Margaret Atwood, often referred to as one of the greatest living writers, came across as warm, soft spoken and kind during her interaction with a select group of journalists at the Jaipur Literature Festival in Jaipur on Sunday. Indeed, the intellectual arrogance usually associated with top-notch writers was entirely missing, which was a welcome relief. The sharp mind that’s written such remarkable works as the Booker-winning The Blind Assassin and Oryx and Crake didn’t come up with simplistic answers when asked about the Big F: Feminism.
Does she define herself as a feminist, one young female reporter asked, to which Atwood replied that the question was a loaded one and that the word ‘feminism’ can have “different meaning for different people”.
“What you actually mean by ‘feminism’ is the important thing. If you say ‘feminism’ means mean girls pushing boys off the roof, then, no, I’m not a feminist. But if you say ‘feminism’ means believing women are human beings too, then yes I’m a feminist,” Atwood said. “Feminism… has so many different associations for so many different people.”
The star attraction at the literature festival this year, Atwood said most of her books reflect a vision of a dystopian future because “utopia never gets there”. At 77, perhaps she has seen enough of the ways of humankind to arrive at that truth. Referring to how people, at different points in the 20th century, believed positive things could only continue, the same epoch also witnessed two world wars.
Atwood might be clear-sighted but, as her novels show – her latest The Heart Goes Last begins with a world in decay and ends with one that’s not significantly better but still full of hope – she is no pessimist. She says that, for her, the act of writing is an optimistic one even if the content might not be.
“The thought that you can write a novel is optimistic. Then, the thought that you can finish your novel, someone will publish it, people will read and like it, all are highly optimistic processes,” she said adding that the most optimistic thing about writing is that it establishes a belief in the fact that human communication is possible.
“Even Robinson Crusoe had recorded his journal so that someday someone can read about his journey,” said Atwood who wasn’t averse to handing out tips to aspiring novelists. “Insecure people can’t go very far in life,” she said. “If you have insecurities then start writing under a pseudonym. That gives you a lot of freedom,” she said suggesting that blogging was a particularly good format.
It was an advice that many in that admiring company have diligently jotted down on their personal to-do lists.
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