Book History Essay Prize

The editors of Book History annually award a graduate student essay prize consisting of $500 and publication in the journal to the author of the best article submitted to the Book History journal on any aspect of the history of the book. The deadline for submission for each editorial year is 31 August.

2020 Book History Essay Prize Winner

Mary Catherine Kinniburgh, “The Postwar American Poet’s Library: An Archival Consideration with Charles Olson and the Maud/Olson Library.”

The American poet Charles Olson (1910-1970) was known for his interest in book collecting and bibliography, both of which align with his concept of the “postmodern” (a term Olson coined in a 1951 letter to Robert Creeley) as a profusion of information, requiring new ways to store and navigate materials. This commitment is incarnated in the Maud/Olson Library, a collection built by Olson scholar Ralph Maud that includes a copy of every book Olson was ever thought to have read, including transcriptions of Olson’s marginalia and specialized bookplates. While this library has been considered a “facsimile” of Olson’s, its unique features may in fact broaden our conception of how to make meaning from a “poet’s library” as a conceptual and material unit, even in the absence of provenance relating to the poet himself. Exploring the open stack format and bibliographic qualities of books within the Maud/Olson Library allows us to see the political and archival dimensions of what it means when poets collect knowledge, and makes vivid the immensity of both Olson’s and Maud’s contributions to our understanding of book-focused knowledge curation by poets in post-World War 2 America.

A complete list of prize-winners is available online.