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Interview with Margaret Atwood

Aired January 29, 2010 - 16:49:00   ET


BECKY ANDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When writer Margaret Atwood looks to the future, it seems she rarely likes what she sees. Take her best known work, "The Hand Maid's Tale." It portrays an America taken over by a theocracy. In this feminist dystopia, women are valued only as birthing agents.

Or, her most react work, "The Year of the Flood," where an unnamed pandemic has wiped out most of the world's population, allowing what she characterizes as the most corrupt aspects of a capitalist society to flourish.

All of which makes Atwood an unlikely guest at the high flying World Economic Forum in Davos, where she has accepted an award for using her art to change the state of the world. She does this by writing about a world we'd rather avoid.

Margaret Atwood is our Connector of the Day.

(on camera): And she's won some of the most celebrated awards in fiction, but how on earth did Margaret Atwood fare with your questions?

Well, I spoke to her a little earlier on and I began by asking her, as an author and activist, why in the world she was at the World Economic Forum in Davos?

This is what she told me.


MARGARET ATWOOD, AUTHOR: You know, there's a lot of people who find it very curious. They say what's a nice girl like me doing in a place like this, being a writer and all. But they -- they always incorporate creative people into this event. And I'm here because they give out three or four Crystal Awards every year. And one of them was very kindly given to me.

ANDERSON: Oh, Margaret, there are an awful lot of people in Davos with you with an awful lot of money.

Are you going to try and tap anybody up for anything?

ATWOOD: Oh, you mean have I hit them up for cash?


ATWOOD: Not yet. I wouldn't mind some nice donations to Bird Life International, but I -- I haven't gone about that yet. And I -- I think PEN International could really use the money to human rights for writers.

ANDERSON: Let's get on to some viewer questions, shall we?

Thomas Bateman writes and he says he's noticed that female authors, it seems, are less concerned with promoting feminist issues than they have in the past. And he asks you whether you think this demonstrates a decline in concern for women's issues?

ATWOOD: Writers of fiction have never been easy to corral within single issues because writers write about human beings in all their variety.

I -- I think there's also some sense, which came up today, that with all the spotlight on women, not unmerited, men have been somewhat neglected. And we have to start thinking about the fact, for instance, that they are outnumbered now by women in universities and women's energy power is coming up.

How is that going to affect men, their relationship to women, because you can't change one without changing the other?

I think that's going to be a big new subject for both men and women writers.

ANDERSON: Oh, so what you're saying is that the men want us to feel sorry for them, is that right, Margaret?

ATWOOD: I don't -- no. They -- they put up no hands. They were not clamoring and whining. I'm doing that for them.

ANDERSON: So what advice would you give, Susie Werherson asks, to an aspiring writer?

ATWOOD: What advice would I give to an aspiring writer?

Read and read and read and write and write and write. I do run a -- a blog online and my contributors have been putting in a lot of comments on my writers' block blog. They have a lot of good suggestions to offer. I mean you might -- you might try prayer.


ANDERSON: Renee comments: "You've written so many books," and asks, "Does the writing just well up out of you or is it a -- a hard journey every time you sit down and write?"

ATWOOD: No, not yet. So my -- my feeling about that is it's a -- it's a blank page every time. And it's just as blank every time you start a book. And you've got just as much panic and -- and anxiety as -- possibly more, because when I wrote my first book, nobody was looking.

ANDERSON: A question from me before we get onto our last viewer question, Margaret, anything exciting in the offing so far as novels are concerned?

ATWOOD: Well, I don't know about the exciting. Let's hope it will be exciting. Yes, I am working on something and let's -- let's -- let's suppose I finish it in time to have it published in two years.

ANDERSON: And, lastly, Sara Uckun asks, "Are any of your works autobiographical?"

ATWOOD: It's -- it's all gone through my head. So whether I've made it up or not, I suppose you could say it's got some connection with me. My -- my DNA is on every page.

ANDERSON: She really is a remarkable woman.

Margaret Atwood for you today.