On September 17, 2012, Margaret Atwood was the keynote speaker at the Women of Influence Luncheon Series emceed by Erin Davis. I had the opportunity to attend the event and met our national literary icon, Margaret Atwood.
Atwood is widely recognized as a prolific Canadian writer and as one of this century’s utmost feminist, social activists and an advocate for developing writers. To date Atwood has written over 35 books, and has received 55 awards and 12 honorary degrees. Her books have been published around the world in more than 22 languages. Writing seems to be a lifelong calling for Margaret Atwood. Her novels show a feminism driven by her sense of social reform and realistic view of a disturbed society.
In her fiction Atwood uses her words and the voices of her characters to raise her values, stand on social issues and her views on the inequalities in the world. Atwood encourages literacy in this world and been named a mentor in the Rolex Arts Program. Atwood has strong opinions on issues. Her political involvement is pungent. Most recently she became a central figure in the fight to save the city’s library branches, challenging our city mayor, Rob Ford.
During her speech at the Women of Influence luncheon, Atwood presented a biographical account of her lived experiences and career path as a writer. In her earlier years as a child, she tells, she lived in the Canadian wilderness where her father was an entomologist, studying and observing insects. Her parents were set on the idea that she should be a biologist because not only was it in the family, but a female writer had always been looked down upon (and indeed she struggled to establish her place as a female writer and female professor). However, she was raised to be independent. She began recounting that at the age of six, she was writing poems, mortality plays, comic books, and an unfinished novel about an ant.
Atwood reveals to the audience that despite her clear aptitude for car mechanics, she always wanted to become a writer and she told her mother that. Her mother replied, “If you want to be a writer, you have to become a better speller.” Atwood, charmingly responded, “there are editors that take care of that” and still believes her continuing “inability to spell” contributes to job creation for others. Thus, at age sixteen, she began to author her own success. She realized that her calling was to become a writer. Thus, she was determined to become one, and nothing made her think otherwise or change careers. Although she experienced rejection along the way (and there were numerous), she encountered hope through mentors who believed in her skills and career goals. The Edible Woman, which was originally published in 1969, was her first novel, and is still a favourite. It was sold out during this event.
Atwood addressed young and emerging writers. She smiled at the audience and said, “There are four types of writers [she has a sense of humour, but there is truism to her jokes]:
- Good writers who make money,
- Bad writers who make money,
- Good writers who don’t make money, and
- Bad writers who don’t make money.
She exclaimed, “You don’t want to be the fourth one.” Then, she continued by saying that we live in competitive times, such as living on a roller coaster. “The rule of the roller coaster is ‘Just Hang On!’ and be hopeful.”
In fact, she was poor and spent one summer vacation delivering census forms in a run-down, poverty-stricken area of Quebec, and decided that she definitely didn’t want to be poor (This must have ignited her entrepreneurial spirit). Thus, she also spoke about her latest entrepreneurial invention, the “LongPen” robotic signing technology. The LongPen transmits an original signature via a secure network instantly.
Listening to Atwood’s talk was very enlightening, and meeting her in person was a great honour and delight. With grace and a humble demeanour, when I asked her for a picture, she said “I would love to have a picture with you!” At 73 she is still strong, determined, and firm in her beliefs. Margaret Atwood does not cut corners, she keeps pushing doors, keeps working hard, is determined to keep writing, and fights for what is right. This proves that in the arts, it is not the money that drives us. It is the passion that drives us to continue and create and fight for our calling. All of that has made Margaret Atwood the influential women that she is today, but most of all, the role model for women writers. She reminds us that our talents and full potential, in fact, lie in our inner power. Let’s be hopeful.
War is what happens when language fails ~Margaret Atwood