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This Northeastern professor is an expert on ‘Maus.’ She’s not surprised it got banned.

People in this story, February 2022

Very few people know, or appreciate, Art Spiegelman’s “Maus” like Hillary Chute does. “I didn’t think, ever, that I would specialize in comics for a scholarly career until I read ‘Maus,’” says Chute, a Distinguished Professor of English and Art & Design at Northeastern University who’s written numerous books on the comics art form—and edited one, due in November, called “Maus Now,” analyzing the far-reaching impacts of Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning, seminal work.

So when news broke of a school board in Tennessee banning the Holocaust graphic novel from its curriculum last week, citing language and its depiction of a naked woman (actually drawn as a mouse), she was trouble—but not especially shocked. “I was surprised because it’s so ridiculous and the reasons given were so specious,” she says, “but in some ways I wasn’t surprised, because ‘Maus’ has always been a lightning rod. “I think part of the reason it’s always been a lightning rod, and part of the reason it was targeted [in Tennessee], is because its central suggestion is that the past isn’t past,” Chute explains, citing the ways “moments from the 1940s and moments from the 1970s and ’80s collide” in the book—like the famous scene in which Spiegelman shows himself drawing in his Soho studio on top of a pile of dead bodies from a death camp in Poland. 

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