Mar­garet At­wood re­veals more about why she’s writ­ing a se­quel to ‘The Hand­maid’s Tale’

The Jerusalem Post - - ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT - • By ASH­LEY LEE

LOS AN­GE­LES – Mar­garet At­wood is writ­ing a se­quel to The Hand­maid’s Tale, her pre­scient 1985 novel later adapted for a hit se­ries on Hulu. An­nounced last week and ex­pected in Septem­ber 2019, The Tes­ta­ments is set 15 years af­ter the pro­tag­o­nist’s fi­nal scene in the orig­i­nal book and is nar­rated by three fe­male char­ac­ters.

An in­formed ex­pert on dystopian, pa­tri­ar­chal so­ci­eties, the pro­lific Cana­dian au­thor of Alias Grace, Oryx and Crake and the Mad­dAd­dam tril­ogy was also hon­ored last week by lead­ing women’s rights or­ga­ni­za­tion Equal­ity Now. The Make Equal­ity Re­al­ity gala will also laud The Hate U Give ac­tress Amandla Sten­berg and be­hav­ioral ge­neti­cist Sue Smal­ley at the Bev­erly Hilton ho­tel.

At­wood, 79, spoke with the Los An­ge­les Times about pen­ning a Hand­maid’s Tale se­quel and writ­ing work that in­spires read­ers to take ac­tion.

Con­grat­u­la­tions on be­ing hon­ored by Equal­ity Now.

Yes, I’m be­ing hon­ored; but re­ally, I’m help­ing them to raise money. They fight for women’s rights, and that’s the kind of fem­i­nist I am. They’re based on the Uni­ver­sal Dec­la­ra­tion of Hu­man Rights, which ev­ery­one should go back and read be­cause they’ve for­got­ten about it. They are real ac­tivists; that’s what they do ev­ery day. I’m not a real ac­tivist. The dif­fer­ence be­tween them and me is that I’m just a per­son who doesn’t have a job, so peo­ple like me have the priv­i­lege of get­ting to mouth off be­cause no­body can fire them.

“The Hand­maid’s Tale” has en­joyed a resur­gence in pop­u­lar­ity, from the Hulu se­ries adap­ta­tion to the use of its sig­na­ture garb in leg­isla­tive demon­stra­tions. Why write a se­quel?

That’s easy to an­swer. Num­ber one, it’s fun. But that’s a very friv­o­lous an­swer. Num­ber two, I’ve been asked these ques­tions by read­ers for 35 years. “Oh, come on, Mar­garet!” So it’s time to ad­dress some of the re­quests. It’s not a con­tin­u­a­tion that starts five min­utes af­ter the book ends and then I tell you what hap­pens next. It takes place 15 years af­ter the book ends. [I’ve had the idea] over the past five years or so. I’m al­most fin­ished with it.

Your Wed­nes­day an­nounce­ment said it’s in­spired by “the world we’ve been liv­ing in.” What did you mean?

The news has be­come so much more ex­treme. What about these peo­ple in Ohio that are say­ing mother­hood should be manda­tory? They haven’t done it yet, they’re talk­ing about it. But when peo­ple talk about things like that, be­ing the age I am, I’m re­mem­ber­ing that Hitler said it all in Mein Kampf and then he did it. If they had the power, they would do it. These ideas have been tried be­fore.

What I’m fix­ated on now, of course, like all Cana­di­ans, is we’ve got our faces jammed up against the plate­glass win­dow, look­ing into your coun­try. What kind of shenani­gans will they be up to next? What’s gonna hap­pen next? I’ve never seen any­thing like it, and nei­ther has any­body else. On one hand, it’s just rivet­ing, and on the other hand, it’s quite ap­palling.

What’s the key to any suc­cess­ful se­quel, even if it’s more than 30 years af­ter a pre­vi­ous in­stall­ment?

Who knows? Let’s see if it does work. The jury is not in. But I did the Mad­dAd­dam tril­ogy, so I think this is true for any world in­ven­tion: You have to be con­sis­tent with your own ax­ioms.

I’m not go­ing to say more [about The Tes­ta­ments]. You can’t pry it out of me. I can tell you that [my pub­lish­ers] do have a cover, and they will be re­leas­ing it later. And they are go­ing to re­lease a news­let­ter that peo­ple can sub­scribe to. It’ll prob­a­bly be things like, “Got up this morn­ing, had some cof­fee, did some copy­edit­ing .... ” Stuff you re­ally need to know. That’s their idea, that it’s sort of like a di­ary. “Now it’s at the printer, and I got it back, and there were 115 ty­po­graph­i­cal er­rors!” [Laughs] Well, that is not go­ing to hap­pen.

What women’s rights ini­tia­tives have ex­cited you lately?

Just yes­ter­day, I was hav­ing a meet­ing about a new de­vel­op­ment un­der the um­brella of the Cana­dian Women’s Foun­da­tion called AfterMeToo. It will be a web-based ini­tia­tive avail­able to all that will pro­vide peo­ple with the things they want and need the most: safe re­port­ing, im­me­di­ate coun­sel­ing and third-party in­ves­ti­ga­tion. As in, not from within the com­pany or ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tion, be­cause when it comes from within, is the main goal to fix our PR or to help the per­son? As we know, they tend to do what’s best for them. It’s been su­per trou­bling to watch over the years.

This will help peo­ple make in­formed de­ci­sions, pre­sent­ing them with their op­tions and chances of suc­cess and steps you need to take. If I do this, what will hap­pen? What sorts of re­sources can I de­pend on? If I’m go­ing to be a wit­ness in a court case, do I get to have a lawyer? The knowl­edge of this is al­most nonex­is­tent among the kinds of peo­ple who are the most vul­ner­a­ble.

What ad­vice do you have for au­thors align­ing their fic­tion with so­cial jus­tice is­sues?

Peo­ple don’t like be­ing preached to when they’re read­ing fic­tion, and avoid­ing that is man­u­script-spe­cific. And with any man­u­script, some peo­ple are go­ing to like it, some peo­ple are go­ing to hate it and some peo­ple are go­ing to be in­dif­fer­ent. You have a prob­lem if ev­ery­body hates it, and you prob­a­bly have a prob­lem if ev­ery­body likes it.

So it’s then, what is good writ­ing? The “art for art’s sake” peo­ple will have a dif­fer­ent an­swer than the Vic­to­rian moral­ists. Look at the trial of Madame Bo­vary, Sal­man Rushdie’s fatwa. Peo­ple for­get these things, and they for­get that Hitler and Stalin and the In­qui­si­tion were big book burn­ers. It’s al­ways gonna be this tug of war be­tween a free­dom of ex­pres­sion and “in the in­ter­est of the pub­lic good, we’re not only gonna burn your book but also fry you at the stake.” So how much of a lynch mob do you want to in­spire?

We’re not there yet. We’re not see­ing big piles of books be­ing burnt in the streets. Re­mem­ber, you can have to­tal­i­tar­i­anisms on the Left as much as you can on the Right. It’s not a ques­tion of, this side is good, this side is bad; it’s when things get to an ex­treme, they look much the same.

You’re ac­tive on Twit­ter, which can be over­whelm­ing with our cur­rent news cy­cle as well as reader ques­tions. How do you man­age?

I can’t read ev­ery­thing. It’s not hu­manly pos­si­ble. I have rules, but like ev­ery­body else, I don’t nec­es­sar­ily obey them. “Now I’m go­ing to go to bed” isn’t al­ways a self-ad­mon­ish­ment to which I liveth. I would love to have a sched­ule that I ac­tu­ally paid any at­ten­tion to.

This in­ter­view has been con­densed and edited for clar­ity.

(Los An­ge­les Times/TNS)

(Sthanlee B. Mi­rador/Sipa USA/TNS)

MAR­GARET AT­WOOD at the 69th An­nual Emmy Awards held in Los An­ge­les in Septem­ber.

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