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  • Future Readers
  • Jeffrey R. Dileo, Editor and Publisher (bio)

Market niche, target readers, and product promotion are inherent concerns to publishers. Who are the intended readers? How will the book gain its largest reach? Publishers are obsessed with audience.

But what if a book were purposefully withheld from a contemporary audience? What if a group of willing readers were intentionally denied access to a text by their favorite author?

Every text is a time capsule, capturing the thoughts and concerns of writers for preservation across space and time. But what if a work were created specifically to be locked away for years?

Margaret Atwood is the first author to participate in an innovative project conceived by Scottish artist Katie Paterson. Called the “Future Library,” Paterson’s idea is to ask 100 authors to write something, anything—a novel, a story, a poem, or even a word—and then shuttle it off into the distant future.

The author is instructed to share it with no one—not even his or her partner or publisher. The writing is to be stored until the year 2114, when the one hundred unknown and unread pieces will be revealed to the public.

One author a year will contribute a piece to Paterson’s future library.

Early contributors like Atwood are writing without the benefit (or encumbrance) of reader response. They are writing for a world that may be as different from the present one as ours is from the world one hundred years ago.

One of the fascinating aspects of Paterson’s project is that early participants are writing to a future that is very remote and virtually unpredictable. They surely will take a different tone and stance toward the future than later writers.

In the shadow of an unknown century, basic questions like the fate of society and the planet are very much future contingents. Even with just a thirty-some year window, the visionary George Orwell spoke to the tendencies of the titular year of his 1949 novel 1984, though still overshot them. Imagine now writing for twice or three times that future.

If anyone, Atwood is up to the task.

The collective product of this project will be an amazing document. What did our generation of writers say to the future? A generation caught in the throes of climate change, neo-Darwinian capitalism, technological insurgency, and global unrest? What message did each leave in their bottle?

While the contents of these documents will be unknown, the format in which they will be shared with the public is not.

A forest of one thousand trees have been planted in Norway, which will be felled and used to produce three thousand copies of the hidden library. On the off chance that printing presses no longer exist in a 100 years, one capable of producing three thousand copies of the texts will be preserved along with the manuscripts.

Interested purchasers can buy their set for £600, or about $900. The set comes with a certificate entitling the bearer to a copy of the one hundred texts produced from the pulp of the mature Oslo trees.

In addition, a room in a public library lined with wood from the forest where the trees have been planted will open in a few years in Norway. The room will store the texts of the Future Library, but will not make them public.

There is a certain perversity to a public library that excludes the public until a distant future date.

The holdings of libraries, especially public ones, are by definition transparent and open. Anything within their collection should be available to the public. While some items may go home with library patrons, others are only to be viewed within their walls. Nothing however is off limits, secret, or hidden from public view.

Though library patrons will be able to see the names of the authors contributing to the series and perhaps even the location where their texts are stored, there will be no viewing and definitely no lending privileges extended for items in the Future Library.

Paterson’s Future Library is therefore more like a safety-deposit box or vault in a bank than a library item or...


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pp. 2-30
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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