“These little paperbacks may not look powerful,” writes Alessandra Occhiolini ’17, “but between these pages lie a century of sex, drugs, rock ‘n roll, murder, and Hollyweird.
“From John Huston’s chimpanzee trouble to the Pope declaring Liz Taylor a sexual vagrant to Charlie Manson’s family, the dark side of the dream factory is hard to resist.”
So agreed a discerning committee of librarians, faculty, and student judges, which chose Occhiolini as winner of the 2017 A. Edward Newton Book Collection Competition. The collection, "Hollyweird: Cult Classics Nonfiction About the Seedy Side of the Dream Factory,” includes Hollywood Babylon, a Lester Bangs reader, Helter Skelter, and a Joan Collins memoir.
“It was thrilling to win,” says Occhiolini, an Honors English literature major from Palo Alto, Calif. “Not only for the prize money, but because of the opportunity to talk about something I love!”
The Newton competition is the longest-running collegiate book-collecting competition in the nation. Started by a renowned Philadelphia book collector in the 1930s, the competition annually awards cash prizes to the three Swarthmore students who submit the best essays and annotated bibliographies of their collections.
Occhiolini has “always been gloriously in love with the tawdry side of Hollywood,” she writes at the top of her Newton submission. “My fascination started with the splashy star biographies and memoirs I would pick up at the local used bookstore. I would pay a few dollars for a cheap old paperback, then run home and read all about Lana Turner and the murder of Johnny Stompanato or Evelyn Keyes and her bedroom antics with John Huston.
“The interest was partially the shine,” she adds, “but really and truly the dark possibilities of scandal.”
Occhiolini's collection combines original runs of mass-market prints and select critical non-fiction about the developing world of Los Angeles in the 1960s, says Occhiolini, who earlier this year earned the Potter-Morrell Summer Stipend in Creative Writing, which allowed her to do research for her novel in California. She has also blogged on a wide array of topics for the College’s admissions department.
Hazlett Henderson '17, a French and Francophone studies and educational studies special major from Lawrence, Kan., finished second for "Cultural Frailty, Geographical Monotony: How to Refer to a Prairie in Four Lines."
Iris Chan '17, a biology major from Dresher, Pa., finished third for "The Music of Chopin: Imagining Worlds Not Our Own."
See Occhiolini’s collection on the second floor of McCabe Library through Monday, May 8.