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How Instagram has become home to classic feminist literature

The New York Public Library is propelling classic literature to the forefront of technology with a series of Insta Novels — stories on Instagram intended to reach to a larger audience, especially young readers.

“The Yellow Wallpaper,” the second installment of Insta Novels from the New York Public Library. Photo: Mother in New York

Its installment this week brought Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s feminist short story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” from 1892, in a collaboration with Mother New York, a creative agency. The work, which tells of a woman and her descent into madness through her own journal entries, and addresses gender relations, was viewed by 33,441 people in the first 24 hours.

“‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ was an exciting option for the design team,” Carrie Welch, the library’s chief of external relations, said by email. “It’s also a renowned piece of short fiction that touches on timely topics and is perhaps under the radar for many people, so it was an opportunity for the library to share a little-known but acclaimed work.”

With a swish of a thumb, readers can flip through the digitized book, now shelved in the New York Public Library account’s Instagram story highlights. It begins with a colorful cover design, and readers can swipe through the story written in type reminiscent of the original typeface.

The highlights section of Instagram, where users can place expired stories (Instagram stories disappear after 24 hours), acts as a makeshift bookshelf, accessible for users to flip through at anytime.

“We’re eliminating a barrier and bringing reading directly to them in an app that they’re already using,” Ms. Welch said.

The library’s first Insta Novel, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” by Lewis Carroll, came out in two installments in August, and drew more than 93,000 followers. The project has also drawn attention to the library’s vast trove of e-books: After the launch, downloads of the e-reader — SimplyE — increased by nearly 70 percent, the library said.

The next installment will be Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis,” which doesn’t yet have a release date.


Cover photo: “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the second installment of Insta Novels from the New York Public Library. Photo: Mother in New York

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