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Kelly Writer's House on Oct. 15, 2020. Credit: Max Mester

Kelly Writers House will host a fully in-person Edible Books Contest on Dec. 5 for the first time in two years.

The event asks participants to create a food-based representation of a book that is important to them. 

“It’s about having fun,” said Alli Katz, Program Coordinator for the KWH. Submissions have ranged from artfully decorated cakes to “very inspired, but truly last minute pieces,” Katz said. 

Past submissions have included "The Crepes of Wrath” based on the John Steinbeck novel, “Ketchup in the Rye,” a piece of rye bread with ketchup on it, and “50 Shades of Earl Gray,” 50 cups of earl gray tea brewed to different shades.

“It’s about having fun and connecting with books and book culture and just celebrating the lighter side of literature. The delicious side of literature,” Katz said. 

The event aims to provide a space for students and community members to exercise a sense of humor and be playful while creating literary-inspired and edible works of art, although some past entries like “Gum Girl,” a bust made out of chewed gum inspired by Gillian Flynn’s novel “Gone Girl,” may not be considered edible.

KWH Director Jessica Lowenthal recalls her colleague coming up with the idea for the contest in 2010 and submitting “A Movable Feast,” consisting of a toy truck filled with food, a literal take on Ernest Hemingway’s memoir.

“One goal of the project is to combine the love of food and the love of reading,” she said. “This is a project that continued because it inspired people to just come together and do a fun thing. After that first year, we said let’s do that again.”

Al Filreis, Faculty Director at KWH described the event as “classic KWH,” because is both intellectual and fun. “People who are bookish will laugh and enjoy. The KWH is thought of as a very literary place and of course it is, but we like to have fun and we like to host communal events,” he said. 

Since 2018, the contest has been held in honor of Blaze Bernstein. Blaze, a College sophomore, died in a homicide in January 2018. “He was a community member who was very involved in the Writers House and had participated in this event in particular,” Lowenthal said. 

“Food was central to the way that Blaze approached community and approached thinking about how he was a person at Penn,” Lowenthal continued. Blaze’s parents created a memorial fund in his honor that continues to support events like the Edible Books Contest at KWH. 

“The Edible Books Contest always was fun, but now it’s also very important to us because it’s a way of remembering Blaze,” Filreis said.

The event has happened annually since 2010, but was held online in 2020 and not held in 2021 due to COVID. This year’s contest marks the return of an in-person Edible Books Contest, which Katz hopes will “continue as an annual thing.” 

“It’s been a few years since we’ve had Edible Books because of COVID. I’m hoping that this year it’s especially joyous and whimsical. One thing about Edible Books is that it’s whimsical,” Filreis said. “I think we need more whimsy in our lives right now.”

Prizes will be awarded to participants in nine categories: punniest, most architectural, best effort, most literary, best use of a single ingredient, most literal, most dramatic, the reader's digest award, and the "Blaziest." The final two will be chosen by attendees at the event. 

Day-of submissions for the Edible Books Contest will be accommodated. KWH will also be reimbursing ingredients up to $25 with a valid receipt. 

Katz encourages anyone interested to participate. “Submissions really can be beautifully constructed amazing cakes that represent a book that you care about deeply, and they can also be a very very silly pun that you came up with when you were walking down Locust Walk. There is value and delight in all sorts of submissions,” she said.

The Edible Books Contest will take place at 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 5 at KWH, and Lowenthal encourages all students and community members to attend. “Anyone that’s looking for an event that celebrates food and books and community, at a time in the semester where you want a break, this would be a perfect event,” she said.

“I hope it’s hilarious, I hope people really love the food, and I hope we can laugh a lot. It’s a perfect combination to me: reading, laughing, and eating,” Filreis said.