I See “The World” Differently Than Ta-Nehisi Coates

Coates | Nina Subin, Penguin Random House

Coates | Nina Subin, Penguin Random House

I missed out on the hottest ticket in town when Ta-Nehisi Coates was in Philly in October for a talk at the Free Library based on his bestselling, National Book Award-nominated tome, Between the World and Me. (There is a streaming finalists reading tonight at 7; the awards will be announced tomorrow.)

Chances are, though, that if you are an avid consumer of ideas, you’re talking about him anyway, even if you missed the talk, haven’t read the book or one of its many excerpts, or missed his chat with Terry Gross on WHYY’s Fresh Air.

That’s because Coates has undeniably struck a national nerve at just the right moment. As the drumbeat of stories in which cops kill black men (and they are mostly men) with questionable use of force continues, along comes Coates to tell us this sort of thing is encoded in our nation’s DNA.

Like James Baldwin before him, Coates has cast himself as our racial Cassandra, reminding us that the debt for slavery remains unpaid and condemning society for failing to recognize this. And like Baldwin before him, Coates has decided that it’s best to reflect on his native land’s transgressions from afar — Paris, to which numerous African-Americans fed up with the United States have retreated.  Read more »

Excerpt: A Sneak Peek at Thom Nickels’ Literary Philadelphia


Since Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin put type to printing press, Philadelphia has been a haven and an inspiration for writers. Local essayist Agnes Repplier once shared a glass of whiskey with Walt Whitman who frequently strolled Market Street. Gothic writers like Edgar Allen Poe and George Lippard plumbed the city’s dark streets for material. In the twentieth century, Northern Liberties native John McIntyre found a backdrop for his gritty noir in the working class neighborhoods while novelist Pearl S. Buck discovered a creative sanctuary in Center City.  From Quaker novelist Charles Brockden Brown to 1973 U.S. Poet Laureate Daniel Hoffman, author Thom Nickels explores Philadelphia’s literary landscape.

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SEPTA Spokeswoman Jerri Williams Plots New Career: Crime Novelist

Jerri Williams | Twitter

Jerri Williams | Twitter

Jerri Williams enjoyed writing her first novel. But what she didn’t like about it was what it cost her.

“This first book, I really gave up my social life,” Williams says. “My brain was a little bit too fried to write in the evening, but every weekend, that’s what I did. I didn’t go anywhere, didn’t do anything. I just got up and started writing.”

Eventually, Williams finished her first novel, a crime thriller set in Philadelphia. And now that she’s found an agent who is attempting to sell the book, she’s leaving her job as as spokeswoman for SEPTA later this month. After she retires on November 25th, she’ll begin writing her second novel: This time, on weekdays.

Williams stresses she isn’t taking a big risk with this career change. “When I’m typing my second book, I will be sitting on a cushion of a federal law enforcement pension and a house with no mortgage,” she says.

Crime fiction makes sense for Williams: Before she came to SEPTA as director of media relations, she had a long career with the FBI. Her last six years were in media relations, but before that she was a fraud investigator in the Philadelphia area. She was on the team that took down the infamous Foundation for New Era Philanthropy ponzi scheme. Read more »

Hunter S. Thompson’s Former Assistant Tells Wild Stories in New Book

Photo of Hunter S. Thompson from Wikimedia Commons

Photo of Hunter S. Thompson from Wikimedia Commons

The contrast is difficult to get my brain around. I’m talking with the well-mannered and apparently highly responsible Cheryl Della Pietra, who at 46, is a mom, wife, writer, copy editor at Us Weekly, Penn grad, and (full disclosure) former Philadelphia magazine intern. She’s so nice. But the stories she’s telling me are so naughty. It’s hard to believe that this novelist is the same woman who made a drug buy for cultural icon and creator of “gonzo” immersive journalism, Hunter S. Thompson, her boss for five months back in 1992. Della Pietra also romanced a Hollywood A-list actor, shot pistols with Thompson while high, consumed staggering amounts of cocaine, shrooms, and other illicit drugs, not to mention drinking enough alcohol to drown a sailor.

Gonzo Girl (Simon and Schuster/Touchstone) opens with a tense scene during her actual weekend “try-out” when she visited Thompson at his ranch outside Aspen, Colorado. You know you’re in for a delectably bad-behaviored tale with phrases such as: “The tray of coke never really settles on the table. It just keeps getting passed around like it’s crowdsurfing at a Hole concert,” and “Despite the substances and the guns, I’ve never felt unsafe. Until this moment.”

But yes, it’s all there in the Connecticut-based author’s first novel, which chronicles the adventures of her first literary job out of college. She’ll be reading from it at St. Joseph’s University on October 27th at 6:30 pm, and Barnes & Noble, Rittenhouse Square on October 29th at 7 pm.

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New Book Tells the Story of Sphinx Sculpture at Penn Museum

The Sphinx when it was moved to the Lower Egyptian Gallery in 1926.| Photo courtesy of Penn Museum

The Sphinx when it was moved to Penn Museum’s Lower Egyptian Gallery in 1926.| Photo courtesy of Penn Museum

If you’ve taken a trip to the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology, you’ll probably recall being greeted by an enormous granite sphinx in the Egyptian gallery. Bearing the name of Ramesses II, it was excavated in Memphis, Egypt from the temple of the god of creation, Ptah. But the sphinx is as lively as it is elegant — two years ago, it celebrated its 100th anniversary in Philly with a large party hosted by the Museum.

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Teresa Giudice Releasing Tell-All Book With Hilarious Title

Has time flown, or what? It seems like only yesterday that Teresa Giudice began her 15-month prison sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Connecticut, for fraud. But now we’re less than two months from her projected release date of December 23rd. (Apparently she’ll be on house arrest another two months after that.)

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Chelsea Clinton’s Coming to Philly Next Week

Former (and future?) First Daughter Chelsea Clinton will visit the Palestra at UPenn next week as part of the Food Trust‘s youth leadership summit for middle-schoolers, HYPE (Healthy You. Positive Energy.)

According to a release from the Food Trust, Clinton is stopping by on a tour to promote her new book It’s Your World: Get Informed, Get Inspired & Get Going. The book offers an easy-to-swallow look at some of the planet’s biggest challenges and offers inspirational stories of young people who are working to make the world a better place to live.

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Are Books Making a Comeback?



Maybe predictions of the death of written, printed paper books were premature.

A new report in the New York Times suggests as much, based on two key points of data:

E-reader sales have flattened: “E-book sales fell by 10 percent in the first five months of this year, according to the Association of American Publishers, which collects data from nearly 1,200 publishers. Digital books accounted last year for around 20 percent of the market, roughly the same as they did a few years ago.”

The number of actual bookstores, however, is on the rise: “The American Booksellers Association counted 1,712 member stores in 2,227 locations in 2015, up from 1,410 in 1,660 locations five years ago.” Read more »

Jerry Seinfeld: Take My Endorsement Off Cosby Biography

One by one the Cosby empire is crumbling. Reruns of The Cosby Show have been pulled from several (if not all hosting networks), his agent in Hollywood has jumped ship and now AP reports that plans to turn his recently released biography, Cosby, into paperback have been nixed.

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Local Author Pens Debut Novel About Post-Graduation Blues

jenni fink sentenced to lifeMoorestown native Jenni Fink’s debut novel, Sentenced to Life, reaches out to the millennial generation and assures us we’re doing just fine. “I tried to think about what real life is right now and just put it into words so people can relate to it,” Fink explains. College graduates are all too familiar with the pressure of finding a job, getting married and having kids, but Fink seeks to calm these universal anxieties in her novel.

Sentenced to Life is a story of a young woman who gets a brutal wake-up call after receiving her diploma and moving back home. The book addresses relatable issues like changing family dynamics, rekindling past relationships and facing an uncertain future.

In anticipation of her book reading this weekend at James Oliver Gallery, I spoke to Fink—a graduate of the University of Arizona—about life after college and society’s unrealistic expectations of post-graduates.

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