Art Spiegelman's book Maus I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History (1986) (Photo by Scott Feldstein via Flickr)

Sales of Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel Maus on Amazon have soared massively since news emerged last week about its banning in Tennessee. Four editions of the acclaimed Holocaust memoir are currently among Amazon’s 18 bestselling books after a bundle of volumes from the series topped the list during the weekend.

On January 10, Tennesee’s McMinn County School Board voted to remove Maus from its eighth-grade language arts curriculum, citing its use of profanity and depictions of nudity. The award-winning novel narrates the story of Spiegelman’s father’s survival of the Auschwitz Nazi concentration camp in Poland during the Holocaust. It features only one depiction of nudity representing his mother, who was found dead from suicide when the author was 20 years old.  

According to minutes of the meeting, the board had initially considered redacting eight curse words and the aforementioned nude image but chose to remove the book from curriculums altogether due to copyright concerns.

“I only have one question, how long does this book stay in our schools?” asked board member Tony Allman, according to the minutes. He later added: “It shows people hanging, it shows them killing kids, why does the educational system promote this kind of stuff, it is not wise or healthy.”

Despite public outcry, the McMinn County Board of Education defended the decision in a statement on January 27, which marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day, again citing the novel’s “unnecessary use of profanity and nudity” and its “depiction of violence and suicide.”

While acknowledging that Maus is “an impactful and meaningful piece of literature” the board reiterated: “We simply do not believe that this work is an appropriate text for our students to study.”

The board’s decision is part of a wider trend of book banning in schools across the country. Books about gender and sexuality, race, and social inequality have been banned from public schools in Idaho, Oklahoma, Texas, Iowa, South Carolina, and other conservative states.

In an interview with CNBC last week, Spiegelman said he was “baffled” by the ban and called the school board’s behavior “Orwellian.”

Meanwhile, readers have voted with their wallets, giving Maus bestseller status more than four decades after it was first published.

Demand was particularly high for the collection The Complete Maus (1996), now ranking as Amazon’s second bestselling book. Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History (1986) ranks third on the list and Maus II: A Survivor’s Tale: And Here My Troubles Began (1992) ranks ninth.

Before it became an Amazon bestseller, Nirvana Comics, a bookshop in Knoxville, Tennessee, handed out free copies of the book to students in defiance of the school board’s decision.

“We are proud to carry Maus at Nirvana Comics,” the bookshop wrote in a Facebook post. “Art Spiegelman’s masterpiece is one of the most important, impactful and influential graphic novels of all time. We believe it is a must read for everyone.”

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Hakim Bishara

Hakim Bishara is Co-Editor of News at Hyperallergic. He is also a co-director at Soloway Gallery, an artist-run space in Brooklyn. Bishara is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative...