Friday, February 26, 2010

Margaret Atwood charms Davidson

I loved that the renowned Margaret Atwood brought her handbag along when she took the stage for Davidson College's annual Conarroe Lecture Thursday night. When it was time to speak, the 70-year-old Canadian author placed it beside the podium and proceeded to charm her audience.

Her subject: Influences in her writing that she never would have suspected were influences at the time. Her time studying at Harvard, for instance, served her well when she wrote "The Handmaid's Tale." She used the campus as the setting for the bestselling dystopian novel. Harvard folks were quite sniffy about it when the book was published, but they got over it, she says.

Other highlights:

  • Among those in Thursday's audience: Atwood's Harvard roommate in the 1950s, Charlotte's Mary Irving Campbell. Atwood attended a meeting of Campbell's book club before her Davidson talk. She told me before the meeting that she was really looking forward to the lemon squares.
  • Atwood has become adept at twittering. "Being on Twitter is like having fairies at the bottom of your garden," she said. You don't see them, you don't know where they are, but sometimes, when you ask questions, you get answers. "They also pass on quotes from me, some of which are not quotes from my work."
  • The question of a title for her latest book, "The Year of the Flood," was much debated by her American and British publishers. Her original title was "God's Gardeners," a reference to the eco-friendly religion that's central in the book. The American group nixed it, worrying that U.S. readers would be turned off, assuming it was "a religious book."
If you're hankering for more of Atwood's wit and wisdom check out her website. You'll find tips for overcoming writer's block and a most wonderful poem that describes why she no longer writes book blurbs.