RBS’s Andrew W. Mellon Society of Fellows in Critical Bibliography Awards First Annual Essay Prize

Rare Book School’s Andrew W. Mellon Society of Fellows in Critical Bibliography (SoFCB) is very pleased to announce the winner of the Society’s first annual essay prize:

Michaël Roy, “The Slave Narrative Unbound,” in Brigitte Fielder and Jonathan Senchyne (eds), Against a Sharp White Background: Infrastructures of African American Print, Madison, University of Wisconsin Press, 2019, p. 259-276.

Roy’s article was selected because the committee was particularly struck by his argument that the dominance of the bound book has distorted the history of narratives of enslaved people in the United States. In fact, Roy convincingly argues that “the political efficacy of slave narratives can best be measured by their ability to cross media and genres.” However, the historical focus on book-length slave narratives has prioritized those narratives that were backed by white organizations or charismatic individual authors. Outstanding it terms of its originality and clarity, this scholarship also reflects the mission of the SoFCB, which seeks to “foster capacious interdisciplinary scholarship . . . share that knowledge among broader publics . . . and creating a more accessible, inclusive, and diverse environment for the study of the material text.” Roy makes us aware that book history and histories, more generally, are not always just about books.

The SoFCB essay call received dozens of excellent submissions from scholars working in many fields and disciplines—an encouraging response that attests to the vibrancy of critical bibliography in the twenty-first century. Our decisions were not easy ones. In addition to selecting our the essay prize winner, Michaël Roy, we would like to highlight two other submissions, which merit honorable mention:

Melissa Reynolds, “‘Here Is a Good Boke to Lerne’: Practical Books, the Coming of the Press, and the Search for Knowledge, ca. 1400–1560,” Journal of British Studies 58.2 (April 2019): 259-288


Nora C. Benedict, “Books about Books and Books as Material Artifacts: Metabibliography in Jorge Luis Borges’s El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan (1941).” Revista Canadiense de Estudios Hispánicos 42.3 (2018): 451-472.

The essay prize has been underwritten by Kimball Higgs, a supporter of Rare Book School and a graduate of Columbia University’s School of Library Service.

Essay Prize Committee:

Damian Fleming

Brenna Wynn Greer

Steffi Dippold