The Anthony Davis Book Collecting Prize - Clara Tait interview.

For the third year the School of Advanced Study and Senate House Library has organised the Anthony Davis Prize. This year’s winner is Clara Tait and she popped into Special Collections to see the display of her books in the Seng Tee Lee Centre. It was great to see Clara again, and we had time for brief chat.

So how have things been going since you won the prize?

Very well, thank you — I was delighted to win the prize and to meet other collectors in the process! Winning the prize has put me in touch with dealers and collectors who share my passion for Nancy Cunard, so the prize has really given me an opportunity to develop both my own collection and network of book-collector friends!

How did you begin to collect books?

I first found the biography of Nancy Cunard by Anne Chisholm in the bargain bin outside Shakespeare & Co bookshop in Paris when I was 17. I was living there during my gap year after school and I was captivated by Nancy Cunard and her involvement in the literary circles of Paris and London. The then-proprietor of Shakespeare & Co, George Whitman, lent me his copy of Brian Howard’s Poems, published by the Hours Press, and I have spent the past ten years collecting other books published and written by Nancy Cunard.

If you were just browsing a second hand book shop what would your ‘holy grail’ find be?

I’m always browsing every bookshop, charity shop, boot-fair and bargain bins wherever I go, and my dream discovery would be a copy of Samuel Beckett’s Whoroscope, published by The Hours Press in 1930. It was the winning entry to Nancy Cunard’s poetry competition and launched a then-unknown Samuel Beckett onto an unsuspecting (but eternally grateful) world!

By coincidence we had a copy of Negro by Nancy Cunard that another reader had requested in the reading room so Clara was able to look at it. Why is Negro such an important book and do you know why Cunard was particularly interested in the subject?

The Negro anthology is very large and very ambitious, and it was compiled and edited by Nancy Cunard and printed at her own expense. It is an important collection of essays, stories, music, poetry and political propaganda — by both Afro-American and White writers-designed to represent a history of black people. It encapsulates Nancy’s socially conscious agenda that was inspired by her relationship with the Afro-American jazz musician, Henry Crowder. The relationship was a scandal, and was a catalyst for Nancy’s rejection of her aristocratic upbringing and spurred on her lifelong interest in civil rights, both in America and in Spain.

And what are you doing next?

I plan to add another book to my collection with the prize money, though I haven’t yet decided what to buy! I am also working on a project to write a script about Nancy Cunard, so watch this space.

Details of how to enter the 2016-17 prize will be published in November.

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