Saturday, September 15, 2012

Margaret Atwood

I surprised myself at Margaret Atwood's Q&A when I asked her if she's read "Fifty Shades of Grey." Her response: "I don't have to." She explained that books of this type come around periodically. "This is what we call a "shop and f&ck" book. Men also enjoy them, but have trouble with the first part."

Atwood's work is gloomy, but she's funny.

I ended up with an invitation to the dinner that preceded her reading at Butler, and I buzzed with adrenalin. When Atwood, a petite woman in her mid-seventies, entered the room of students and professors, most of us kept at a polite distance. Literary royalty. At a certain point I took a deep breath, sat down in a space next to her that had just been vacated, and found myself making small talk.

With Margaret Atwood.

I asked her if her busy touring schedule interfered with her writing, and she said, "When I travel I'm away from things in my life that interfere with writing." She takes advantage of time spent on planes and in hotel rooms to write, and makes a point of letting her "people" know she doesn't know how to answer her cellphone. (She must be playing with them. Her books have cautionary tales about the dangers of technology, but she doesn't strike me as someone intimidated by it. In fact, she's an active tweeter.) I told her how surprised I was to find that on the audiobook of "The Year of the Flood," the hymns are performed -- with instrumental accompaniment. She told me her agent's partner, Orville, plays with a band, and when he read the manuscript, he took it upon himself to set her lyrics to music. On the recording he and his band performed these pieces.

After the dinner, Atwood spoke at Clowes Hall, and by the way, if you think people aren't reading anymore, you should have seen the crowd. Atwood spoke on the question of whether or not we can we write the future. Her first point: The future doesn't exist, so it's up for grabs. No one can fact check it! She gave us examples of the wild and disparate ways the future has been imagined, from Hollywood's "Men in Black," which she watched on the plane, to Potatomancy, a practice which uses spuds as divining objects. Atwood deadpanned that there could be cults founded by Frito-Lay.

Atwood spoke about how we humans are hard-wired for storytelling, and that language is structured to delineate time.

Both at her talk and at her Q&A, Atwood spoke about her environmental concerns. These issues are engine that drives Atwood's MaddAdam Trilogy. ("Oryx and Crake" and "The Year of the Flood" are the first two installments.) No surprise, Atwood's done her homework. Twice she mentioned that during the Vietnam War we could have easily decimated our planet. The U.S. shipped vast quantities of Agent Orange across the ocean, and if any of those ships had spilled, the blue-green algae, which produce a large percent of our oxygen, would have been destroyed.

But despite these Cassandra-like stories, Atwood's managed to hold on to her sense of humor. And unlike many of the writers who came to Butler last semester, she didn't keep her fans at arm's length-- she was accessible and forthcoming. When she obliged and posed with us for pictures, she exuded a quality I can best describe as regal. She glowed.

Atwood's work is rife with doomsday warnings, but in her lecture she also spoke of hope. She said her wish for us to have hope, and when someone asked her what she wishes we hope for, she answered, "More hope."

No comments:

Post a Comment