Book banning laws inspire fireproof edition of Handmaid’s Tale

When Tennessee’s McMinn County Board of Education voted in January to remove the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel Maus from the eighth-grade curriculum on the Holocaust, it cited “unnecessary use of profanity and nudity and its depiction of violence and suicide.”

It’s just one of what the American Library Association has called an “unprecedented” number of efforts to pull books off shelves. PEN America recently issued a report called “Banned In The USA,” which found 1,586 instances of individual books being banned, in 86 school districts in 26 states. It all feels very on-brand for Gilead.

Now, to raise awareness of the worrying pace of book banning and educational gag orders in American schools, and to raise money to support free speech organization PEN America’s work to counter what they call a “national crisis of censorship,” legendary author Margaret Atwood and her publisher Penguin Random House have partnered to create The Unburnable Book, a fireproof edition of Atwood’s best-selling, dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale.

Created with ad agency Rethink, the one-of-a-kind edition was made with fireproof materials, and the launch video features the 82-year-old author aiming a flamethrower at one of her best-known works.

“I never thought I’d be trying to burn one of my own books . . . and failing,” Atwood said in a statement. “The Handmaid’s Tale has been banned many times—sometimes by whole countries, such as Portugal and Spain, in the days of Salazar and the Francoists, sometimes by school boards, sometimes by libraries. Let’s hope we don’t reach the stage of wholesale book burnings, as in Fahrenheit 451. But if we do, let’s hope some books will prove unburnable—that they will travel underground, as prohibited books did in the Soviet Union.”

The Unburnable Book is being auctioned off online by Sotheby’s New York until June 7, with a current bid (at press time) of $42,000. Proceeds go to PEN America.

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