PHILADELPHIA, January 8, 2008 - The Free Library kicked off the annual One Book, One Philadelphia program with a standing-room-only event at the Central Library on the Parkway. Bestselling writer Dave Eggers--author of this year’s featured reading selection, What Is the What--and Sudanese refugee Abraham Awolich drew hundreds of Philadelphians interested in learning more about Eggers’ critically acclaimed novelization of Valentino Achak Deng’s life story, as well as the current situation in Sudan.
A joint project of the Office of the Mayor and the Free Library of Philadelphia, One Book, One Philadelphia’s mission is to promote reading, library usage, and community building throughout the Philadelphia region. With Independence Blue Cross having served as lead sponsor since the program’s inception in 2003, president and CEO Joseph A. Frick--who also spoke at the kick-off event--shared that he is proud of his company’s “lasting partnership that has proven itself beyond our wildest expectations.”
Each year a selection committee composed of approximately 30 Philadelphians--representing a broad cross-section of backgrounds and perspectives--convenes over the course of several months to choose a featured title of high literary quality and diverse appeal that is also topical, accessible to high school students, and conducive to an array of thematically relevant programming. Additional sponsors of the 2008 One Book program include the City of Philadelphia Commerce Department; PECO; Pepper Hamilton LLP; WHYY; Harmelin Media; the Philadelphia City Paper; and Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young, LLP.
“Hundreds of community partners have contributed resources and developed programs to facilitate the success of One Book, One Philadelphia,” said One Book chair Marie Field. “We thank them and our sponsors for their ongoing support of this wonderful Philadelphia tradition.”
A finalist for the 2006 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, What Is the What tells the epic tale of one of the so-called Lost Boys of Sudan who, along with thousands of other children, was forced to leave his village at the age of seven and trek hundreds of miles by foot--pursued by militias, government bombers, and wild animals--crossing the deserts of three countries to find freedom, eventually settling in the United States.
Valentino Achak Deng was unable to attend the One Book kick-off event, as he is currently in the midst of an extended visit to Sudan, working on a school-building project made possible by proceeds from sales of What Is the What. He did, however, express his enthusiasm for the program in a taped video message to the city first screened at the 2008 One Book selection announcement in October.
“I am blessed to have lived to inform you that even when my hours were darkest, I believed that someday I could share my experiences with others,” Valentino writes in the preface to What Is the What. In its sixth consecutive year, the 2008 One Book program promises to help share Valentino’s story with thousands of Philadelphians, engaging them beyond the page with a wide variety of events and activities--including author lectures, panel discussions, exhibitions, and performances--taking place through March 20th. View the Free Library’s 2008 One Book calendar online, or download a full-length print version, at www.freelibrary.org.
All 54 Free Library locations are currently circulating hundreds of copies of What Is the What, as well as this year’s One Book companion titles--Mawi Asgedom’s Of Beetles and Angels and Mary Williams’ Brothers in Hope--specially selected for young adults and family reading. As part of the One Book program, more than 7,500 copies of all three titles have been distributed--without cost--to schools throughout the region, including at least one full classroom set of What Is the What to every public high school in the district.
2008 will also see the debut of One Film, a new program operating in partnership with and as a complement to One Book, One Philadelphia. Dedicated to promoting film literacy and critical thinking by encouraging Philadelphians to watch, study, and discuss a single film, the One Film program period will run from February 21 through March 6, 2008.
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The Free Library of Philadelphia system consists of 49 branches, three regional libraries, the Central Library on the Parkway, and the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. With more than six million visits annually, the Free Library is one of the most widely-used educational and cultural institutions in Philadelphia.