Shelf Life

Sara Hudson '04
January 31, 2004

 

Sara Hudson

Sara Hudson owns so many books that she's removed almost all of the furniture from her bedroom at her home in Boerne, Texas, leaving only her bed and the massive bookshelves that cover her walls and dominate her closet. Hudson, who designed her own major in Latino studies, has been collecting books since she was six. Though she has obviously grown older and wiser, her passion is for collecting the books she grew up with.

But Hudson, who owns more than 1,000 books, doesn't just like lining her shelves with them. She is a book academic whose studies have taken her from London to the small village of Xocén, Mexico, to the University of Virginia's Rare Book School, which offers weeklong courses for book collectors, librarians, and others. Her pet project is a descriptive bibliography of children's books from what she calls the "golden age" of children's literature--beginning with the publication of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland in 1865 and ending with A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh in 1926.

She began the project in high school. Last summer, with the help of a grant from the Center for International Studies, Hudson spent seven weeks in London, home to many golden-age authors, working on the bibliography. Each entry includes a close, physical description of a book, complete with information on binding, illustrations, and paper type.

Book collectors use descriptive bibliographies to identify first editions, and the work can require extensive patience, Hudson says. "One of the tenets of producing an authoritative descriptive bibliography is looking at as many copies of a text as you can find." Her bibliography of children's books from the golden age already contains more than 500 pages of information and thousands of digital pictures on works by Louisa May Alcott, J.M. Barry, and L. Frank Baum, among others.

Some students might want a break after such intense research. But, after leaving London, Hudson spent only one day at home in Texas before flying to Mexico. She had lived and studied in Xocén the previous summer, becoming proficient in Yucatec Maya--a language still spoken by one million Mayas in the Yucatan Peninsula--through a program run by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This summer, armed with a Benenson Award (a $3,000 arts award) and a Mellon Foundation grant, Hudson began work on a trilingual children's book with the help of some twenty-five Xocén boys and girls. "The older people in Xocén speak only Mayan, but the younger people are speaking Spanish, too, to work in Cancun," she says. "I wanted to do something to preserve [Xocén] cultural history, but also create something all generations could understand."

Hudson met with the children each day, and, together, they chose three stories that had been orally passed down in the village for generations. She asked the children first to write each story for themselves in journals. Then they wrote the stories as a group, with different children contributing different details. The children illustrated the stories, too, and now Hudson is assembling all of the material into a book that she hopes to have published.

Despite her passion for books, Hudson is not your stereotypical bookworm. Like most Duke students, she goes out with her friends and is active on campus--as a member of the selective house Roundtable and as co-president of Mi Gente, the primary undergraduate Latino group. She is also the co-founder of the Duke-Durham Hunger Alliance, which has raised thousands of dollars in unused student food points for Durham's food banks.

But in the end, Hudson always comes back to books. "My whole family loves books. We're one of those families where you'll come down to breakfast, and everyone will be reading." But, she adds, "I'm the most obsessed."