June 24, 2015

Yale’s Rare Books Library acquires Chipotle cups



Chipotle joins some of history’s most important writings at Yale’s Rare Book Library. Image via Chipotle’s Cultivating Thought website.

Can cups be books? Can anything sold by Chipotle really be considered rare? The Rare Books Library at Yale University thinks the answer to both questions is yes, as it announces the acquisition of a full set of Chipotle’s Cultivating Thought series of cups and bags. You remember this series; Jonathan Safran Foer, in a Chipotle with nothing to read and so bored he “really just wanted to die of frustration,” created the series (which he now curates) of adorned paper cups “presenting the words and whimsy of thought-leaders, authors and comedians through unique, you’ll-only-find-them-here essays.” Some of the most acclaimed and popular writers in the world have participated; current participants include Amy Tan, Neil Gaiman, Aziz Ansari, Walter Isaacson, and Barbara Kingsolver.

According to a blog post from The Beineke Rare Book & Manuscript Library made a gift of a full set of cups and bags. The library believes this fits their mission well.

The Yale Collection of American Literature collects American Literature in all its formats and in all media, documenting the ways great American writers reach diverse and unusual audiences beyond standard book publishing. Our collection includes texts by well-known writers printed on bumper stickers, lapel pins, public transportation banners, matchbooks, hand bills, and other non-standard publication formats (for some examples, see Poetry Outside of Books). Chipotle’s gift of the Cultivating Thought Series continues and extends this collecting tradition in the Yale Collection of American Literature, insuring these works will remain available to readers and to scholars seeking to understand something of the relationship between literature and innovative marketing at a moment in history when reading and literary production are in tremendous upheaval.

Robinson Meyer at The Atlantic writes that while it seems like a joke, “it fits into a tradition of American writers trying to reach unusual audiences through unusual (if brief) work—and of libraries collecting their labor. It is probably the most pecuniarily rewarding effort yet to be collected by the library, however—the same collection also contains 1980s mail art.” Eater sees the benefits in Yale upping Chipotle’s literary cred. “So the next time some snob asks you to talk about your favorite book, scoff and tell them you’re into reading fast food packaging now.”


Julia Fleischaker is a former director of marketing and publicity at Melville House.