This edition of Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale is “unburnable”, in protest of worldwide book bans

With rightwing censorship of books becoming ever more present, Penguin Random House’s new edition of the text is printed and bound using blowtorch-proof materials.

26 May 2022


As of April 2022, more than 1,500 books have been banned from US school districts since August of last year, with books exploring race and LGBTQIA+ themes targeted in particular. The same month, Tennessee Republican Jerry Sexton, stated that he would “burn” books that were to be censored by a bill allowing greater control over school libraries. In response to this landscape of censorship, Margaret Atwood has released an “unburnable” limited edition of her oft-banned and hotly-contested book, The Handmaid’s Tale.

Announced via a recent video from Penguin Random House, the new text, made in collaboration between Atwood and the publisher, is printed and bound using fireproof materials. The video showcases the flame-resistant capabilities of the book with footage of Atwood wielding a flame-thrower in an attempt to scorch the cover. With no smouldering in sight, the video concludes with the quote: “Because powerful words can never be extinguished”.

According to the Penguin Random House website, this “unburnable” edition is made possible thanks to: a black cinefoil dust jacket, fire-resistant paper, white heat shield foil pages and kapton high temperature adhesive. The book is also section sewn with nickel wire and features a flame-retardant phenolic hard cover and stainless steel head and tail bands.

The site continues: “Across the United States and around the world, books are being challenged, banned, and even burned. So we created a special edition of a book that’s been challenged and banned for decades […] This edition of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale was made to be completely unburnable. It is designed to protect this vital story and stand as a powerful symbol against censorship.”

Since its release in 1985, The Handmaid’s Tale has consistently faced censorship; in 2019, according to ALA, it was among one of the top ten most challenged books in US schools for profanity and for “vulgarity and sexual overtones”.

The Unburnable Book will be presented for auction by Sotheby’s New York from 23 May to 7 June, with all proceeds going to benefit PEN America, a nonprofit organisation that works to defend and celebrate free expression in the US through the advancement of literature and human rights.

Penguin Random House: The Unburnable Book (Copyright © Penguin Random House, 2022)

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Penguin Random House: The Unburnable Book (Copyright © Penguin Random House, 2022)

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Liz Gorny

Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. In January 2023, they became associate editor, predominantly working on partnership projects and contributing long-form pieces to It’s Nice That. Contact them about potential partnerships or story leads.

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