Okay–it’s been awhile since I’ve written. First, I had to get the blog to stay up–let us all thank my faithful friend and reader, Ken, who donated his time and money to enable me to do so. Then, it was finals, and then I headed off to Canada for ten days.
Today I wanted to share my impressions on seeing Margaret Atwood at the 11th Short Fiction Conference in Toronto. I’ll talk about meeting Margaret Atwood the next time I log in.
Last Friday, Margaret Atwood had a talk with a former colleague and fellow writer at the short fiction conference. He, unfortunately, did not prepare questions–I think he was counting on knowing her for 40 years and on the audience’s interest in knowing that both of them started writing at the same time. I’m sure that I, as well as any of the other Atwoodians in the room, could have led a better discussion. At one point, even Atwood cut him off to say that she thought they should be talking about short fiction–he got a bit defensive and said he was trying to cover her entire body of work, although three of his questions were designed to get her to talk about her depiction of Toronto in her novels.
There were some highlights, though. Apparently, she and I pronounce Penelopiad the same way (there are three ways). She mentioned Colin Firth’s shirtless scene in Pride and Prejudice (we watch the same movies!). She also said that a friend had observed of The Handmaid’s Tale that it was surprising that no one had noticed that it was a veiled depiction of Harvard’s English Department from when Atwood was in graduate school there. Also, apparently, there was supposed to be a voice-over in the film version of The Handmaid’s Tale–she said that Richardson was playing against the voice over (so we could see what she was repressing), which added a lot to the role, but that the director cut it.
One woman asked a common question about Atwood not calling her work science-fiction. She managed to make the question sound hostile. Atwood’s answer was perfect. First, she explained that in terms of lineage and her own definitions, there was no debate. She sees Wells’s work as science-fiction–aliens and technology we don’t have, etc. She sees Verne’s work as speculative fiction–technology and ideas that are in development currently. She clearly falls into the latter category. She also noted that she doesn’t see one as better than the other, but that she was only good at the latter. Then she mentioned fantasy and how she simply can’t write dragons, though she loves to read about them (and said Le Guin’s Earthsea dragons were the best). She then talked about her overall enjoyment with the whole sci-fi/fantasy/spec-fic spectrum and said that she was the person who knows which orc wears a watch in Lord of the Rings and wonders too long about how Gandolf gets his staff back.
Later than night, Atwood did a short reading at the Toronto Public Library–she opened with “Our Cat Goes to Heaven” from The Tent. She then read the first part of “The Headless Horseman” from Moral Disorder. Those aren’t necessarily the works I would have picked, but the audience found them endearing and very funny. Atwood kept laughing herself at “The Headless Horseman”–I think it was the laughter of remembering the moment, as she’s mentioned that that particular story is completely autobiographical.
More to come–but do check out my new column on Katharine Hepburn at www.matchflick.com