Disclaimer: I received an ARC via Netgalley. I also live in Philadelphia. Furthermore, I teach at the same college, same department, as one of the contributors.
Despite being in Philadelphia for all my life, I have never heard of this series until this popped up on Netgalley. The volume is a collection of short essays by various people from Philadelphia. By and large, the essays are meditative and reflective, usually looking at religion and community, or service and community. The contributors range from politicians (Mayor Nutter) to community activists/workers (Sister Mary Scullion) to the famous (Margaret Mead) to the everyday. Writers, teachers, artists, and religious men and women are included. The essay is divided into voices from the past – the Radio series – and current voices.
It is a rather beautiful collection.
There are also some surprises. I always forget about Edith Hamilton and her connection to the area, hardly surprising because her Mythology is taught in a quasi-vacuum, with little biographic information given. Hamilton’s essay in this volume, “Of Sonnets, Symphonies, and Socrates,” is about mercy, art, and truth of spirit. Perhaps it is too scholarly for some, but seen in light alongside her work on mythology it is a source of a meditation.
John B. Kelly Sr’s essay is no less well written, though it is far less scholarly. The father of Grace Kelly reflects on sports and faith. If you enjoyed the recent book, The Boys in the Boat, you might enjoy this. James Michener’s essay is about brotherhood and sameness. It is connected to the themes of some of his novels. It is nicely read alongside another essay from the volume, “The Anchor of Life” by Theodore Roosevelt III, a reflection on life and family.
The modern writers are no less poetic, though they are more direct in connection to community and service. They are also seemed more varied in terms of religious beliefs, race, and sexuality. There is a wonderful essay by Carmen Febo-San Miguel about race. Frank Fitzpatrick writers about what it means to be of Philadelphia, a city that is often forgotten about in the news, totally left out in the discussions about New York and Washington, DC. Kenneth (Kenny) Gamble’s essay about race and education is important, especially in light of recent books and such series as The Wire. This essay’s themes. It perhaps reaches the ultimate conclusion with Mayor Nutter’s essay about service told via his personal history. There are essays detailing works such as Philadelphia’s Women’s Way as well as the mural arts program.
The use of the two parts as well as the varied authors – rich, poor, white, black, Hispanic, straight, homosexual, teacher – gives an portrait of a city. A more accurate portrait of what it means to be part of that city’s fabric and one connects with those who share that space.