New collecting prize brings to light student holdings - pure poetry to UC Berkeley's historical library

By Kathleen Scalise, Public Affairs

BERKELEY-- When 15-year-old Russian immigrant Lyubov "Luba" Golburt first arrived in San Francisco, her family members had barely enough money to buy food. Despite this, their first purchase in the United States was a thin volume of poetry from a bookstore in the Richmond district.

"Irresistibly attractive, it beckoned me," said Golburt, who is the first winner of the new annual Hill-Shumate Collecting Prize for undergraduates administered by the University of California, Berkeley's Bancroft Library.

The treasured little blue book - a Joseph Brodsky paperback that Golburt's stepfather purchased for her that day in San Francisco - became the cornerstone of Golburt's winning book collection of poetry supplemented with prose, art and biographies.

Contest organizer Anthony Bliss, UC Berkeley's curator of rare books and literary manuscripts, said he and others at UC Berkeley's famous historical library had no idea what campus students would submit when the new contest was launched last spring.

"I was afraid I'd get comic books and baseball cards," he said. "Collections had to be print material, but other than that, I had no idea what we would find. I was surprised not so much by the specific items, but by the significance of things the students were collecting."

All three contest winners submitted book collections with a strong emphasis on 20th century literature, including poetry.

"This makes me think those who say poetry is dead are dead wrong," said Bliss.

Besides the $500 first prize, $300 went to Carolyn Babauta for a collection started with Beat Generation poets and $100 to Christina Tran for landmarks in world literature.

The prizes were funded by two noted book collectors - Kenneth Hill of Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., and the late Al Shumate of San Francisco - to encourage collecting by the younger generation.

"We're talking about kids who don't have much money and can't afford fancy editions," Bliss said. "But that doesn't matter for them now. If you're a collector pushing age 60 or 70, you don't have to be convinced of the importance of continuity of literature or history or human endeavor. But to see 20-year-olds with that conviction is a great comfort."

Collections submitted ranged between 300 and 500 volumes, said Bliss. Golburt has 150 titles in poetry alone, lovingly arranged behind glass in her Berkeley home.

But Golburt said good books were hard to come by in her homeland. Born in Tashkent in 1978, she said stores were replete with Communist texts, but "in order to get really interesting books, there was kind of this barter deal," she said. "If you collected heaps of old paper for the recycling centers, you didn't get paid money directly, but you could get newly published books.

"People made jokes about how you can't just buy a book at a bookstore. There were anecdotes about going to the neighbors for tea, spying an old piece of paper and taking it," she said.

Until the age of 13 or 14, "I just remember collecting all the paper I could find so I could have books," she said.

Typical of the Russian intelligentsia, her family already owned a large, treasured collection of books and manuscripts acquired over generations. But her parents had to sell it off for just $25 when they emigrated.

"It was a really painful thing to leave our books," said Golburt, who graduated from UC Berkeley in May and will begin comparative literature doctoral studies at Stanford University this fall. "They were pretty much the only thing we had. There were a lot of memories connected with them."


For further information, Luba Golburt is available the morning of Friday, July 2. She can also be reached the following week. Her number is (510) 528-4484. Anthony Bliss is available at (510) 642-1839. For photos of Golburt and her book collection, contact Kathleen Scalise at (510) 643-7741.

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