Ariana Valderrama on Collecting Toni Morrison: Bright Young Collectors

Image courtesy of Ariana Valderrama

Our Bright Young Collectors series continues today with Ariana Valderrama, recent winner of the David Ruggles Book Collecting prize.

Where are you from / where do you live?

I am originally from Chicago but spent most of my career in DC. However, earlier this month I finally moved back to Chicago and am very excited to be a part of the local bibliophile community.

What did you study at University? What do you do now for an occupation?

I studied International Relations and now work in advocacy communications for a nonprofit. I would love to go back to school one day and get a degree in African American Studies with a focus on Black literature.

Please introduce us to your book collection.  What areas do you collect in? 

I started off collecting books by 20th century Black women writers but quickly realized I would run out of space in my apartment! As I began learning more about book collecting I determined I needed to narrow it down to focus on Toni Morrison since, like many readers, Toni Morrison is one of my favorite authors. However I eventually realized that first editions of Morrison's novels were far too expensive for my meager budget (although I have a few prized copies of her later ones). Instead I began to collect first editions or regular copies of books she’d edited.  I am really excited for the book Toni at Random by Professor Dana Williams which will put a spotlight on her time as an editor at Random House and hopefully provide me with a definitive list of books she edited. Compiling this collection has been interesting because many of the authors she edited aren't considered "big" names (with the exception of Angela Davis and now Gayl Jones, I also anticipate a Leon Forrest resurgence next year) so first editions aren't particularly expensive but they are hard to find because they weren't bestsellers. 

As I went down the rabbit hole of studying Ms. Morrison’s work as both an author and editor, I decided to expand my collector focus to also include books she’d blurbed since those seemed to be equally rare yet noteworthy. The books she edited and wrote blurbs for tell us so much about her literary taste and brilliant mind.

How many books are in your collection?

16 books edited by Toni Morrison, three that she blurbed. Ms. Morrison was a very selective editor, preferring to focus on one book every publishing season but I am interested in expanding the collection to include additional books by the authors edited by Ms. Morrison even if they are ones she did not edit herself. For example, while she did not edit The Black Woman by Toni Cade Bambara, it’s a book I bought because I assume it’s the one, or one of the books, that introduced her to Ms. Cade’s writing, and led her to wanting to acquire her future works. 

There is no list of authors Ms. Morrison has written blurbs for, at least that I can find, it’s something I try to keep an eye out for when I browse bookstores, especially used bookstores. I also recently made the decision that I'm going to hone in on solely collecting books she blurbed by Black authors.

What was the first book you bought for your collection?

The Black Book edited by Toni Morrison while at Random House though she's not credited on the cover (which of course is standard as a trade editor). It was also edited by Middleton A. Harris, Ernest Smith, Morris Levitt and Roger Furman who are credited on the cover.

How about the most recent book?

The Bloodworth Orphans by Leon Forrest

And your favorite book in your collection?

Impossible to choose, changes every week.

Best bargain you’ve found?

A first edition of Eva's Man by Gayl Jones

How about The One that Got Away?

A first edition of Angela Davis' autobiography.

What would be the Holy Grail for your collection?

Angela Davis: An Autobiography, Corregidora by Gayl Jones and There Is A Tree More Ancient Than Eden by Leon Forrest

Who is your favorite bookseller / bookstore?

Can't pick just one, so many bookstores and booksellers have been helpful to me over the last year and a half. That being said, Type Punch Matrix, Capitol Hill Books and Second Story Books in DC, Myopic Books and Powell's in Chicago have my heart.

What would you collect if you didn’t collect books?

If I had unlimited money I'd collect sneakers, Black art and Black leftist epherma. Thank you for having me!