Eating their words

By CiaraShook

Guests weaved in and out of the tables that displayed books made of sweets, fruit and bread. They scratched votes on ballots and waited to consume the literature at Edible Books & Tea on April 1.

Patrons enjoyed literature through their stomach by eating foods portraying scenes from such children’s books as “Hanzel and Gretyl,” “The Stinky Cheese Man” and “One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish.” The event  was founded by one of Columbia’s own in 1999. Since then, Edible Books has spread to other libraries and schools throughout the world and Columbia has continued to maintain its tradition.

According to Steve Woodall, director of the Center for Book & Paper Arts, Edible Books & Tea was started by the late Judith Hoffberg, editor and publisher of Umbrella Editions.

“She was at a dinner party with friends and they got this crazy idea, so she actually made it happen,” Woodall said. “She put the word out and everyone thought this was a great idea.”

Hoffberg began the event at Columbia and it has since become a tradition celebrated around the globe, including countries in Europe, Asia, Africa and Oceania.

Though Edible Books & Tea is celebrated on roughly the same day world wide, on or close to April 1, different organizations celebrate it in their own way. In 2009, Columbia decided that each year should have a theme for participants to follow, which started with last year’s theme, the Ray Bradbury novel “Fahrenheit 451,” an event that was concurrent with The Big Read. Started by the National Endowment for the Arts The Big Read is a national event aimed at restoring reading in American culture through a featured book each year.

Opal Anderson, assistant to the library director at Columbia, said in an effort to keep the entries broad, this year’s theme was children’s books.

“We wanted Dr. Seuss [for our theme], but because of copyright we couldn’t,” Anderson said. “So we just kept it simple: children’s books.”

The entries were eligible for five categories: Best in Show, Most Book-like, Best Visual Pun, Best Presentation and Most Likely to be Devoured. Prizes went to Becky and Anny Heydemann, who won Most Likely to be Devoured for their “Sendak Sampler;” K.V. and Jan Chindlund won Best Presentation for “The Wizard of Ooze;” Beth Rooney and Aarti Nagaraju won Best Visual Pun for “James and the Giant Peep,” a play on “James and the Giant Peach;” Loni Diep won Most Book-like for “Unfortunate Endings: Three Little Pigs;” Best in Show went to Lisa Rademacher for “Bunny Tales.”

Rademacher, creative director at Ryan Partnership in Chicago, said this year was the first she had participated in Edible Books & Tea and chose Country Bunny as her muse because as a kid she enjoyed the illustrations and stories.

“My grandmother used to give me a sugar egg [like the one included in the edible book], for Easter,” Rademacher said.

Gina Ordaz, administrative assistant of the Center for Book & Paper Arts,  said participants in Edible Books & Tea include Columbia students and alumni, but also members of the community who share a fascination for books and bookbinding.

“We find a lot of people are inspired by it,” Ordaz said. “It helps when we collaborate with the library because we bring in a different group of people.”

Ordaz said some participants enter the event multiple years—one of which has participated since its inception.

Woodall said one of the best things about the event is the partnership with the library.

“We are completely evangelical about the book as an art form and this is a really fun way to introduce people to one of the more extreme expressions of book art,” Woodall said.