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Harvard Student Wins Award from Library of Congress

Luke Kelly’s book collection of author Eugene Walter was also the first-place winner of the Visiting Committee Prize for Undergraduate Book Collecting at Harvard Library. 


In a ceremony at the Library of Congress, Harvard undergraduate Luke Kelly was awarded first place in the 2016 National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest. “A Collection of Eugene Walter, King of the Monkeys” previously won first place in the Visiting Committee Prize for Undergraduate Book Collecting at Harvard Library in April. 

“It is an honor to be able to provide Eugene Walter with the exposure he deserves, and I appreciate Harvard, the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America, and the Library of Congress for giving me the opportunity to share my collection with a broader audience,” Kelly said.

George Clark was Harvard Library’s representative at the event. “Luke’s collecting is thoughtful, dogged, and joyful at the same time,” Clark said. “What makes it great for Harvard and the rest of us is that Luke shows the makings of a true raconteur. He is someone who can tell us about books and about the world that they reflect, and in so doing make us love the world and book collecting as well. We got so many great entries for Harvard's Visiting Committee Prize this past year, and that makes me doubly glad that he could represent that group of Harvard scholars in Washington on the national level.”

Eugene Walter, the subject of Kelly’s collection, reflects the undergraduate experience. A poet, screenwriter, and short-story author, to name just a few of his areas of expertise (including puppeteer and gourmet chef), Walter left his hometown of Mobile, Alabama to write and perform but never lost his connection to his birthplace. “Eugene’s writing has the ability to capture the essence of the Gulf Coast in a way that mirrors John Kennedy Toole’s portrayal of New Orleans in A Confederacy of Dunces,” Kelly said.While his works avoid dripping with sentimentality, they do draw out a sense of nostalgia for the South, especially for a student studying so far away from home.”

“I think a lot of students who move away from home to go to college go through the process of wondering whether they are good enough,” Clark said. “And if they stay away from home to do their work after college, they wonder how they can retain their love of place, their roots. Walter is a great example of someone who manages that with aplomb. I get the sense that by leaving home, Walter ultimately makes readers love his corner of Alabama like he does. That's a wonderful thing. And a great process for Luke to have documented with his collection.” 

Kelly also has some advice for those considering starting their own book collection. “I’d encourage them to buy for a reason no one else can have. It ultimately leads you into building a collection that reflects your own personality. Someone should be able to walk up to your bookshelf and glean something about your personality because of the books on display.”

Written by Harvard Library Communications.

Published on October 19, 2016.