July 9, 2009


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Hill to flex literary muscle at weekend Book Festival

Buzz Bissinger

When organizers of this week’s three-day book festival began the planning process, they had big dreams.

Greg Welsh, president of the Chestnut Hill Business Association and a self-proclaimed “C-SPAN junkie” (that’s a channel dedicated to books for those who’ve never tuned in), told me that he believed the Chestnut Hill Book Festival could be the kind of event that would easily eclipse the Free Library’s book festival and quite possibly be one of the better festivals in the country.

To make the event big, though, the festival needed to get some big names.

After several months of weekly planning sessions, the festival is about to take over the Avenue with three days and nights of readings, slams, book signings, sales and discussion panels.

And the list of guest authors — a long list — is remarkable for several reasons, but most notable is that the biggest names on the ticket are all residents of Chestnut Hill. Noted Hill authors, including Buzz Bissinger, Elijah Anderson and Witold Rybcynski are national figures and all live in Chestnut Hill.

“This is going to be a great event,” Welsh said. “It will be something the neighborhood can really be proud of.”

Who: Buzz Bissinger

When: Saturday, July 11, 8 p.m.

Where: Magarity Showroom, 8200 Germantown Ave.

Hill resident Buzz Bissinger, the biggest name on the three-day bill, is the keynote speaker of the festival. He’ll speak at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Magarity showroom.

A New York native, Bissinger is a journalist who got started as editor of both the sports and editorial pages of the Daily Pennsylvanian, the college newspaper of the University of Pennsylvania. After a few reporting jobs, Bissinger took a job with the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1987 for a series of stories on — big surprise — corruption in the Philadelphia courts.

As an author, Bissinger’s first and best-known work was 1990’s Friday Night Lights, a portrait of a high school football team in Odessa, Texas, that was later made into a movie and a television series.

His next book was A Prayer for the City, for which Bissinger spent four years observing former Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell during his first term. The book is a remarkable look at Rendell, Philadelphia politics and the city.

His most recent work is Three Nights in August, a portrait of St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa and baseball told against the narrative backdrop of a three-game series between the Cardinals and their National League Central rivals, the Chicago Cubs.

Bissinger told the Local in a December interview that he was working on a new book about his twin sons, Jerry and Zachary. They were born prematurely and Zachary sustained brain damage while Jerry did not. The book will be Bissinger’s first major work of personal narrative.

Who: Elijah Anderson

When: Saturday, July 11, 1:00 p.m.

Where: Stage Crafters, 8130 Germantown Ave.

Chestnut Hill resident Elijah Anderson is one of the nation’s leading scholars on race inequalities.

Anderson recently became the William K. Lanman, Jr. Professor of Sociology at Yale University. He left Penn — where he taught for 32 years and was the Charles and William L. Day Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences and professor of sociology — for his present job.

Anderson is the author of many books, most notably Code on the Street. His book, Streetwise: Race, Class and Change in an Urban Community, earned him the American Sociological Association’s Robert E. Park award.

Anderson recently edited a collection of essays entitled Against the Wall: Poor, Young, Black, and Male,” which he will discuss at his appearance at Stagecrafters at 1 p.m. Saturday, July 11.

Who: Witold Rybczynski

When: Sunday, July 12, 12 p.m.

Where: Magarity Show Room, 8200 Germantown Ave.

Penn urbanism professor Witold Rybczynski is the author of many books and articles, and is a regular contributor to the New York Times and Slate.

Raised in England and Canada, Rybczynski studied architecture at McGill University in Montreal.

Rybczynski has written about everything from the history of the weekend (Waiting for the Weekend) to the history of the screw and screwdriver (One Good Turn). His 1986 book Home: A Short History of an Idea was translated into 10 languages and was nominated for a Governor General’s Award for Nonfiction, an award given by Canada’s Council for the Arts. In 2007, he won the Vin Scully prize.

Rybczynski is currently working on a book about his Polish heritage (he was born to Polish parents in Edinburgh, Scotland) titled My Two Polish Grandfathers.

Who: Mimi Chapra

When: Friday, July 10, 4 p.m.

Where: The Antique Gallery 8523 Germantown Ave.

Hill resident Mimi Chapra was born in Cuba and moved to the United States when she was only 5 years old. Ten years ago, Chapra said she had an accident that left her incapacitated and “out of synch” with her environment. The feeling made her recall the difficulties and barriers — cultural and lingual — she faced as a child in a new country.

She decided to take on the subject in children’s books and published her first, Amelia’s Show-and-Tell Fiesta, in 2004. In 2006, she published Sparky’s Bark.

Chapra will sign Sparky’s Bark at the Antique Gallery from 4 to 5 p.m.

 Friday, July 10

Who: Rebecca McKillip Thornburgh

When: Sunday, July 11, 3:30 p.m.

Where: O’Doodles, 8335 Germantown Ave.

Hill resident Rebecca McKillip Thornburgh is the illustrator of more than 90 children’s books. She will be at O’Doodles Toy Store at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, July 12.

Thornburgh, a native of the Western Pennsylvania town of Hollidaysburg, moved to Chestnut Hill with her husband David Thornburgh, executive director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Fels School of Government and son of former governor Richard Thornburgh.

Thornburgh, recently has contributed several very public images in Chestnut Hill: Her polar bear bench “CHillie,” which was part of last year’s AbZOOlutely Chestnut Hill public art project, is still stationed at Germantown and Southampton avenues in front of J.S. Jenks Elementary School. She also designed the bookworm, “Chester T. Bookly,” that serves as the logo for the book festival.

Who: Tamar Chansky

When: Saturday, July 11, 4 p.m.

Where: Little Treehouse Play Cafe. 10 West Gravers Lane.

Hill author Tamar Chansky will lead “A Conversation on Parenting” at the Little Tree House with fellow author Judd Kruger Levingston, a Mt. Airy resident.

Chansky is a clinical psychologist and the founder of the Children’s Center for OCD and Anxiety. She has authored three books on children: Freeing Your Child from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Freeing Your Child from Anxiety and her most recently, Freeing Your Child from Negative Thinking.

Chansky, a frequent guest on radio and TV, has contributed articles to many newspapers and magazines and maintains a Web site at