Thom Nickels delivers inspired reading from his latest book: Legendary Locals of Center City Philadelphia
• Wed, Sep 24, 2014
By Nicole Contosta
Prolific is an apt word to describe Thom Nickels, a Philadelphia-based author, poet and journalist.
Working as a journalist, Nickels publishes and edits on an ongoing basis for periodicals like Icon Magazine, the Weekly Press, the Spirit, the Lambda Book Report and the Huffington Post.
As an author, Nickels has published over ten works including Gay and Lesbian Philadelphia, The Tropic of Libra and Spore.
Over the past few weeks, Nickels has kept up a frantic book reading schedule for his latest work: Legendary Locals of Center City Philadelphia.
And it was his reading at the Philadelphia Center for Architecture, 1218 Arch Street, that this reporter experienced Nickel’s lively delivery.
Notably, even if you have read the book, Nickels’ style of reading treats the fact-based material in his 128-page book with a comic touch. Always conversational, Nickels frames the reading as a discussion with his sister asking him questions about why he chose certain Philadelphia legends but not others. Throughout that "conversation" Nickels peppers information with personal anecdotes from both his life as well as the lives of certain subjects. If you missed Nickels readings so far---he fortunately has three remaining on the horizon--but we’ll get to those dates and times later.
Legendary Locals is Nickels fourth book from Arcadia Publishing.And the groundwork for Legendary Locals began during the planning of Out in History and Philadelphia Architecture in 2005.
An editor from Arcadia "proposed writing a book on well-known people in Philadelphia," Nickels explained. "But I chose architecture because I didn’t feel comfortable writing a book about famous Philadelphians at the time," Nickels continued, adding, "basically, I didn’t want to get into the cult of personality. So I put the book on the back burner for several years."
When Nickels first entertained the idea of actually writing it—he considered notorious Philadelphia legends like Ira Einhorn. Ultimately, however, he decided to take a "straighter" approach.
"Many of the people selected in this book are people that are under the radar," Nickels said. That doesn’t mean they weren’t known in artistic or local communities, but they weren’t household names either. At the same time, "that’s not to say that there aren’t the typical, well-known people either, because there are."
Published in a coffee-table format, Legendary Locals contains an informational page and photograph of each subject. The book, divided into three sections, includes: Early Pioneers of Politics, the Arts and Science; Modern-Age Activist and Entertainers and Today’s Athletes, Businesspersons and Spiritual Warriors.
With the lives of so many dynamic people reviewed—it is difficult to know whom to highlight. So lets just consider the woman Nickels dedicated the book to: Agnes Repplier. A contemporary of Henry James, Repplier became an essayist of international critical acclaim. This proved particularly true for Repplier in Boston. But in Philadelphia she remained, "a relatively insignificant writer living quietly west of the Schuylkill," Nickels wrote, adding, "Here she found only obscurity, the obscurity, she felt that is Philadelphia itself."
Nickels however, is anything but an obscure figure in Philadelphia. As a journalist, Nickels was able to access a lot of information from his decades worth of archives. "The facts were true and good," Nickels said, adding, "but in some cases, I had to conduct the interviews again."
Nickels will be reading at the following dates: October 11th at the Port Richmond Books, 3037 Richmond St., at 11 a.m., October 18th at the Bazemore Gallery, 4339 Main Street, 3 p.m. and the Philadelphia History Museum, 15 S. 7th St., 5:30 p.m.
For more information on the book or to order a copy: www.legendarylocals.com.