The foundation of the collection at the Rosenbach is the library assembled by the Rosenbach brothers. The brothers were noted rare book and manuscript dealers, and in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were involved in forming important public rare books libraries, like the Folger and the Huntington Libraries. There were certain things the Rosenbach's couldn't bear to part with, and those materials are what eventually became the Rosenbach's collection.
These include the only surviving copy of Ben Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanac, the manuscript of James Joyce's Ulysses, and the papers of several poets.
They also have a well-known collection of Dracula materials, including Bram Stoker's working notes for Dracula. If you've read The Historian, the little library the narrator leaves at the end is the Rosenbach. Pretty cool.
Anyway, the Banned Books Celebration was Authors of Mischief! Notable Philadelphia cultural figures read passages from many of the banned and censored books in the Rosenbach collection. All the audience members received a program outlining the readers and readings, and a brief explanation of why each book was banned or challenged.
It was great! Stand-out readings include selections from the following:
- Don Quixote read by a Princeton Spanish and Comparative Literature professor,
- Twelfth Night performed by the Rosenbach interns, a librarian, and education director
- Leaves of Grass read by the Rosenbach Poet-in-Residence,
- In the Night Kitchen, complete with projected illustrations, read by the director for the Heritage Philadelphia Program.
The best by far, though they were all very good, was a portion of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. (Fun fact: apparently the book was banned in 1931 in Hunan Province, China, because "animals should not use human language")
The scene when Alice meets the caterpillar was performed by two local actresses/performance artists. It was wonderful: the woman playing the caterpillar had a half-drunk iced coffee as her hookah, into which she kept slowly blowing bubbles. She also, instead of reading the lines, "one side makes you larger and one side makes you small," sang them in the style of Jefferson Airplane.
Too bad the Timmy wasn't there: two of his favorite things. Jefferson Airplane and Sticking It to the Man.