The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is the most widely published autobiography of all time. In honor of Franklin’s 300th birthday, the Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary and One Book, One Philadelphia invited today’s Philadelphians to submit a memoir of their own, using no more than 300 words. At the end of the project – May 17, 2006 – a panel of judges selected twenty autobiographies to appear on bus shelters throughout the city.
These twenty autobiographers range in age from eleven to eighty-one, and include an incarcerated person, a bilingual 5th grader, and a former go-go dancer. They chose to share stories about everything from dealing with an alcoholic parent, to growing up on Howard Street in West Kensington, to celebrating the end of World War II with a contraband orange. From June 26 through July 23, 2006, these twenty autobiographies will be published along with the honorees’ photographs on bus shelter posters throughout Center City, Philadelphia. A map of the shelter locations is available for download here, and you can view all twenty posters here (scaled down to 8.5 by 11″.) The stories were brought to life visually under the creative direction of Debra Stack and Stack Design, with photography by Michael Ahearn.
Throughout a six-week writing period that began on April 5, 2006, over three hundred people sent in stories from their lives, and you can read them all online here. Participants were offered writing support services at free drop-in writing centers at Drexel University and Free Library of Philadelphia branches; online, with interactive feedback; or by attending a writing workshop. Organizations and institutions with a group of potential participants were invited to request a free writing workshop at their institution. If reading about this project has inspired you to tell us your story, you can still find writing prompts and a revision checklist online here.
Finally, you can also find Franklin’s best-selling Autobiography here, with our analysis of what makes it relevant today. In his Autobiography, Franklin spent several pages describing how he taught himself to write well, saying that, “Writing has been a great Use to me in the Course of my Life, and was a principal Means of my Advancement.” We hope that by writing about your life you, like Franklin, will appreciate and enjoy the process of distilling and communicating something meaningful from your lived experience. After all, as Franklin warned us: “If you wou’d not be forgotten, As soon as you are dead and rotten, Either write things worth reading, Or do things worth the writing.”
The Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary is a non-profit organization established to mark the 300-year anniversary of Benjamin Franklin’s birth. One Book, One Philadelphia is a project of the Mayor's Office and the Free Library of Philadelphia.
The Autobiography Project is presented by the Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary and One Book, One Philadelphia, with the support of Drexel University and the Greater Philadelphia Wordshop Studio.
The Autobiography Project is sponsored by The Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com, and by SEPTA (the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority).