Penguin Random House Margaret Atwood
In a video that dropped Tuesday, the acclaimed author Margaret Atwood uses a flamethrower on an "unburnable" edition of her dystopian novel The Handmaid's Tale.
The fire-filled video was released by her publisher Penguin Random House to announce the auction of the unique edition. Atwood hopes to bring attention to the rise of book banning and restrictions in schools across the U.S.
"I never thought I'd be trying to burn one of my own books... and failing," said Atwood, 82, 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," she continued. "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," which is made of fireproof materials and features well-known imagery by designer Noma Bar, will be on exhibition at Sotheby's New York from June 3 until the auction on June 7. Proceeds from the sale of the edition will go to PEN America, an organization that has been battling the censorship of books.
When The Handmaid's Tale first published in 1985, readers were deeply moved by the dystopian tale in which women no longer had free will or control over their own bodies. But the book also had a wave of critics who fought to ban it in communities and schools all over the globe. Despite the censorship, The Handmaid's Tale continues to be a popular book in English classes and has become part of the fabric of American culture. (In 2017, the eponymous TV series premiered on Hulu and immediately became a big hit.)
"There's a precedent in real life for everything in the book," Atwood told PEOPLE about her novel in 2017. "I decided not to put anything in that somebody somewhere hadn't already done. But you write these books so they won't come true."
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The novel's history with censorship made it the perfect symbol to protest book banning (and sometimes book burning) throughout the country. The American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom "tracked 729 challenges to library, school, and university materials and services in 2021," including 1,597 books. (This is a significant increase from 156 challenges in 2020, according to the ALA.) Many of those books are by LGBTQ authors and writers of color. Some schools across the country are also facing pressure to limit what children are being taught about race, equality and LGBTQ issues.
As a result, authors, activists and educators are pushing back. Enter the "unburnable" edition of The Handmaid's Tale.
Penguin Random House
"If there is anyone who can ensure that the book is not consumed, it is Margaret Atwood," said Suzanne Nossel, PEN America CEO, in a statement. "She has found a way to fight fire with fireproofing, taking on book banners and burners with a potent reminder that the power of books is indestructible."
She continued: "In the face of a determined effort to censor and silence, this unburnable book is an emblem of our collective resolve to protect books, stories and ideas from those who fear and revile them. We are thankful to be able to deploy the proceeds of this auction to fortify this unprecedented fight for books."