The Solidarity Book Project, conceived by art professor Sonya Clark ’89 for the College Bicentennial, invited members of the Amherst community (and beyond) to combine self-crafted art with acts of reflection, via the iconic symbol of solidarity—a fist raised in protest and support.

A woman in an orange shirt surrounded by books To alter one’s chosen book, a process of folding and cutting, is slow business, up to eight hours’ worth of effort. Clark helped many groups on campus.

“The project might take as long as it would take you to read the book,” Clark says. “And then how long does it take for that book to get in you and change you? Is it immediate, or is it slower than that? And then there’s also solidarity work itself, which is slow and intentional.”

—Sonya Clark ’89

A book with a fist carved into its outer spine Clark—Amherst’s Winifred L. Arms Professor in the Arts and Humanities and professor of art and the history of art—herself sculpted many books, including the 2019 Bancroft Prize–winning Our Beloved Kin: A New History of King Philip’s War, by Lisa Brooks, the Henry S. Poler ’59 Presidential Teaching Professor of English and American Studies. Brooks’ heritage is Abenaki and Polish, and her book, she says, “reframes the historical landscape of ‘the first Indian War,’ more widely known as King Philip’s War (1675–78).”

 


A book with a fist carved into its outer spine Amir Hall ’17 sculpted A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara. “Perhaps my favorite moment is when Willem notices Jude’s lacings are untied before Jude does, and bends to tie them, because Jude, whose mobility is limited by a severe spinal injury, isn’t able to do so himself,” Hall says. “It was amazing to see men capable of caring for each other outside of romantic relationships.” For Hall, that moment “feels like what solidarity is—this all-encompassing awareness of and care for another’s safety and ability; a filling of another’s gaps.”

 


A book with a fist carved into its outer spine Tyra Redwood ’25 chose to sculpt Mark Oshiro’s 2018 YA debut novel, Anger Is a Gift, set in Oakland, Calif. It’s about a Black teen and his friends—other teens of color, diverse in gender and sexuality—who work together to protest acts of systemic violence in their community. As one character’s mother says, invoking the novel’s title, “Anger is a gift. Remember that. You gotta grasp on to it, hold it tight and use it as ammunition. You use that anger to get things done instead of just stewing in it.”

Three bookshelves filled with books

Some of the solidarity fists were fabricated in group settings on campus, while others were made solo. The idea was to pick a book that honored an idea of solidarity. “When our work comes together, our voices come together,” Clark says. “What does it mean to have a multivocal solidarity? What does it mean to have everybody’s book? They all have fists, but each is by a different hand who made it. There’s power in that, too.”


A book with a fist carved into its outer spine Claire Macero ’25 sculpted The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot. It tells the true story of the Black woman whose “HeLa” cells lived on after her death from cancer, and were pivotal in creating scientific breakthroughs from the polio vaccine to gene mapping to in vitro fertilization and more. It’s also a story of exploitation and marginalization: the Lacks family reaped none of the profits that science gained.

 


A book with a fist carved into its outer spine “I chose Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison, because of the way it made me think more critically about the intersection between socioeconomic freedom and race in the United States,” writes Luke Munch ’25. “Song of Solomon helped illuminate how others outside of my perspective struggle.”

A pair of hands folding the pages of a book

Every time someone submitted a personal reflection or sculpted a book, the College pledged funds, and now $100,000 has been committed to organizations that support Black and Indigenous communities. Recipients include national organizations such as the United Negro College Fund and regional ones like the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project. “As we are making and reflecting,” Clark says, “we are also giving.”


A book with a fist carved into its outer spine Emily Potter-Ndiaye, a Mead Art Museum curator, first read Angela Davis’ 1981 book Women, Race and Class when she was 19, in an intro class in women’s and gender studies. “It taught me how women with privilege contribute to other women’s oppression, and how Black women’s political imaginations for liberation have shaped progress in the U.S. for generations,” she says. “Reading it at that moment ignited in me a seeking of other ways of being a white woman in the world—toward solidarity and mutual liberation.”

 


A book with a fist carved into its outer spine Provost and Dean of the Faculty Catherine Epstein sculpted Khalil Gibran Muhammad’s The Condemnation of Blackness. Reading it, she saw the name Richmond Mayo-Smith, class of 1875, for whom an Amherst dorm is named. “While a pioneer in the field of statistics,” Epstein says of Mayo-Smith, “by today’s standard his work was profoundly racist and anti-immigrant.” For Epstein, Muhammed’s book “is a stark reminder of the College’s racist past” and the work that remains “to uncover challenging aspects” of our history.

 


A book with a fist carved into its outer spine “White people are only required to represent themselves, not an entire race,” writes Bernardine Evaristo, whose eighth book, the novel Girl, Woman, Other, won the 2019 Booker Prize and was sculpted by Rachel Hendrickson ’25.

A pair of hands folding the page of a comic book
A student works to sculpt a graphic novel. Eventually, the year-long Solidarity Book Project received sculpted books from Hawaii, Texas, Colorado, Florida, Rhode Island, Georgia, Canada, Hong Kong, Uganda, Ecuador and in between.

Clark is now exploring ways for other institutions to create their own Solidarity Book Projects. “The fist has been used over and over and over again as a symbol to talk about solidarity with subjugated and oppressed people,” she says. “There is a fight there.” And one of the advantages of working with a book is that it’s something familiar, she adds: “It’s a common object that has such capacity to hold so much of who we are—and to shape who we might be.”

A book with a fist carved into its outer spine Artist and geologist Julianne Mahler heard about the project and decided to participate: “I am a scientist in a world that is a bit afraid of science and does not think of women as scientists. I am Jewish in a world that is mostly not Jewish. And one of my children identifies as LGBTQ, with a partner who is gender-fluid, in a world that is a dangerous place for that community.” Mahler chose Anne Frank’s diary because, reading it, she “was able to personalize, and internalize, what it felt like to be hated for a circumstance of birth.”

 


A book with a fist carved into its outer spine Jacinta Smith ’25, an intern for the Solidarity Book Project, sculpted a copy of Edwidge Danticat’s Breath, Eyes, Memory, which is set in Haiti and New York. “They are the people of creation,” writes Danticat. “Their maker … gives them the sky to carry because they are so strong. These people do not know who they are, but if you see a lot of trouble in your life, it is because you were chosen to carry part of the sky on your head.”

 

 


A book with a fist carved into its outer spine “When you learn, teach. When you get, give.” So says a character in Maya Angelou’s landmark memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, one of the books on display in Frost. It was sculpted by Priscilla Lee ’25.

A circular bookcase filled with books in the Frost library

The sculpted books arrived in Frost Library in the fall. The semicircular shelf display was built by Amherst carpenter Michael Chesworth. On the perimeter, the fists rise together in solidarity. In the interior, you can see the book covers and spines. There are a total of 272 books in the display, such as Sara Ahmed’s Living a Feminist Life, sculpted by Yael Rice, assistant professor of art and the history of art and of Asian languages and civilizations, and Sonia Sotomayor’s My Beloved World, sculpted by Felix Wu ’21.


Photographs by Maria Stenzel and Jianing Li