against censorship, an unburnable edition of “The Scarlet Servant” at auction

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New York (AFP) – An unburnable edition of Margaret Atwood’s famous work, “The Scarlet Handmaiden”, has been auctioned to benefit the fight against censorship in the United States, a growing phenomenon, its publisher and the publishing house announced on Tuesday. Sotheby’s auction.

The announcement of the operation, which came before the massacre that killed fifteen people, including 14 children, in a school in Texas on Tuesday, is accompanied by a video where the 82-year-old Canadian author, ardent defender of freedom of expression , seems to spray his book with a flamethrower without managing to burn it.

On sale on the internet until June 7, this particular edition, made from fire-resistant paper, had been the subject of five offers on Tuesday, the highest at 45,000 dollars. The proceeds will be donated to the organization PEN America, which supports authors and artists in danger in the world and fights against censorship, said Sotheby’s and the publisher Penguin Random House.

In a recent index covering the period July 2021-March 2022, PEN America identified 1,586 cases of censorship affecting 1,145 titles in 86 school districts in 26 states, at the initiative of elected school councils or local authorities.

This phenomenon of “banned books” is old in the United States, but for its part, the American Library Association (ALA) has identified 729 procedures to challenge the presence of books in libraries, schools and universities in 2021, representing 1,597 titles, a record in more than 20 years.

Margaret Atwood with a flamethrower in an undated photo made available by Sotheby’s, to promote the auction of an unburnable edition of her famous work, The Scarlet Handmaid – Sotheby’s/AFP

“In 2021, libraries found themselves in the midst of a culture war, with conservative groups waging a historic battle to ban and challenge books dealing with racism, gender, politics and sexual identity,” the report said. ALA by presenting these figures in an annual report.

The prize for the most banned book went in 2021 to Gender Queer, where author Maia Kobabe recounts her journey towards a non-binary identity.

“La servante écarlate” (1985), a novel of anticipation describing a totalitarian regime where women are enslaved, is a work often targeted.

In January, the Holocaust graphic novel “Maus”, by cartoonist Art Spiegelman, a worldwide success, was also banned from a school board in Tennessee, in the conservative south of the United States, for its content deemed “inappropriate”.

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