Hanna King ’15 Places Second in National Book Collecting Contest

Hanna King '15

King's award-winning collection, "Plucked from a Holy Book: Ashkenazim on the Margins," features an array of mostly out-of-print materials.

The winners of the national book collecting contest were about to be announced, but Hanna King ’15 wasn’t exactly waiting by the phone.

“Honestly, I had forgotten I entered,” says the history major, of Seattle, Wash., who was busy conducting thesis research this summer in Lithuania through a Lang summer initiative grant when the phone rang, at 1 a.m.

King was “shocked” to learn she was the only undergraduate to place in this year’s National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest, finishing second overall. A few months earlier, she won the College’s Newton Book Collection Competition.

“It hadn’t occurred to me that my little idiosyncratic, narrow, ultra-specific collection would be of interest,” she says. “Not in a million years.”

Eager to learn how to read and write Yiddish, King began gathering materials while in high school — not to build a collection but to gather hard-to-find books that she was interested in reading and sharing with friends and family.

The collection she submitted to the contests features about 35 pieces, among them pamphlets, prayer books, CDs, and zines. Along the way, she honed an eye for bargains and “free” bins, culling gems from used bookstores and synagogues.

“I’m proud to say none of the materials, almost all of them out of print, were bought new,” she says, “and none for more than $10.”

King never considered entering a book collecting contest until last spring, when a notice for the Newton contest caught her eye.

“I thought it would be a fun way to reflect on my books,” she says, “and a nice opportunity to share my materials with the community.

And I thought the [$600 first-place] prize money would be nice,” she adds.

King’s submission, “Plucked from a Holy Book: Ashkenazim on the Margins,” took first place, ahead of seniors Emma Waitzman, “Words of Labor and Freedom,” and Alison Ryland, “The Limits to My Cage: Freedom, Resistance, Captivity, and Female Protagonists in Young Adult Fiction.”

“Hanna’s entry read like an academic paper,” says Roberto Vargas, reference and digital products resident, of the Newton committee. “I don’t mean that it was dense but that her words seemed carefully placed and researched, and behind them you could read her closeness and passion for the subject.”

The first part of King’s collection focused on female Yiddish writers and poets. The second featured contemporary Ashkenazi Jews, among them musicians and LGBT writers, on the margins.

“The theme of the collection is a reflection on the challenges of not being the dominant voice in Ashkenazi culture, and that culture’s place in the outside world,” King says. “They’re all facing very different challenges in very different time periods, yet they’re all wondering how to craft a relationship with this culture they are born into.”

After winning the Newton, King submitted the same collection and essay to the national contest. She earned another $1,000 by placing second, but the real prize is the chance to tour the Library of Congress, at which she will receive her award on October 17.

Before the ceremony, King, her friends, and her family will take a private tour of the rare books collection.

“They have some Yiddish language books that I’ve always wanted to see,” she says. “So that’s going to be special.”