(NEW YORK)– PEN America welcomes Sotheby’s announcement that a fireproof edition of Margaret Atwood’s bestseller and often banned book The Handmaid’s Tale has sold through an auction online for $130,000. Atwood and her publisher Penguin Random House partnered to create the unique “Unburnable Book” as a powerful symbol against censorship and a reminder of the necessity of protecting vital stories. Atwood designated proceeds from the auction to benefit PEN America’s groundbreaking work to counter the national crisis of book banning in schools and censorship of classroom lessons about race, gender, sexual orientation and other topics deemed objectionable.

The book auction was announced at PEN America’s annual gala in New York City on May 23 through a video in which Atwood herself is seen “testing” a prototype by aiming a flamethrower at it. 

In a statement, Atwood said: “I’m very pleased that the one-of-a-kind Unburnable Book of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ has raised so much money for PEN America. Free speech issues are being hotly debated, and PEN is a sane voice amidst all the shouting. The video of the book being torched by me and refusing to burn has now had a potential 5 billion views. We hope it raises awareness and leads to reasoned discussion.”

PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel said: “We are thrilled and grateful to Margaret for her wondrous idea to support our fight against this unprecedented and spreading censorship. This imaginative fireproof book and her generosity in donating the proceeds to PEN America will go far to ensuring we can have an impact against this urgent wildfire of book banning and educational gag orders.”

This single-copy special edition of The Handmaid’s Tale was produced by Rethink, an independent creative agency, and fabricated in Toronto by the graphic arts specialty and bookbinding atelier The Gas Company Inc. It was manufactured by print-and-bindery master craftsman Jeremy Martin. Fireproof materials and processes were researched and tested by Doug Laxdal..

PEN America has been at the forefront of the fight against this wave of censorship in American schools. Its recent report “Banned in the USA,” documented 1,586 instances of individual books being banned, in 86 school districts in 26 states. More than 122 million Americans live in the 19 states that have passed legislation or issued executive orders prohibiting the teaching of various subjects and ideas in public schools, colleges, and universities.

The unrelenting pace of book bans and educational gag orders is especially alarming because the censors’ primary targets have been literary works about racism, gender, and sexual orientation, often written by authors of color and LGBTQ+ writers, as well as classroom lessons about social inequality, history, and sexuality.  This censorship tramples on students’ First Amendment rights, undermines education, restricts the flow of ideas, and entails a widening form of erasure that is doing real damage to people and livelihoods.

Read the Associated Press coverage of the auction.