadelphia area. They were either born here, moved here, or lived part of their lives here.

On hand were 10 of the writers whose books, poetry, plays and illustrations were celebrated as the city kicked off Wawa Welcome America July Fourt festivities.

"Philadelphia has an extraordinary literary community and I'm just very blessed to be here," said Beth Kephart, author of 15 books. "We are representing all of the people who love books, and who love to write. Of course, this is an honor. It's huge."

Airport exhibitions director Leah Douglas collected nearly 3,000 books donated by the authors, their publishers, airport tenants, and employees to give to the Free Library's summer reading program and to Philadelphia Reads, a nonprofit supporting children's literacy.

Douglas wracks her brain to come up with a theme for each July Fourth. "The series of yearlong exhibitions typically celebrate an aspect of the city's cultural fabric," said Philadelphia airport CEO Mark Gale.

Philadelphia International hosts an extensive program of 20 rotating art displays and 11 permanent works of art to occupy travelers.

"Each year more than 30 million passengers travel through this airport. About 40 percent are connecting from one airplane to another airplane," Gale said. "We view this as a fabulous opportunity to expose some of those travelers to what Philadelphia is all about, and hopefully entice them back."

In recent years, the July Fourth exhibitions have depicted the Liberty Bell, Philadelphia's music legends, the Tuskegee Airmen, and the 225th anniversary of the Constitution, in partnership with the National Constitution Center.

The airport this year worked with the Free Library. Douglas asked librarians to choose 50 authors, playwrights, and poets from different genres, eras, and ethnicities.

You will need a plane ticket to see the exhibit, which stretches along two sides of a corridor beyond security checkpoints. On the walls are nine-foot-tall photographs of the books of all 50 authors, taken from the Free Library. Each author's portrait, and one or more book covers, are mounted on shelves in front.

Douglas came up with the idea of recognizing writers and illustrators, who are nationally and internationally known in their fields, because "it's an interesting time for books. There are so many different formats now of books and ways that authors are able to reach out to people."

Sanchez, Philadelphia's first poet laureate and author of 18 books, who taught for years at Temple University, was among the honorees.

"I think it's indicative of what our mayor has been about, dealing with the importance of the arts," Sanchez said, adding that when she travels, "other cities watch a great deal what we do literarily."

"So it's a joy to be here. I'm sure many people will come through here and stop, and look, and see what is going on."


Contact Linda Loyd at 215-854-2831 or lloyd@phillynews.com.

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