2021 Wreden Prize celebrates student book collecting

June 23, 2021
Rebecca Wingfield

This spring Stanford Libraries celebrated student book collecting with of the Wreden Prize for Collecting Books and Related Materials. The biennial Wreden Prize showcases the creative and passionate love of book collecting by undergraduate and graduate students at Stanford. Participating students each submit a bibliography of items in their collection, along with an essay detailing the history and significance of the collection. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, this year’s prize was highly competitive, with entries featuring a diverse group of collections, including children’s books and textbooks from the late 19th and early 20th century, the language and ethnography of the Occitan valleys of Italy, 17th and 18th century English literature, and exoticized depictions of Japanese life and culture by Western writers. One creative collector submitted a bibliography of books he had loaned to friends as a collection of absences, which took on an added poignancy in light of the past 14 months of separation.

The 2021 Wreden Prize winners were recognized with an online reception in May, featuring a panel discussion with each of this year’s prize winners. Each prize winner also received a one-year membership to the Book Club of California, courtesy of the Club. Jessica Jordan, a doctoral student in English, won first prize and $2,000 for her essay, “Six Decades of Leo and Diane Dillon.” Jordan’s collection documents the book illustration work of Leo and Diane Dillon, who are best known for their cover art for children’s books and science fiction and fantasy stories. As an interracial couple, the Dillons made a conscious decision early in their career to represent people of all races in their illustrations for children’s books. In the 1970s, they were awarded two Caldecott medals for children’s book illustration for Verna Aardema’s Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears (1975) and Margaret Musgrove’s Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions (1976).

Leo and Diane Dillon’s cover illustrations for Her Stories by Virginia Hamilton, a children’s edition of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and The People Could Fly by Virginia Hamilton. Photo by Jessica Jordan.

Although best known for their illustration of children’s books, the Dillions worked as freelance artists over a career that spanned six decades, resulting in a diverse output that includes illustrations for book covers for science fiction and fantasy stories, textbooks, cookbooks, young adult literature, and reprints of literary classics. In much of their work, the Dillons continued, in Jordan’s words, “to critique the American book industry’s overwhelming whiteness, all without ever writing a word.”

Leo and Diane Dillon artwork for Avram Davidson’s The Phoenix and the Mirror, Joanna Russ’s And Chaos Died, and Avram Davidson’s The Island Under the Earth. Photo by Jessica Jordan.

The Dillons’ subtle challenge to a book marketplace that often excluded depictions of people of color has gone largely unremarked, since much of their work remains unsigned and there is no comprehensive list of their illustrations. Jordan’s collection and bibliography seek to shine a light on the Dillons’ diverse body of work and its social and political significance.

Audrey Senior, an undergraduate in English and Theater and Performance Studies, won second prize and $1,000 for her essay, “`The Art of Making Art is Putting it Together’: A Stephen Sondheim Collection.” In her essay, Senior describes her growing fascination with the work of Stephen Sondheim and how her collection of his works charts her own intellectual development, particularly her interest in the musical Sunday in the Park with George.

Jeff Rutherford, a graduate student in Energy Resources Engineering, won the third prize and $500 for his essay “Chronicles of a Community in Transition: The Alberta Oil Sands.” Featuring works of history, memoir, science, and politics, Rutherford’s collection traces the history, geology, and changing fate of Alberta’s rich oil fields. During the oil boom of the 1970s, Rutherford’s hometown of Fort McMurray in northern Alberta, went from a small railroad town to a boomtown to a region now grappling with the environmental impacts of decades of deforestation, oil drilling, and pollution.

The six judges for this year’s prize were drawn from Stanford librarians and Bay Area collectors and antiquarian dealers, reflecting a breadth of experience in book history and the book arts: Mary Crawford (Grolier Club member and collector); Chris Loker (antiquarian bookseller and specialist in children’s literature); John Crichton (antiquarian bookseller); Benjamin Albritton (Rare Books Curator); Kathleen Smith (Curator of German and Medieval Studies); Ben Stone (Curator of British and American History and Associate Director of Special Collections).

The Wreden Prize, which is open to all full-time Stanford students, was endowed in memory of William P. and Byra J. Wreden, two lifelong book collectors and supporters of Stanford Libraries. In addition to building two remarkable personal collections focused on bibliographical materials and witchcraft, folklore, and magic, William Wreden was a well-known Bay Area antiquarian bookseller. His wife, Byra Wreden, was also an avid collector, building a significant collection focused on children’s book illustrators, like Beatrix Potter and Kate Greenaway. For more information on the history of the Wreden Prize and to read the prize-winning essays, please visit the Wreden Prize web site.