Introductions: Margaret Atwood
September 15, 2020
By Ruth Dickey, SAL Executive Director
We are here tonight to celebrate the paperback release of Margaret Atwood’s riveting, Booker Prize-winning book, The Testaments. As the book begins, we hear from Aunt Lydia, who is writing of the corruption and excesses of Gilead. Lydia writes to a hopeful future reader, “I’ll stash this screed in its hiding place, avoiding the surveillance cameras—I know where they are, having placed them myself. Despite such precautions, I’m aware of the risk I’m running: writing can be dangerous.” And indeed, The Testaments, the long-awaited sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, is a book about the dangerous.
This gripping dystopian world explores the dangers of fundamentalism, of sexism, of repression, of surveillance, and the corrupting nature of power and tyranny. It is a book about what happens when beliefs are taken to the extreme, a future imagined America with so many eerie echoes in our current moment that make it a disquieting and page-turning read.
Danger comes from power, and Margaret Atwood’s work spanning more than fifty books of fiction, poetry, and essays, is a testament to the power of writing—to bear witness, to lay bare, to enflame. Her works include Cat’s Eye; Alias Grace, which won the Giller Prize in Canada; The Blind Assassin, winner of the 2000 Booker Prize; Oryx and Crake; The Heart Goes Last; Hag-Seed; and The Handmaid’s Tale.
She is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Franz Kafka Prize, the PEN Center USA Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Los Angeles Times Innovator Award. The Guardian wrote of The Testaments, “To read this book is to feel the world turning, as the unforeseeable shifts of the last few years reveal the same old themes.” And indeed this is the greatest gift of Atwood’s fiction—that she foresees the dangers on so many dimensions, and hands them back to us, richly imagined: as provocation, as premonition, as warning.
Margaret Atwood gave an online talk with Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild, on September 9, 2020, as part of our SAL Presents series of special events; SAL Executive Director Ruth Dickey delivered this introduction.