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Featured Books: Arts & Culture in Philadelphia

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Last year’s Featured Books: Philadelphia display offered titles to encourage students to explore Penn’s hometown. In advent of a semester defined by social distancing and remote learning, the Stacks staff has put together a reading, watching, and listening list so that Quakers can virtually immerse in the art and cultural scenes of the City of Brotherly Love.

“The focus of this display is the arts in Philadelphia,” says Eileen Kelly, Head of Collection Management. “We want patrons, wherever they are, to be able to connect with the city through the artistic legacy of citizens such as Becky Birtha and Judith Jamison, as well as Penn alumni and former faculty — including John Edgar Wideman and Yoonmee Chang.”

This month’s exhibit also marks a return to the inclusion of physical holdings. The Libraries has been able to reconnect the Penn community with its physical collections through the newly-launched Pickup@Penn service, while the revamped Books by Mail and FacultyEXPRESS services are options for faculty, students, and staff who are out of town or who otherwise can’t make it to campus.

“Given the circumstances, we’re making all materials as accessible as possible,” says Library Assistant Megan Brown Olsen. “We’re doing everything we can to ensure that no one in the Penn community goes without the materials they need.”

Future exhibits will continue to incorporate both electronic and physical resources. One of Kelly’s favorite titles from this installment of Featured Books, Philadelphia Stories: America’s Literature of Race and Freedom (2010), is available in both formats. Kelly describes Philadelphia Stories as a “riveting exploration of the social dimensions of Philadelphia’s history” through the lens of literature. 

One of Olsen’s top selections likewise explores the city’s social dimensions, albeit of modern Philadelphia. If These Walls Could Talk: Community Muralism and the Beauty of Justice (2012) examines the intersection of religion, urban poverty, public art, and social activism. “No Philly art list would have been complete without spotlighting the city’s extraordinary Mural Arts program,” says Olsen. 

Speaking of local institutions — Featured Books: Arts & Culture in Philadelphia includes a streaming video link for The Marian Anderson Story: Lady in the Lincoln Memorial (2011). Anderson, also known as “The Lady from Philadelphia,” was a musical trailblazer and Civil Rights icon, the first Black singer to perform in a lead role at the Metropolitan Opera House in 1955. 

And, in case you missed it, the Penn Libraries recently released a research portal to make digitized items from our Marian Anderson Collection accessible to students, teachers, and researchers.

Browse the full list of textual, audio, and video materials below.



Print Titles




Streaming Video


Streaming Audio