I'm going to be completely honest here. It's embarrassing but I didn't really know who Margaret Atwood was before Monday. I don't consider myself "well-read" but I'm trying to get to a point where I do. I was slightly aware of her status as an iconic female author so I knew that hearing her deliver the Kenneth A. Spencer Memorial Lecture at KU was a good opportunity for me. So I made the trek out to Lawrence and I wasn't disappointed.
Margaret Atwood is an honest speaker. She was thoughtful and didn't pull any punches. She talked about the state of our world very bluntly, starting with where we came from and what we are.
She ended with her answer to where we are going, urging us to embrace the humanities because they are "what make us human" and warning us to avoid the steadily growing "zombie" movement that appears to be doing the opposite. It was hopeful in a weird way and reassuring to hear that maybe I'm on the right track. It helped that in her explanation of the impermanence of ideas, she was able to insert some dancing Super Bowl sharks.
My favorite part of the conversation were the audience questions and her super witty responses that always went much deeper than the original queries. Hear are a few I jotted down (largely paraphrased):
• In response to "what made you get into writing?" she referred to the famous line "They laughed when I sat down at the piano, but when I started playing..." which was a great way to say she didn't know what she was doing when she started. She finished with "I will explore almost anything to see how it works." I guess writing is what stuck.
• In response to "How do you address people who take your book too seriously?" she said "It's only a book. Just take the cover and close it." She writes books, not as a gloomy prediction of what's to come, but more as a map on how to avoid it. Nothing is inevitable and the future is not set in stone.
• My favorite line of the night was in response to "How did you get into activism?". She said she hates activism! It's more of a chore than anything else. But there are people who can't say what they want to say because they have jobs. Due to her time in the Girl Scouts she feels compelled to go a bit further than most. So she says what she wants for those who can't because "You can't get fired if you don't have a job!".
After the talk I guess I still don't know her that well but I can say that I'm a new fan. And I will be reading The Handmaid's Tale very soon.