Makena Gitobu receives 2024 George Modlin Book Award

One for the books: Spider honored for creative collecting

June 7, 2024


Makena Gitobu, who recently graduated with a major in English and a minor in history, is the 2024 winner of the George Matthews Modlin Award for Student Book Collections. The books highlighted in her collection express her passions for storytelling, history, and food — ranging from Herodotus’ The Histories and Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate to Anthony Bourdain’s A Cook’s Tour.

“Food was everywhere at some of the most important moments in human history,” she wrote in her essay for the contest. “Food and stories, two things … human beings seem incapable of surviving without.”

The program, which gave out its first award in spring 1973, has been going strong for five decades. The award is open to bibliophiles in their senior year, who write an essay describing their collection. They must include a bibliography of at least 20 items in the collection and a wish list of three books they would most like to acquire. Printed copies of the winning essays are kept in an archival collection at the Boatwright Memorial Library.

UR is one of just a handful of universities that offer a collegiate book collecting award.

“According to the National Collegiate Book Award, there are about 25 college book award competitions that they track,” said Lynda Kachurek, the library’s head of Book Arts, Archives & Rare Books.

The contest rules state that “the winning collection must be more than a list of texts: it will be a chosen group of printed or manuscript items, creatively put together. The collection must have been started by the student, and all items in the collection must be owned by them. A collection may include printed books, manuscripts, zines, and/or ephemera.”

The students can organize their collection by author, illustrator, theme, or other principle.

“I love the really personal and unusual stories of their collecting experience,” said Kachurak.

“I think what caught my attention about Makenna’s essay was that it reflected a true love of books — not just some on a theme or topic, but the concept itself — and she expressed that so beautifully in her essay,” Kachurak said. “Additionally, she addressed the love of collection as well, which is one of the underlying tenets of the award: to nurture and celebrate lifelong collectors of books.”

Gitobu said she reads a physical book 95% of the time. She likes to take a break from screen time and enjoys knowing when the book will end — something not as tangible with an e-book. “Sometimes I feel I have to have the book in my hands,” she said.

She enjoys writing fiction and worked in the Book Art Studio her senior year.

As this year’s winner, Gitobu received a $1,000 check and certificate, and her name will be engraved on the Modlin plaque at the library.

When asked what she would do with her prize money, Gitobu said, “the most responsible thing is to put it into an apartment. But I know I’ll buy books.”