At­wood hon­ored with ‘Lit­er­ary Peace Prize’

Arab Times - - NEWS/FEATURES -

CINCIN­NATI, Sept 14, (AP): Mar­garet At­wood, whose sweep­ing body of work in­cludes “The Hand­maid’s Tale,” a depic­tion of a night­mar­ish to­tal­i­tar­ian fu­ture for the United States, is this year’s win­ner of a life­time achieve­ment award that cel­e­brates lit­er­a­ture’s power to foster peace, so­cial jus­tice and global un­der­stand­ing.

The Cana­dian writer and teacher has earned the Richard C. Hol­brooke Dis­tin­guished Achieve­ment Award, of­fi­cials of the Day­ton Lit­er­ary Peace Prize of­fi­cials an­nounced Mon­day. The award is named for the late US diplo­mat who bro­kered the 1995 Bos­nian peace ac­cords reached in the Ohio city.

At­wood - a pro­lific writer of po­etry, fic­tion, non­fic­tion, es­says, comic books and, as of late, tweets - in re­cent years has drawn a new round of ac­claim for her best­selling 1985 novel of a dystopian fu­ture in which women are sub­ju­gated af­ter an over­throw of the US gov­ern­ment.

Some read­ers of “The Hand­maid’s Tale” saw in the lead­ers of au­thor­i­tar­ian Gilead sim­i­lar­i­ties to the rise of Repub­li­can Don­ald Trump to pres­i­dent in the elec­tion of 2016. The tele­vi­sion adap­ta­tion on Hulu star­ring Elis­a­beth Moss gen­er­ated yet more com­men­tary, and women dressed in red cloaks and white bon­nets, as the hand­maids were de­picted in the book and TV se­ries, have shown up at po­lit­i­cal demon­stra­tions.

“You’re not there yet, or else you wouldn’t be talk­ing to me,” At­wood said to a male As­so­ci­ated Press re­porter, laugh­ing over the phone. “You’d prob­a­bly be in an iso­la­tion prison or some­thing or dead. ... How dare you talk to a fe­male per­son over the phone and write about them?

“... And if I were a bet­ting per­son, which nat­u­rally I kind of am, I would bet on Amer­i­can orner­i­ness and re­fusal to line up,” she added. “So I don’t think you’re go­ing to get peo­ple march­ing in lock­step eas­ily. ... You could get it, but it would be hard.”


At­wood also thinks peo­ple are “alert to the dan­gers” of un­der­min­ing the US con­sti­tu­tion. “That is what stands be­tween you and an ab­so­lutist dic­ta­tor­ship,” she said.

Sharon Rab, the founder and chair­woman of the Day­ton Lit­er­ary Peace Prize Foun­da­tion, praised At­wood for pop­u­lar suc­cess with writ­ing that also ed­u­cates peo­ple about press­ing so­cial jus­tice and en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues.

“Mar­garet At­wood con­tin­ues to re­mind us that ‘It can’t hap­pen here’ can­not be de­pended upon; any­thing can hap­pen any­where given the right cir­cum­stances, and right now, with scorn for demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions on the rise, her lessons are more vi­tal than ever,” Rab told The AP by email. While not all books are con­ducive to peace and un­der­stand­ing, At­wood said, fic­tion can help peo­ple “learn what it is to be a per­son dif­fer­ent from our­selves, so that might cause you to have more em­pa­thy with peo­ple who aren’t ex­actly like you.”

The Toronto res­i­dent’s long­time part­ner, nov­el­ist Graeme Gib­son, died at age 85 a year ago this month. At­wood, 80, said she tried to keep her­self busily dis­tracted af­ter the loss, do­ing book pro­mo­tions and other travel un­til the pan­demic grounded her in March. She has since signed thou­sands of in­serts and book­plates to sup­port in­de­pen­dent book­sell­ers, and has given talks via Zoom.

She con­sid­ers her­self “a re­al­ist, but on the op­ti­mistic side, be­cause if you’re pes­simistic, you don’t do any­thing. ... I think it’s peo­ple who are re­al­is­tic but in­clined to­wards op­ti­mism who ac­tu­ally try to change di­rec­tion.”

At­wood pub­lished her first book of po­etry, “Dou­ble Perse­phone,” in 1961, and her other books have in­cluded “Cat’s Eye” (1988), “Alias Grace” (1996), “The Blind As­sas­sin” (2000), and “The Mad­dAd­dam Tril­ogy” (2003-2013). “The Tes­ta­ments,” her 2019 se­quel to “The Hand­maid’s Tale,” quickly joined her best­sellers.


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