LAWRENCE – Katya Soll’s passion for books and research on South America’s legacy of dictatorship in contemporary theater earned her the top award in the National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest.
In October, Soll, a Spanish doctoral candidate at the University of Kansas from St. Louis, will travel to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., to accept the award. The award comes with a $2,500 prize for Soll and an additional $1,000 prize for KU Libraries.
With the goal of encouraging young collectors to become accomplished bibliophiles, the National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest is organized by the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America, the Fellowship of American Bibliophilic Societies and the Library of Congress’ Center for the Book and the Rare Book and Special Collections Division. Major support comes from the Jay I. Kislak Foundation.
This spring, Soll won the graduate division of the Snyder Book Collecting Contest, a competition that KU Libraries has hosted for 58 years. From there, Soll was able to advance to the national competition.
“We were so pleased to learn of Katya’s success in the National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest,” said Lorraine J. Haricombe, dean of KU Libraries. “As home to one of the oldest book-collecting contests in the United States, we at KU are thrilled to see one of our outstanding students recognized in this way.”
A good chunk of Soll’s collection was gathered during the 11 weeks she spent teaching and traveling in South America during the summer of 2013. While there, Soll was able to see plays and buy books that aren’t found in the United States. In just 77 days, Soll saw 60 theater performances in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay. She returned to the United States with a suitcase full of books, ticket stubs and programs.
“If you study contemporary plays, even the ones that are really important or really successful might not ever be published. So just getting the opportunity to go there and see as much as I could was really revealing about my work,” Soll said.
The books and plays are being used for Soll’s research into how theater has been an important tool for citizens to protest, process and recover from years of dictatorship in South America’s Southern Cone.
“They were all very brutal regimes, and theater was a very important part of the resistance,” Soll said. “Many of the plays in my collection are trying to deal with the memory of that and how as a society you recover from what has happened.”
Soll visited Chile just before the country marked the 40th anniversary of the military coup that overthrew Salvador Allende and launched a 17-year dictatorship. Chileans’ response to the anniversary impressed Soll.
“It wasn’t just that all the theater companies were performing plays about it, but it was how well-attended they were. And they were well-attended by a broad spectrum of ages, not just the people who were alive then,” Soll said.
Having twice as much material as the 50-piece limit the KU book competition required, Soll said she had to make tough decisions in choosing what to include in her collection. Along with books, Soll’s collection included theater programs and ticket stubs.
"We were particularly impressed with the scope of Ms. Soll's collection and the marriage of politics, theater and cultural change in The Southern Cone. It is in the vision of a collector such as herself that shows once again the importance of the printed word and its dispersal in book form," judges from the National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest noted.
Soll purchased her first book in the collection, “La Señora Macbeth” by Griselda Gambaro, in 2004 on a study abroad trip to Argentina. Although Soll wasn’t fluent in Spanish at the time, the author’s name was one that she recognized, and it appealed to her affinity for Shakespeare.
“I ended up loving it and did a rough translation for my mother and sister,” Soll said. “It represents a starting point for me in getting interested in Spanish theater and what I do now.”
Her collection grew from there. Today, Soll’s bookshelves are overflowing, with some of her collection housed in bags and boxes. Along with the books that Soll bought during her trip in 2013, other books in the collection have been purchased online or are books that have been published through the Latin American Theatre Review at KU.
Soll cites as inspiration late KU professor and founder of the Latin American Theatre Review, George Woodyard, and the incredible collection of books he donated to KU Libraries.
“When I check out books, it’s often from the collection of George Woodyard,” Soll said. “It’s very inspiring. I would love to have a collection like his one day.”