In 2005, the legendary Gotham Book Mart in New York City closed its bricks and mortar store. By 2007, the iconic Manhattan bookseller was out of business for good. Fortunately, the University of Pennsylvania was gifted much of the contents of the Gotham Book Mart, which was founded by Frances Steloff in 1920. To mark the 100th anniversary of the store’s founding, the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts at the University in Philadelphia is hosting an exhibition in honor of Frances Steloff and her famous bookshop.
For decades the Gotham Book Mart was, as Steloff prosaically put it, “the headquarters of the avant-garde.” The exhibition explores the shop’s role in assembling, publishing, and promoting groundbreaking experimental writers, as well as its later years under the ownership of Steloff’s hand-chosen successor, Andreas Brown, focusing on Brown’s passion for postcards and collaborations with graphic artist Edward Gorey.
Like most book lovers growing up in and around New York City, I was drawn to the Gotham. It was a truly legendary bookstore. Where else could you discover small press books, underground zines, banned books,hard to find out of print publications, and more, in a bookshop where Patti Smith, Allen Ginsberg and Amiri Baraka had stocked shelves.
If you’re in the Philly area between February and May 20, 2019, the exhibition is well worth a visit at UPenn’s Van Pelt-Dietrich Library at 3420 Walnut Street.