The Handmaid’s Tale’s Margaret Atwood helps raise money for Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures with online Pittsburgh appearance | Literary Arts | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

The Handmaid’s Tale’s Margaret Atwood helps raise money for Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures with online Pittsburgh appearance

click to enlarge Margaret Atwood - PHOTO: LUIS MORA
Photo: Luis Mora
Margaret Atwood
When asked if she finds books to be a respite from the world’s darker impulses, Margaret Atwood agrees that’s possible.

But she notes that books are not always a salve for the ailments that plague us. “There is no guarantee just because something is written down that it’s good for you,” Atwood says. “Mein Kampf was a book. There are words in it.

“It’s a hopeful thought, but for every good thing that humans do, there’s a balancing bad thing that has its roots in the same technology or procedure, unfortunately for us.”


Atwood will participate in a virtual conversation with novelist Esi Edugyan on Mon., Nov. 9 as a fundraiser for Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures.

Atwood’s new collection, Dearly: New Poems (Ecco), is her 75th book since first publishing The Circle Game, a poetry collection, in 1964. The Canadian native has produced short fiction, children’s books, and graphic novels. She’s won numerous literary awards, including two Man Booker Prizes for The Blind Assassin in 2000 and The Testaments in 2019.

But Atwood is perhaps best known for The Handmaid’s Tale, the novel that was made into the Emmy Award-winning series on the streaming service Hulu. The story about a totalitarian, theocratic regime that takes over the United States and subjugates women in a patriarchal society has become linked to infringements on women’s rights. At the recent confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, women wore the characteristic Handmaid’s Tale red cloaks and white bonnets in protest of the conservative jurist.

According to Atwood, the use of The Handmaid’s Tale cloaks started in Texas, where “you had all these men in dark suits, all men, signing into legislation laws about women,” she says. “The women in Texas who were going to sit in the  legislature ordered the outfits online, not specifically Handmaid’s Tale outfits because they didn’t exist yet. They ordered what they thought were going to be red cloaks, but when they arrived, they turned out to be pink, which is another idea. So, they sewed their first outfits as a protest, and it’s spread all over the world.”


Here are more highlights from Pittsburgh City Paper’s interview with Atwood.

On becoming a writer:
I started considering being a writer when I was 16, not knowing any better. There’s a reason why parents bite their tongue and say, “I’d rather you were a doctor.” It’s a risky thing to do. At that time, in the ’50s in Canada, there were very few people seen as professional writers. … It wasn’t an intelligent career choice. In fact, it wasn’t a career choice at all because anyone who made that decision — you can count them on the fingers of one hand — knew they had to have another job to pay the rent. Why does one do it? I have no idea.

Do you feel compelled to write? Is it something you need to do?
You can always stop yourself. [Laughs] It’s not like demonic possession, although some people complain it is. [Samuel Taylor] Coleridge writing the Kubla Khan apparently was high on something and darn it whoever interrupted him. We’d really like to know the rest, but it’s pretty good as it is. He made a deep impression on me when I was in the third year of high school because my teacher, Florence Nedley, had long white hair. She used to recite Kubla Khan with her eyes closed, whirling around in a circle. Very impressive.

Do you agree that we are being overwhelmed to the point of sensory overload by Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of social media?
It’s your choice. You can turn it off.

Can a good book anchor you in ways social media can’t?
It does, but you can turn it off too because it’s got these things called covers. All you have to do is close them. So, when somebody says, “I hated your book,” you didn’t have to read it. Nobody made you [read it]. We’re not there yet. We’re not in that kind of totalitarianism yet.


Do you find solace and comfort in a good book?
Oh yes. You can hop into the pages and be somewhere else, and that is one of the reasons despite everyone saying it’s the end of reading, etcetera etecetera, babble babble, look at the number of books that are published every year, and look at the number of people that read them.

What are your feelings about the forthcoming U.S. presidential election?
I’m hopeful, but I have to say it’s been an extremely peculiar year, it’s been an extremely peculiar two years, and it’s been an extremely peculiar four years. And it’s been a very weird election campaign. So what can I say that you don’t already know? You know all those things. But whatever the outcome, the American people as a whole are not easily lined up in rows and made to do the same thing. And that’s sometimes good and sometimes bad, but it does mean good luck herding cats, because one part of the United States is not the same as another part, and Americans are used to having their own ideas.

Margaret Atwood in conversation with Esi Edugyan

7 p.m. Mon., Nov. 9. (Virtual event, available online for one week.) $35 or 50, includes a limited edition of Dearly. Note: only one pass is required per household. pittsburghlectures.org/margaret-atwood

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