Enrichment Education

Author Margaret Atwood developed an unburnable ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ book

“It is designed to protect this vital story and stand as a powerful symbol against censorship,” said publisher Penguin Random House.
Author Margaret Atwood attends the Glamour Women of the Year Awards in New York on Nov. 11, 2019. On Monday night, during PEN America’s annual gala, Atwood and Penguin Random House announced that a one-off, unburnable edition of “The Handmaid’s Tale” would be auctioned through Sotheby’s New York. Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

Story at a glance


  • Margaret Atwood is the author of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” a book that has consistently been challenged since 1990. 

  • Atwood and her publisher Penguin Random House announced an unburnable edition of her book, available by auction. 

  • The book was printed and bound using fire-proof materials and can withstand temperatures of up to 2,600 degrees Fahrenheit. 

One author is making her book unburnable, in a move to defy schools and communities across the country that are banning or challenging books and pulling them off shelves. 

Margaret Atwood, author of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” has developed an unburnable edition of her book, printed bound using fire-proof materials. Atwood’s work has been targeted with bans and challenges for decades, with “The Handmaid’s Tale” listed as one of the most frequently challenged books since 1990 by the American Library Association. 

“The Handmaid’s Tale” is a novel that takes place in a dystopian United States where women are stripped of nearly all their rights and are relegated to simply being wives, mothers and handmaids, who are used solely for bearing children. It was adapted into a TV show in 2017. 

“It is designed to protect this vital story and stand as a powerful symbol against censorship,” said Penguin Random House, Atwood’s publisher, in a statement.  


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The book features a black Cinefoil dust jacket, white heat shield foil pages, section sewn with nickel wire, a phenolic hard cover, stainless steel head and tail bands and a Kapton high temperature adhesive. 

The rare edition can handle temperatures up to 2,600 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Penguin Random House also released a video explaining the unburnable edition of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” featuring Atwood herself pointing a flamethrower at her novel, which remained fully intact.  

“Because powerful words can never be extinguished,” said the video. 

The unburnable edition of Atwood’s book will be up for auction by Sotheby’s New York now until June 7, with all proceeds going to PEN America, an advocacy group that pushes for free expression. The auction house estimates the book to bring in anywhere between $50,000 to $100,000.  

PEN America has been tracking book bans in public schools across the country for decades and found that from July 1, 2021 to March 31, 2022, a total of 1,586 instances of individual books being banned. The group’s count included removal of books from school libraries, prohibitions in classrooms, or both, as well as books banned from circulation during investigations after challenges were brought from parents, educators, school boards or lawmakers. 

PEN found that 41 percent of all bans it counted were tied to directives from state officials or elected lawmakers to investigate or remove books in schools.

“This is an unprecedented shift in PEN America’s long history of responding to book bans, from the more typical pattern in which demands for book removals are initiated by local community members.” 

In January, a school board meeting erupted into chaos after a vote to name a district member who had previously called for the burning of “sexually explicit” books in school libraries as its new chair.  

Before that in February, a Tennessee pastor held a book burning event, telling his parishioners to “stop allowing demonic influences into your home.” Footage from the event posted to Facebook showed churchgoers throwing books and other items into a bonfire set ablaze in the church’s parking lot.  


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