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Your Bookish Guide to the Oscars

February 19, 2019

The Oscars air on Sunday, and Oscar season always makes me want to put up a display — it’s easy to highlight classic award-winning films and this year’s contenders. In the face of constant threats of campus closures due to bad weather, students may want to grab up a few movies to pass the time.

But in addition to the films, I’m always interested in the Best Adapted Screenplay category, which is often the book’s time to shine at film’s “big night.” While many will always claim that the film is never better than the book (I will argue that Jaws makes a much better film), films can take a different perspective on the source material and even introduce audiences to a book that can become a new favorite.

This year’s Best Adapted Screenplay category features a range of films adapted from novels and memoirs (and A Star Is Born, versions 1-3). Let’s take a dive into the “adapted from literature” nominees!


BlacKkKlansman, screenplay by Spike Lee, Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott

Book cover of Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth

Adapted from Black Klansman: A Memoir by Ron Stallworth.

In 1978, Ron Stallworth is the first and only black police officer in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He sees a classified ad in the newspaper for the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan with an address to write to for more information. Mr. Stallworth wrote a note expressing his interest in joining — but forgot to sign his undercover name, and instead signs his real name. He soon receives a phone call asking if he would like to join the KKK.

Working with a white colleague who posed as Ron, Mr. Stallworth and the police department were able to infiltrate the Klan in Colorado Springs and prevent a great deal of their activities and potential violence; he even spoke regularly on the phone to KKK Grand Wizard David Duke about Klan operations, who had no idea he was speaking to a black man.


Can You Ever Forgive Me?, screenplay by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty

Book cover of Can You Ever Forgive Me? by Lee IsraelAdapted from Can You Ever Forgive Me?: Memoirs of a Literary Forger by Lee Israel

Author Lee Israel had a successful career writing biographies of the notable, the rich, and the famous. But her success dried up and by 1990, she was broke and in need of a lifeline. She turned to forgery — typing up 300 fake letters in the names of literary superstars and selling them to collectors before she was caught.





If Beale Street Could Talk, screenplay by Barry Jenkins

Cover of If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin

Adapted from If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin

Tish and Lonny, a young black couple, fall in love, have a child, and intend to marry. But Lonny is falsely accused of a crime and is jailed.

Tish and her family work to find a lawyer and prove Lonny’s innocence as they consider their relationship and their place in the world.






The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Screenplay by Joel and Ethan Coen

Adapted from All Gold Canyon by Jack London and The Girl Who Got Rattled by Stewart Edward White

The Coen brothers adapted two chapters of their Western-anthology film from stories by London and White which were originally published in The Century Magazine in 1904 and 1901, respectively. All Gold Canyon, tells the story of a gold miner’s life in the American West, complete with both astounding beauty and violence.  The Girl Who Got Rattled recounts a trip West by a woman and her fiance, and the guides who help them survive.

See who wins on Sunday!

Emily Mross is the Business Librarian and Library Outreach Coordinator at Penn State Harrisburg Library.

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