The Best Thing That Happened This Week: We Got Ourselves a National Student Poet!

Actor Alfre Woodard, left, congratulates 2017 National Student Poet Juliet Lubwama, of Downingtown, Pa., on her inaugural reading at the Library of Congress on Thursday, August 31, 2017, in Washington. (Kevin Wolf/AP Images for Alliance for Young Artist & Writers)

While you were packing your bag for a getaway to the beach or the mountains this weekend, 17-year-old Juliet Lubwama was in Washington, D.C., attending a private workshop with U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera and reading her own work at the National Book Festival. Lubwama, the daughter of Ugandan immigrants and a rising senior at Downingtown STEM Academy, is one of five young writers being honored this weekend as 2017 National Student Poets. The winners, hailing from five regions of the U.S.—Lubwama is the Northeast representative—were selected from a pool of thousands of applicants and will spend the next year serving as “literary ambassadors” in their communities. Read more »

Abby Rosenquist Is First Woman to Win Helium’s Philly’s Phunniest

Comedian Abby Rosenquist, photographed by Joe Karg.

Every year for the last twelve years, Helium Comedy Club has hosted Philly’s Phunniest contest, a weeks-long elimination-style stand-up comedy competition. And every year, the final victor is a man, which has not gone unnoticed by female comedians in Philly and more forward-thinking types in general.

Well, that all changed at Sunday night’s final matchup (I was a judge), where 26-year-old Abby Rosenquist took the top prize, leading to congratulatory Facebook posts like this one from comedian Nicole Yates: “Congrats to Abby Rosenquist for winning the Helium Philly’s Phunniest Contest and busting thru that Bro Wall to be the first Woman to win it! #fuckingyeah”

I got Rosenquist on the phone on Monday afternoon for a quick conversation. Read more »

This Is How We Do It

Illustration | Joey Guidone

A few summers back, my daughter Marcy and her brand-new husband Basil spent their honeymoon with our extended family in Ocean City, New Jersey, in the second-floor duplex we’ve rented for the last two weeks of August every year since Marcy was born.

Somebody should have warned Basil.

On their first night there, after supper, we brought out the Scrabble board. “Who’s in?” I asked, laying out the little wooden trenchers.

“I am!” Basil said gamely, claiming a seat at the dining room table. Marcy and my cousin Pam took the other two places. We drew our first tiles and began to play.

Our Shore Scrabble games predate even Marcy, who just turned 28. The battered original box in which the board and pieces travel to their annual beach vacation is barely bound together by duct tape and rubber bands, but we won’t buy a new set. This one has notes on the inside of the box handwritten by my mom, who died in 1981: our highest aggregate score ever (in her lifetime, anyway); highest score on a single play; a particularly lofty final tally by Pam’s mother, Phyllis, also now deceased. Every summer, opening that timeworn box is like raising a veil on long-ago Augusts when my Mom and Dad and Aunt Phyllis were still with us and there was never a cloud in the sky.

Of course, Basil doesn’t know any of that. Read more »

The Cosby Show

Photo via Michael Rougier/ The Life Picture Collection/ Getty Images

In the late summer of 1965, just before Bill Cosby’s espionage series I Spy debuted — with Cosby the first leading black man in a dramatic role to appear on network TV — a 17-year-old girl named Sunni Welles and her mother visited the Desilu set of the show. Sunni’s mother, a story editor at Paramount Studios and a talent agent, had gotten to know Cosby a bit; he’d broken through as a big-time comic a couple years earlier. He was a nice guy, funny and playful, especially with Sunni, whom he let sit in his chair with his name on the back.

Sunni herself was an aspiring singer and had already spent a good part of the preceding three years — since she was 14 — singing backup with various acts in Las Vegas and Carson City and other places.

Sunni’s mother couldn’t stay long, that day on the set of I Spy, but Cosby said Sunni didn’t have to leave; he’d look after her. What she says happened between the two of them is a story it’s taken half a century for her to be able to tell publicly. Read more »

The Best Thing That Happened This Week: Our Giraffe Count Stabilized

We have a soft spot for giraffes. They were our mom’s favorite animal, for some peculiar reason. (How does a South Philly girl end up loving giraffes?) Also? They’re just so weird and graceful — living, breathing embodiments of evolution’s strange designs. (The name is from the Arabic for “fast walker.) They’re the tallest creatures on Earth — the tallest ever measured was more than 19 feet high! (Find out what the giraffe says here.)

Read more »

The Excellent Adventures of Digital Nomads Jason Batansky and Jeremy Albelda

Jason Batansky, left, in Rio de Janeiro; Jeremy Albelda in Isla Holbox, Mexico. Illustration by Elias Stein.

It was supposed to be the anti-spring break. Not a last-gasp bender before adulthood, but a moment to pause and prepare. That’s how, two months before graduating from college, Jeremy Albelda found himself in Medellín, Colombia, nursing a beer at a hostel. He was traveling to detach. ¶ It was 2010, and Jeremy had a well-established life in Miami. He was 22, a handsome guy with big blue eyes, a bright smile, and a girlfriend he thought could be the one. Getting his diploma was a formality — he already had a leg up on a personal-training career. But it wasn’t his calling. He knew that much. And if he didn’t find a way out soon, who knew, maybe he’d end up becoming one of those rudderless failure-to-launch millennials who hang around college bars well beyond graduation. So he ventured south of the equator, in search of something.

Since the end of the reign of drug lord Pablo Escobar, Medellín had seen violence plummet and tourism rise. The hostel where Jeremy was staying was less a slummy crash pad for backpackers and more boutique, with high-speed Internet, an open-air hammock area, and a wooden deck with bar service. There, on that sun-swept deck, the course of Jeremy’s life would change when someone called out his name. Read more »

Six Great Children’s Gardens to Visit for Mother’s Day

childrens gardens header

There are so very many different ways to fete the mom of your kiddies on Mother’s Day: breakfast in bed, a fancy brunch, takeout Chinese. Or you could make the whole fam happy with a visit to a children’s garden. It just so happens Temple landscape architecture professor Lolly Tai has a pretty new book out, The Magic of Children’s Gardens, and among the 19 American gardens it highlights are six — six! — within day-trip distance where your offspring can get up close and personal with the natural world instead of with an iPhone. Here they are, with a brief overview of the wonders they hold. Read more »

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