Photo: Joel Goldberg
Photo: Joel Goldberg

DC’s Literary Scavenger Hunt: UNCENSORED Underground

Wednesday evening at Columbia Room, a crowd of book and scavenger hunt enthusiasts escaped the August heat with cocktails and conversation. The talk revolved around the scavenger hunt taking place throughout the District next month.

Inspired by Banned Books Week, the DC Public Library Foundation and the DC Public Library will task area residents with uncovering more than 600 books hidden in locations around the city, including DCPL branches, coffee shops, book stores, arts centers and restaurants.

Keeping in step with this year’s theme of “Texts Against Tyranny,” Wednesday’s cocktail hour featured a drink called Mirror Factory Punch, a concoction of cognac, riesling, crème de mure, green tea, lemon verbena, lemon and cane sugar. The name of the drink is a reference to Fahrenheit 451, one of six dystopian novels included in the scavenger hunt.

“I’m a big riesling fan,” said Richard Reyes-Gavilan, executive director of DC Public Library. “It’s incredible. You’ve got all these alcohols, but you can’t really taste any of them. That’s very dangerous.”

Indeed, the Mirror Factory Punch was a devious mixture, marked most notably with sour hints of lemon. According to event organizer Linnea Hegarty, this drink will be served alongside five other custom drinks at the scavenger hunt’s culminating event, UNCENSORED Underground, which will be held September 30. Each drink will pay homage to one of the six books chosen for the scavenger hunt.

“UNCENSORED is absolutely helping us redefine what a library means to its community,” Reyes-Gavilan said.

To shape this new image, Reyes-Gavilan enlisted the help of the local arts community, organizations and outlets such as Brightest Young Things and A Creative DC. WAMU’s Morning Edition, for example, will announce one clue toward finding the rogue books every weekday morning throughout September.

The scavenger hunt is in its second year of existence. Over the course of last year’s hunt, DC Public Library’s Twitter followers doubled, Hegarty said. She added that the preview event is usually held at the MLK Library, but it is closed for renovation until 2020. That didn’t stop the usual suspects from attending.

“A lot of [attendees] are board members of the library foundation and the library and some of the library staff,” Hegarty said. “But more importantly, we have a lot of the partners who are helping us with the scavenger hunt.”

These partners have enabled the DC Public Library to give out an assortment of prizes. Potential prizes will include tickets for two to Columbia Room, an expedited entry pass to the Game of Thrones pop-up bar in Shaw, and a weekend night at The LINE Hotel and a dinner for two at Brothers and Sisters, the hotel restaurant.

On a small table at the entrance to Wednesday’s cocktail party, unique covers adorned a stash of the books that will make up the scavenger hunt. Their covers screamed the books’ underlying messages: “A book is a loaded gun. Burn it,” declared Fahrenheit 451; “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum,” urged The Handmaid’s Tale.

The books’ spines each held a piece needed to complete the scavenger hunt’s final puzzle: an ominous, ever-watching eye. There were plenty of the books to go around, and before leaving, I was sure to snag a copy…or two.

UNCENSORED Underground takes place on September 30. For more information, visit here.

Joel Goldberg

Joel Goldberg is a proud Philadelphia area native, and has lived in DC off and on since starting college at George Washington University in 2008. In addition to reporting for outlets such as NPR and National Geographic Magazine, he has dabbled in literary and science fiction. He has performed readings at fellow On Tap writer Courtney Sexton's The Inner Loop, a literary series in DC. His work seeks to emphasize the human element of storytelling by examining people's behaviors, personalities, experiences and beliefs. Personally, he believes that his love for dogs and neglected 90s rock is unmatched.