Every year the Free Library of Philadelphia chooses a new book to showcase in the event One Book One Philadelphia. According to Kalela Williams, the program coordinator of One Book One Philadelphia, the idea is to choose a book that will create a connection with different audiences. A selection committee made up of library staff, educators and library volunteers starts with a list of approximately 40 books and they try to narrow it down from there with votes. This year the book chosen was “The Yellow Birds” by Kevin Powers.
“We felt that ‘The Yellow Birds’ was a gorgeously written book, a lot of people were captured by the very poetic storytelling, the issues that the book explores connect to a lot of young people today,” Williams said. “This issue can connect to people with military and non-military experience. We have all been in situations where we have to make choices between right and wrong.”
Every year, the Barnes and Noble at Rittenhouse Square puts whichever book was chosen on display at the store. Diane Hall, a manager at Barnes and Noble, noticed that the book was selling well before One Book One Philadelphia, but now is being taken off the shelves more quickly than before.
“We decide to display it because it’s a local thing, so we decided to be in conjunction with it and promote the book since we are booksellers, after all,” Hall said.
The book is based off of real facts from the war in Iraq, although it is considered a fiction novel. Powers, a war veteran himself, used personal experiences and emotions to create the book that went on to become a PEN/Hemingway Award-winning novel.
In correlation with the book, different organizations around the city of Philadelphia will be throwing their own events to follow the theme of the book. A popular attraction, Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, is putting their own take on the theme of peace and war after participating with One Book One Philadelphia for several years.
On Feb. 27, PMG will be hosting the Broken Pieces Tour and Talk with Artist Isaiah Zagar. At the beginning of the event there will be a tour that is then led into a discussion about the founder of PMG and then a conversation with him. The conversation will be focused on Zagar’s connection to the novel and about his history with the Peace Corps during the Vietnam War and about his time living in Peru.
Ellen Owens, the executive director at PMG, tells how Zagar experienced culture shock when coming back to the United States after a “peaceful existence” in Peru. She is excited about the topic of war and peace being brought into the open in a calm way.
“The discussion of war and racial tension is so critical right now and it starts a foster point to create good discussion rather than discussing with people you’re used to talking to or issues you wouldn’t even talk about at all. This event, really, it’s a great entry point,” Owens said.
PMG is not alone in the topic of peace, but the Asian Arts Initiative also joined in as well. On Feb. 21 the organization held their monthly Family Style Open Mic. This month the title was “Peace and Conflict.” The theme was explored through the use of story-telling.
According to the Free Library of Philadelphia, events circulating One Book One Philadelphia will be going on around the city until March 19. A list of events can be found on their website here.