I saw Margaret Atwood speak at Trinity University. She read from Alias Grace and the Handmaid’s Tale (they both have bonnets, she said), talked about the shows for both books, and gave some background on the real story behind Alias Grace. Then she answered some audience questions. Here’s a few highlights of the event.
Ms. Atwood opened with a “Canadian sex joke.”
“If you ask a Canadian girl if she’d like to have some sex, what does she say?”
“Only if you’re having some, too.”
She talked about the set of the Handmaid’s Tale t.v. series, including the fact that it had a bunch of art from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (all copies, of course.) The artwork, she said, was presumably looted for these wealthy old men.
She and the host also discussed the awards Ms. Atwood had won, including the Swedish Humor Award, which was a crystal bowl. Someone stole it! She seems fairly amused by that, though, and did mention she still had the Dashiell Hammett award she won–a man with a falcon’s head–on her desk.
Someone from the audience asked about any advice she had for would-be writers. She said: nobody can read your book until you’ve finished it. Put anything you like on the page, because if you turn out not to like it, the wastepaper basket is for you. Read with attention, and a lot of it. The focus, she said, needs to be on the crucial first five pages, and she teaches writing classes to that effect.
She spoke passionately about PEN International, her role in the organization, and its mission to protect the freedom of expression around the world.
Another question: What is the quintessential truth about life? She said: It’s not a road, it’s a wheel. It’s not going just one direction, to a happy place, but like the wheel of Lady Luck/ Fortuna, it turns. In its revolutions (and she referenced revolutions of systems here, too), people replace each other at the top or bottom.
There was a whole lot of standing in line, but it was worth it to see her and get some signed copies. (There were only 100 signing tickets, so people lined up for hours for them. The people at the front of the line got there at 10:30 in the morning for a 7 p.m. event!) The host was clearly a friend, and their discussion was warm, relaxed, and fun to listen to.