Canadian literary icon Margaret Atwood was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award on June 3 at the Canadian Booksellers Association’s Libris Awards. She explained in her acceptance speech why she thinks paper books will continue to flourish. The full text of her speech is here [PDF file]:
My own bookselling activities began in 1961, when, together with a friend, I hand–set my first poetry collection and printed it on a flatbed press. It had seven poems, and we didn’t have enough a’s, so we had to disassemble each poem before we could set the next one. The cover was printed from a lino–block, and the pages were rubber–cemented in—a mistake, as the rubber cement dried out shortly thereafter and the pages fell out. We made 200 copies of this book—wish I’d kept more of them, considering the increase in value—and went around to bookstores in Toronto, which were all indies then, except for Coles, which didn’t sell many Canadian books anyway. Some of the booksellers were kind enough to let us put these little books of mine on the magazine rack, where they sold for 50¢—we wrote the price on with a pencil. So that was my first bookselling adventure.
[Thanks to John Mansfield for the story.]
I don’t think she was being acknowledged for her two SF books, but for the other 27-or-so about middle-class women (quite a bit like Margaret Atwood herself) worrying about their personal relationships while they lived in downtown Toronto, or in a summer cottage near Orillia Ontario.
You’re right, there was a noticeable failure to mention Martians, rayguns or zombies in her speech. I can tell you are just as surprised as I am.
There’s a really infuriating set of assumptions packed into what you said there, Taral:
1) Atwood’s non-SF is all about her own life
2) Writing about one’s own life is easy, uninteresting, and trivial.
3) Atwood’s books are about personal relationships
4) Atwood’s books are about middle class women
5) Women’s lives and problems don’t matter.
It’s not true that her books are about middle class women, it’s not true that her books are barely fictionalised versions of her own life, it’s not true that they’re about personal relationships.
Atwood is a significant feminist writer who has written SF, fantasy, historical and mainstream novels that are wide ranging and interesting. If I had to boil them down to saying they’re about one thing then they are more than anything about the kind of choices it’s possible to make about how we live in the context in which we find ourselves. It’s her willingness to look at different contexts that brought her to SF despite her idiotic beliefs about talking squids.
She’s a thoughtful major writer recieving a career award, and there’s really no need for a patronising put down.