Photo Courtesy Jess Atwood Gibson

Atwood: the antisocial writer

In Arts & Life /

By Eva Salinas

It’s officially Margaret Atwood season.

You can’t flip on the television these days without seeing her. Open up the paper and a drawn caricature of her stares back. She’s everywhere: at Chapters, at the Harbourfront Centre and more intrusively — at my bedside table.

This downpour of Atwood has been received warmly. Last week, Atwood did a public reading at the International Festival of Authors at the Harbourfront Centre to a full audience. Armed with my most deadly weapons — a pen, notebook and camera — I was ready to take aim at my target.

But a strange thing happened. I had already been to see Peter Carey, Ali Smith, and Douglas Glover at the festival. All well-known and highly praised authors. Something about Atwood’s reading was different.

As the audience waited for Atwood, PR people manned every door. Silence filled the room, as I waited for her to step out into the light — the woman with the dark, frizzy hair and delicate figure. The serious, antisocial writer.

A woman then emerged from the darkness. She smiled. That is where most of my notes end.

Atwood began talking and introducing her most recent novel, Oryx and Crake. She read from it and not a single word was lost. I caught myself half an hour later with my mouth open, eyes fixed, pencil down.

People then crowded her table to buy the book. I joined in at the end of the line. I was probably the least eligible in the bunch having only read The Handmaid’s Tail and Alias Grace.

I jotted down questions and tried to convince myself to ask them.

A guy in front of me let me go ahead. I watched him put his duffle bag down on the floor. Inside were at least two copies of everything Atwood wrote. He showed me her children’s books, her poetry, and some biographies, while cradling The Edible Woman, her first book, in his arms. He was getting the whole bag signed.

I breathed deeply and slid toward her. I was looking at her, and started rambling about how I’m also a writer. I tried to tell her that although her novels are classified as fiction, there’s a lot of truth in them. But it did not come out as planned. She looked supportive, with her eyebrows raised in sympathy, her pen poised an inch above the inside cover.

“Anyway, it was a really great reading,” I said.

We both let out a quiet sigh of relief, I was done. She asked my name, an unexpected act, and signed it “For Eva, Best Wishes, Margaret Atwood.”

I came home and shoved my history books gladly aside and began Oryx and Crake.

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