By Aubrey Byron, News Editor
Margaret Atwood came to St. Louis last Tuesday to accept the 2017 St. Louis Literary Award. Her visit came only two days after Hulu’s adaptation, “The Handmaid’s Tale” took home a stunning eight Emmy’s for its debut season. Atwood was invited on stage alongside the cast and crew as producers accepted the night’s biggest award, “Outstanding Drama Series.” Atwood’s 1985 novel of the same name is her most iconic work.
Atwood is a poet, novelist, and activist from Toronto, Canada. She has published over sixteen novels, including “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “The Heart Goes Last,” and “Alias Grace.” The latter is currently being adapted for the screen by the subscription streaming giant, Netflix.
Taking the stage at Sheldon Concert Hall, Margaret Atwood took no time in responding to recent events in St. Louis. “But, a country in which police act as judge, as jury, and executioner, is a police state.” Totalitarianism has often been a theme in her dystopian novels. She begged Americans to “not go there.”
She also said she was honored to be in the city that was the birthplace of Josephine Baker. “She was one tough cookie, and I think she would make a terrific statue!” After a long bout of applause, she added, “So that’s your challenge, St. Louis.”
Most of the evening was filled with Atwood cracking jokes, including the story of how she won the Swedish Humor Award, but never actually received it because it was stolen. She also discussed all “the torsos” she saw at the Emmy’s due to her short stature.
A Q&A discussion followed the speech with a St. Louis University professor, where audience members were able to submit questions to the author. Atwood spoke about what she referred to as the misnomer of calling her work “dystopian,” citing that the topics she broaches are things that could happen, and in many cases, they already have somewhere.
She discussed character development and the depth to many of her most iconic characters. She claimed to know everything there is about them. “Underwear! You have to know what kind of underwear your characters are wearing. Regardless of whether it comes up.”
On her brief cameo, she claimed, “No, I didn’t have a problem slapping Liz.” She referred to Elisabeth Moss, star of “The Handmaid’s Tale” who recently won an Emmy for her performance. According to Atwood, the leading lady kept turning around at first and saying, “slap me harder!” She did, however, feel uncomfortable on the scene she stated. The reality of seeing her dark creation come to life was “overwhelming.”
Atwood and Moss seemed to be at odds over a recent interview in which Moss claimed “The Handmaid’s Tale” wasn’t “a feminist story.” She received swift criticism from audience members and Atwood alike. She later clarified her comments to the New York Times. “That was my mistake in the sense that I should have been much clearer,” she said. “What I should have said is that it is not only a feminist story, but it is also a human story.
“Obviously it is first and foremost a feminist story. I play a woman who has had her child and her family taken away from her, and all of her rights as a woman stripped and who is essentially a prisoner.”
Atwood expressed delight over the news that her novel, “Hag-Seed,” would soon be adapted into a play and would debut at a prison in the St. Louis area. The novel follows a director teaching Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” at a local prison.
The St. Louis Literary Award was developed in 1967. Past recipients of the award include Joan Didion, Saul Bellow, and Tennessee Williams.