In 2008, the University of Pennsylvania was given the contents of the Gotham Book Mart, the legendary New York City bookstore founded by Frances Steloff in 1920 (Almanac January 27, 2009). To mark the 100th anniversary of the store’s founding, the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts will host an exhibition in honor of Ms. Steloff and her famous bookshop. For decades the Gotham Book Mart was, as Ms. Steloff prosaically put it, “the headquarters of the avant-garde.” The exhibition, Wise Men Fish Here, A Centennial Exhibition in Honor of the Gotham Book Mart, 1920-2020, explores the shop’s role in assembling, publishing and promoting groundbreaking experimental writers, as well as its later years under the ownership of Ms. Steloff’s hand-chosen successor, Andreas Brown, focusing on Mr. Brown’s passion for postcards and collaborations with graphic artist Edward Gorey. The exhibition runs from February 18-May 20, 2019 at the Van Pelt Library.
For the past eight years, Penn Libraries curators and staff have unpacked and processed over 200,000 items and unveiled 150 linear feet of archival materials. From this mass of “stuff,” Curator David McKnight has, with the assistance of Katherine Aid and Camille Davis, selected 300 pieces ranging in date from 1900 to 2000. Drawing upon the collection’s vast array of material evidence—books, periodicals, manuscripts and ephemera—the exhibition will narrate the history of the shop from its earliest beginnings to its demise in 2005.