[Note: I didn’t take notes at the reading—though I did during the Q&A—because I didn’t want to miss anything, so that is why my discussion of her reading isn’t going to have very much detail. For slightly more detail, check out this article (which reflects my sentiments exactly) from the Cornell Sun about her reading.]
I waited and waited, and finally March 30th rolled around. I got to the auditorium nice and early, snagging myself a seat in the third row (nice and close, but not so close I have to crane my neck). Atwood was introduced by J. Robert Lennon, an author and Creative Writing professor here who wrote a fantastic article last fall about Atwood for The Walrus. And then…Atwood came out onto the stage. I literally held my breath. I was in complete disbelief that she was actually standing there, just a few yards from where I was sitting. I thought I was going to pass out. But I didn’t. And then she started talking, and started reading. She read a few absolutely hysterical stories from The Tent (including one depicting her cat’s discussion with God, and another called “Three Novels I Won’t Be Writing Soon,” such as “Worm Zero,” in which all of the worms in the world die), a couple non-humorous but still amazing poems, and an excerpt from The Year of the Flood. She then took a few questions, which she answered wittily and thoroughly, going so far as to ask one girl what more she would like to know.
Basically, I left Atwood’s talk thinking that if it was even possible for me to adore her even more, I now did.
The following morning, I woke up bright and early for a student Q&A, and this time, I was literally 3 feet away from her. It took a lot of self-restraint to keep myself from jumping up and hugging her.
I did take notes during the Q&A, so here are some of the questions and her (paraphrased, sorry) responses. Sorry these are kind of random/disorganized. She covered a lot in her responses, and I thought you guys might want to read some of them.
- Someone asked her what her favorite part of The Handmaid’s Tale was, but she said that she doesn’t like reading her own work because she knows what will happen. Instead, she discussed the origins of the novel: she wrote it in Poland, Czechoslovakia, where no one could talk about anything anywhere for fear of being overheard, and Alabama, in the hometown of the KKK. She also explained that if she wrote the novel now, it would be much different because of all of the new technology we have.
- Why are science fiction covers so embarrassing? The creators of the covers think that you need to be able to classify the book, even though these books often transcend the genre.
- I asked a question about why there are so many YA dystopian novels being written these days, and she said that it’s because kids are concerned about the future. In the 19th century, there were tons of utopian novels because they allowed people to disappear into a better world, but now we read these dystopias because we like seeing that, as bad as our lives are, “at least we’re not in The Road.”
- Writing tips:
- Write every day, no matter how bad it is – there aren’t any shortcuts
- If you’re stuck when writing, change the voice (1st to 3rd, etc). She explained that Alias Grace began in 3rd person, but then she started over in a different voice because she realized that the narrator knew too much.
- Take into consideration the relationship between the speaker and their audience. For example, Jimmy in Oryx & Crake doesn’t keep a journal because there isn’t anyone to read it!
- The stumbling block to dystopia is that the writer can try to explain too much, and then we get bogged down.
Sorry if this post was long and rambly. Seeing Margaret Atwood was one of those things I thought would never actually happen, and, honestly, I think I’m still kind of in denial that I really did meet her!