“So anything in nature is basically conservative and fish didn’t learn to walk because they wanted to walk, they learned to walk because the big puddles were drying up. So you don’t change usually unless you have to.”
Interview with Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood is an internationally celebrated Canadian writer who has risen to rock-star status after her 30-year-old book, The Handmaid’s Tale became a worldwide phenomenon as a streaming web series. The launch of The Testaments, her sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, was streamed to more than a thousand theatres around the world and the 79-year-old author set off on a grueling global tour. In this exclusive Green Interview, Atwood speaks with Silver Donald Cameron about some of what’s involved in creating dystopian novels, set in a world after the environmental collapse. In the totalitarian society of The Handmaid’s Tale, for instance, the world has become so toxic that only a handful of women are still fertile, so childbearing is the only role that her protagonist Offred is allowed to play. People who run afoul of the authorities are sent to “the colonies,” areas so toxic that people die there in two or three years. What’s it like to inhabit such a world even in your imagination? Does the experience leave the author hopeless or hopeful?
In this exclusive Green Interview, Atwood discusses some of the process behind the writing of her dystopian novels, which she describes as speculative fiction. Atwood also discusses a project she is involved in, the Future Library of Norway. She also tells us a bit about what gives her hope.
In this exclusive interview with Margaret Atwood we discuss:
Atwood says that speculative fiction is “a way of dealing with possibilities that are inherent in our society now, but which have not yet been fully enacted.” Books like Brave New World, and 1984 are other examples of speculative fiction. “But the kind that I can do is the kind that descends from Jules Vernes via George Orwell. So that kind and 1984 is famously an inversion of 1948, so he was writing essentially about what England would be like if it became like the Soviet Union at that time,” Atwood tells Cameron. Atwood says that writing speculative fiction involves looking around at what’s happening in the world: “I think reading the back pages of the newspapers or the small items in science magazines and then watching them become bigger, watching them gain traction.” She says you can take these ideas and develop them into the future.
The Future Library of Norway
Margaret Atwood has written a novel that won’t be read until 2113. She is the first author to have provided a manuscript for the Future Library of Norway project, something she refers to as “almost like a fairy tale.” The project, which is the brain child of Scottish artist Katie Paterson, involves creating an original library of 100 manuscripts from established authors to be printed 100 years into the future. “The forest of trees was planted in Norway that will grow for 100 years and in the 100th of those years all of the 100 manuscripts that have been contributed over those years, one a year by different authors around the world… those boxes will all be opened and enough paper will be made from the trees that have grown to print the anthology of the future library of Norway,” Atwood tells Cameron. “We hope the trees will grow, we hope there will be a Norway, we hope there will people, we hope the people will still know how to read, we hope the people will still be interested in reading and we hope that the boxes with the manuscripts in them will have survived.”
According to Atwood, hope is something “built in” to the human species: “So those of our ancestors who thought why bother getting up today because they’re won’t be any gazelles, those aren’t our ancestors. So it is hope that gets us up in the morning… it keeps us going through some pretty bleak times.” Atwood says she’s been “very perked up by the actions of young people, the under 20s or let us even say the under 25s.” She says this group has recently shown they “are just not going to put up with this inaction anymore and they’ve made a big splash.”