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Devouring books a literal possibility at April U. of I. festival

Andrea Lynn, Humanities Editor


three-page "book" made of rice crispy treats with colored circle, square, and triangle cut-outs
Click photo to enlarge
Photo courtesy

"My First Book of Shapes"
Katherine Ng
Los Angeles

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — An upcoming event at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign gives a whole new meaning to the notion of “devouring” a book.

The First Annual C-U Edible Books Festival is coming to campus April 3 (Monday).

The event, sponsored by the U. of I. Library and held in conjunction with the International Edible Books Festival, will be held 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in 407 Illini Union, 1401 W. Green St., Urbana. It is free and open to the public, but requires an online RSVP.

Every year in early April, bibliophiles, book artists and food lovers around the world gather to celebrate the book arts and the literal ingestion of culture. Participants create edible books that are exhibited, documented then consumed on the spot.

April 1 also is the birthday of the celebrated French gastronome Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826), and, being April Fool’s Day, it also is “the perfect day to eat your words and play with them, too,” said the event’s creator, California artist Judith A. Hoffberg.

For Illinois’ event, entries will appear, before being sliced, diced and tossed on the C-U Books2Eat Web site.

To enter a readable-edible to the C-U event or to come to the judging and eating, one must send an RSVP by March 29 to the local Web site. Entries must be delivered to the Illini Union between 9 and 10 a.m. the day of the event. Doyle Moore, chef-in-residence at WILL-AM (580), will judge entries. Prizes will be awarded and there will be live music.

The U. of I. organizing committee of self-proclaimed “biblio-gourmands” includes Paula Carns, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese librarian; Bea Nettles, professor of art; Scott Schwartz, archivist of the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music; Sue Searing, library and information science librarian; and Tom Teper, preservation librarian.

The U. of I. is the second site in Illinois to join in the event; the other is Columbia College in Chicago. U. of I. reference librarian Kathleen Kern attended Columbia College’s event last year and told fellow librarian Searing about it.

What’s the connection between book and food lovers?

“There’s certainly a lot of overlap,” Searing said. “So many of us enjoy a snack or a warm drink while curled up with a good book. Not to mention all the cookbook collectors out there – who greatly out-number the actual cooks. For me, personally, reading and eating are two of life’s greatest pleasures.”

The festival has been held every April since 2000, the year after Hoffberg and other California book artists were inspired during a Thanksgiving dinner in Pacific Palisades.

“We were talking after dinner and one thing led to another, from food to books to edible books,” Hoffberg said, “and I thought, what a wonderful idea – an edible book event. I went home and a few weeks later, I devised an April Fool’s Day event and announced it on the Book-Arts Listserv – and it took off by itself all over the world.”

A dozen festivals were held the first year of the event, including several abroad. More than 70 edible book events in 16 nations are expected this year.

But it’s all just for fun, right?

“If there’s a deeper meaning, it eludes me,” Searing said, “but some of the photographed works on the international Web site are quite thought-provoking.”

Hoffberg can attest to the passion that people sometimes bring to the competition. Her friend Beth Thielen grew heritage lettuce from seed. As the leaves grew, she stenciled into them the words of a famous ecologist. At the event, she made a salad out of those leaves and a balsamic vinegar dressing, and people literally ate the words.

Other U. of I. sponsors are the School of Art & Design and the Beta Chapter of Alpha Phi Mu, the library and information science honor society. Pages for All Ages is the only local business sponsor so far, but the organizers are soliciting others.